Jaya Jaitly has intimate knowledge of the craft traditions of the country, having worked in the field or over 40 years. Jaya is a thought leader, and serves on advisory bodies related to crafts and livelihoods, social science studies and other public causes. In 1986, she founded the Dastkari Haat Samiti, which enables traditional workers to gain confidence in the marketplace through many innovative strategies. Here, she argues that the use of natural fibres and colours, produced ethically and sustainably, could be called the ultimate form of luxury in the world of fashion.
The first attempts by humans to clothe themselves were probably the use of animal skins to protect them from extreme heat or cold. Later in the story of how humans moved towards more evolved methods of living and surviving, a clump of reeds, entangled at the edge of a stream, or a nest made instinctively by a bird to protect its eggs, would have given them the idea of weaving fibrous material into fabric. It is always nature that offers protection-or even destruction-to affect the rhythms and processes of living. Man learned to live with it, cultivate the earth, grow plants and trees, or rear animals to provide themselves with clothing. Once the essentials were met, over time, clothes became representations of wealth, status, communities, countries and then of style. This brought in fashion, design and creativity of a different kind. It also offered pleasure by catering to human vanity. With that began a search for what others decided was luxury.
There is another kind of joy-the joy of the pleasurable tactile sensation we get when we run our fingers over natural fabric. It is something we often fail to notice consciously, but we do consider and mull over the softness of fine muslin, the smoothness of silk, the glossiness of satin, the reassurance of velvet and the warm glow that emanates from soft wool cannot deny that always adds to our feeling of psychological comfort as do pleasant aromas, tasty food or a certain artistic aesthetic. Evolved and enlightened humans always want more than the physical sensations of pleasure. They also want a purpose, a higher reason or a greater good to which they feel related; a social or universal purpose that serves more people than themselves.
It is this aspect of human nature that addresses itself to socially responsible and sustainable development in any sphere, and in this case, we are addressing here the creation of textiles. After a spell of rapid industrial growth across the world, textile technologists married the offshoots of petroleum like polymer, acrylic, spandex, lycra, and nylon to produce a vast number of textiles for clothing and other purposes. Today, polyester is one of the least environmentally sustainable products to produce, and yet India uses it widely in spite of it also being unfavourable to the skin in hot climates. Almost all the clothing that is worn by poorer communities in India is made of polyester for its longer lasting and easy maintenance. Yet, women's saris have caught fire more easily when near flame in kitchens, and manual labourers and truck drivers have developed skin rashes wearing polyester shirts at work. Few are aware that some decades ago, when synthetic textiles were preferred by factory owners and offered as uniforms, workers in a Coca Cola factory in the US protested against this and demanded cotton uniforms for better heath and comfort.