By Seema Chowdhry
She is not looking to infuse her own design sensibilities into the traditional colour palette or weave patterns that make up the body cloth for a man from the Konyak Naga tribe or the Ao Naga warrior shawl, Mangkotep Su. Stacey Aydeniz, who runs the UK-based label Little Hill People (Littlehillpeople.com), specializes in bags that use traditional weaves and beaded jewellery from the seven sisters (Mizoram, Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura). She says in an email interview:
“I use the designs and colours created by artisans from the North-East and work them into my products. I do not direct artisans to produce a particular colour or pattern, as I don’t want to spoil our beautiful traditional styles.”
Little Hill People currently sells totes, feather clutches, long fringe hobo bags, handbags with charms, as well as beaded necklaces, hairclips, earrings, and bangles made from bamboo. Aydeniz, who grew up in Shillong and now lives in north England, set up the website in 2012 and largely sells to a UK-based clientele.
“The people who buy from me are aware of the amount of time, dedication it takes to make a single item and understand that their purchase means sustainable income for the artisans, who are mostly women from the North-East.”
While she designs the bags herself, even though she is not a trained designer, she says the jewellery is sourced directly from artisans but can be used in different ways. “For example, there is a ceremonial neckpiece of the Khasis called paila and it is worn by both the male and females. I think it makes for a terrific beaded headband and that is how the model on my website wears it,” she says.
Or take the Mesemyok, a necklace made of carnelian beads alternating with miniature, trumpet-shaped metal ornaments worn by women of the Ao Naga tribe. This design inspired her to create the Asang handbag. “Ornaments are very important to the Nagas.
I wanted to showcase the traditions of the Ao tribe and in the Asang handbag made from cotton and hemp, the necklace design is imprinted on it.” She adds that she has sold a lot of Naga and Arunachali neckpieces.
“These are multilayered and have geometric shapes in contrasting colours. They make good statement pieces to wear to a dinner party.” Currently Aydeniz sources the weaves from self-help groups, not-for-profits and individual “mumpreneurs” like herself.
“The ones I constantly work with are associated with NEN (North East Network). I source ready-made weaves from the artisans.” Though Aydeniz would like to source from all across the North-East, she says she is mainly “using weaves from Naga, Garo, Mizo tribes and some Manipuri textiles because of their bold and bright patterns. Among my favourites is the Naga Warrior Bag and the Eli bag which I named after a friend who gifted me her puan (the main garment of the Mizo women, which means ‘cloth’).
She was very excited to see it being converted into a fashionable handbag.” While Aydeniz favours cotton and hemp weaves, sometimes the label uses wool and silk. “The Imchen is a Naga weave and uses wool. I use this to make the Imchen bag, while I have made the Runu and Zovi bags from Garo weaves. I even use silk from Assam, mostly Muga and Eri though.” As for adding new products to her line, Aydeniz says she is considering creating laptop bags, spectacle cases, wallets, and iPad sleeves “for the tech-savvy people who love ethnic stuff too”.
Another area that interests her is working with fabric made of bamboo fibres. “Did you know that fabric made from bamboo has many fantastic properties? It breathes, has a nice lustre, is extremely soft, absorbs water fast and is antibacterial. It has a natural sheen that feels like silk or cashmere. I want to work with this fabric.”
At present, the label does not sell in India. “All the stock is with me (in the UK ) and it is not cost-effective for the customer to order from the UK because of shipping costs. We, however, do consider special requests from India since our manufacturing unit is there (in Mumbai).