After years as a fashion freelancer for big brands, Arati Rao started craving a closer connection with the people producing her clothing. So in 2010, she set off for India with weaving on the brain. “Textiles are a big part of Indian culture—so many tie-dyeing and block-printing techniques originated there,” she says. The Brooklyn-based designer’s plan: to develop a relationship with a particular ikat handloom business, led by ladies (it’s typically a dude-dominated industry) near her father’s ancestral village in the Eastern Ghats region. But finding them turned out to be the easy part—it took Arati the better part of two years to convince the cooperative to take a chance on her modern, large-scale, color-blocked designs. She celebrated the victory by naming her line Tantuvi, the Sanskrit word for weaver.
Since introducing her drapey, bright collection of belted dresses and hooded jackets in 2012, Arati partnered with an additional group of artisans in Rajasthan and branched out into rugs and throws. Along the way, her creative choices have changed to suit her centuries-old production process. “These things are made on a loom by three humans, so there is going to be a margin of error,” she says. “I’ve learned to design in a way that embraces those small imperfections.” Toss this cool nonchalance in with Arati’s penchant for geometric shapes and color-saturated prints, and you get easygoing pieces that you’ll want covering every possible surface. —olivia martin