The malkha fabric is immensely appreciated for its unique qualities-the swing, the drape, the ability to breathe, to absorb, to hold colour. The fabric is catching the eye of many a designer, and production has jumped four-fold in the last five years, writes Sudha Passi.


Using the "strength" of Indian textile production traditions from the field to the fabric stage, malkha is capturing the fancy of its producers and wearers alike as a successful business model and a sustainable handloom textile.


Combining the softness of mulmul and sturdiness of khadi (traditional varieties of textiles), malkha fabric is immensely appreciated for its unique qualities-the swing, the drape, the ability to breathe, to absorb, to hold colour, say people who are involved in its production and fashion designers who have introduced it on world stage in the last couple of years. And it is not just for the high and sophisticated sections of society.


The growing popularity is reflected in its production which has risen nearly four-fold in the last five years from 2,500 metres per month in 2010 to around 8,000-10,000 metres per month in 2015. It is expected to reach 40,000 metres per month by 2017, says Uzramma, the septuagenarian doyenne of Indian handloom textiles, who has been assiduously involved with the Malkha Initiative (textile chain) in the Andhra-Telangana cotton belt since its inception in 2003. As malkha production is scaling up, it is foraying into womens', mens' and childrens' garments, which were shown for the first time at its Bengaluru show in December.


"It's in the embryonic trial stage only," Uzramma says. "At present, our main buyers are in the middle and upper middle income segments in different regions," she says, adding that "rather than the masses we look at market segments differentiated by region as well as by income."


In the wake of rising demand and appreciation of the product, the Malkha Initiative has steadily increased the number of weavers and other pre-loom processors it engages with. Currently 100 producer families are engaged in the process. In the next two years, this number is expected to increase to around 400, according to Uzramma.


Given that there is a Malkha Marketing Trust that ensures successful marketing of the entire production, the figures on expansion and production assume significance as a veritable indicator of product popularity and consumer taste veering towards sustainability, quality and value for money. For a fabric that is considered to be summer-friendly, malkha has a unique capability of keeping the wearer warm in winter, points out designer Shilpa Reddy, who chose it to showcase her collection at the prestigious J-Autumn Fashion Show at Eiffel Tower in October 2014. Shilpa says malkha was her natural choice as it was 'springy, breathable handwoven'.