WHEN THEYIESINUO Keditsu first wore a Mekhala skirt to work, the reaction of her colleagues made her realise she was doing something unusual. That’s when she decided to champion local textiles and empower her community to wear the Mekhala skirt, a traditional Naga sarong.
Born and brought up in Nagaland and a teacher by profession, Keditsu posted her first Instagram photo on October 15, 2017, dressed in an elegantly woven Mekhala. When she began wearing Mekhala skirts to work and other occasions more often, she grabbed eyeballs.
Soon she found ways to promote the traditional attire, which is closely knit to the culture of the Nagas. She began posting pictures of the skirt she wore to work everyday.
“What pushed me to create this Instagram account was how unusual it is to other people that I was wearing a Mekhala skirt at work,” Keditsu said in an exclusive conversation with India Ahead. Soon, her Instagram handle @MekhalaMama became popular in her state and on social media. More than anything, her outfits became popular and she made a traditional fashion statement.
What prompted her to promote the Mekhala skirt was the concern behind the traditional skirt losing its popularity in Nagaland itself, especially among the younger generation. Keditsu wanted young women of Nagaland to embrace their traditional outfits, along with their choice of dressing.
“When it comes to Western clothes and when it comes to any form of indegenous or traditional dress, one of the legacies of colonialism is that we have some kind of an inferiority complex when it comes to our clothes. This is something that I’m trying to challenge a lot of women, all over India are also trying to challenge by promoting our own traditional dresses,” she asserted.
There was another serious concern Keditsu wanted to highlight during this process. Nagaland is known for its weaving community and at least one woman in every household is a weaver.
“If women like me stop wearing Mekhala, perhaps people will stop weaving as well. So with this intention, I started this account to show everybody that Mekhalas are nice and to start conversations with women. Particularly, my focus was to reach out to women who are like me to convince them about the fashion value of Mekhala,” she said.
Keditsu feels there is also a stereotype attached to donning the Mekhala skirts. “It is classist and biassed that only women from rural areas or from lower economic status and class wear the Mekhala,” adding that she wanted to break the misconceptions associated with the garment.
Keditsu also threw some light on the benefits of wearing the Mekhala Skirt.
“The first benefit, which is very very important to me, is that it actually will revive threatened artforms. The first benefit is cultural. Because for all of us, when we have such a rich culture and without this very crucial aspect of our cultural practice, we stand to lose many traditions. It’s not just about clothes, these clothes carry stories of our identity, our folklore, it carries personal history, it carries generational memories,” she added.