What needs to be done to keep handlooms more relevant in current times?
To keep it relevant to modern times, handloom textiles and designs should imbibe the modern contemporary approach as well. Designers should be inclined to incorporate our traditional textiles into their designs. Consumers should be made aware of the importance of the stories behind these craft in a transparent manner.
Through our newly launched platform, we are planning to collaborate with designers across different continents to bring cross-culture designs, merging the designer's cultural exposure with east India's traditional textiles.
What are some of the ancient heritage weaving and knotting techniques that you follow or have revived? Please elaborate.
We have been working to preserve and promote two primary crafts of fine muslin khadi (with cotton and Indian silks like matka, tussar, mulberry) and jamdani techniques.
Khadi - A fabric made by hand-spinning threads on a 'charkha' and handwoven by artisans in handloom thereby supporting ancient skills and traditional crafts. The ideology and associated technique was envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi to inspire people to be self-reliant. In east India, especially the Bengal weavers have been practicing this weaving craft with a very fine count of khadi yarn (handspun cotton/silk) for centuries.
Jamdani - Considered to be one of the finest variety of muslin that is handwoven from cotton, the art flourished under the Mughal patronage. Even the name, jamdani, is of Persian origin and comes from the word "jam" meaning flower and "Dani" meaning vase. The name is suggestive of the beautiful floral motifs. The weaving is time-consuming and labour-intensive because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the handloom using the discontinuous weft technique.
What are the challenges that this niche faces?
These crafts are passed on from generations. The basics of the crafts are easy but to master the craft for creating intricate designs and patterns needs experience, patience, and skills. Due to the heavy competition of machine-made textiles with respect to both price and time, these craftsmen face challenges in finding a stable future working with these crafts. In the course of three decades of our working, the future generations of many of these artisans have chosen to venture into different fields for more stable income. As a result, there is an urgent need to revive and promote these beautiful crafts.
How supportive are government initiatives and schemes towards the Indian handlooms' community?
The government has many schemes and initiatives to directly help the artisans and such handwoven techniques, although they are not sustainable. One thing probably the government is able to help is by creating more awareness. But there are more issues to tackle in terms of design upgrade, quality, production efficiency that needs much closer supervision which we are trying to achieve.
The demand from the market and pressure on the industry as a whole is today on circularity. What steps have you taken towards this?
The handwoven processes positively impact the weaving community and environment with respect to job creation, artisan empowerment, water conservation and reduced carbon footprint. Due to the nature of textiles and techniques we work with right from the time of procurement of fibre, the process of hand-spinning to make yarn and finally hand woven to beautiful textiles, the entire process has very minimal impact on the environment.
What are your future plans? Do you plan to add more product categories or expand your current set-up?
In the last two years, we have forayed into natural dyes, organic fabrics in order to establish our goal in sustainability. We have already explored multiple crafts of West Bengal from khadi, jamdani, shibori, batik, block, hand-printing, natural silk and more. Along with fabric, we have expanded our product portfolio into accessories like scarves, tablecloths, homewares, sarees and also into apparels, with the help of our tailoring partners.
Simultaneously we are aspiring to be innovative in our approach of conceptualising new designs, concepts and ideas using different hues, colours, motifs and threads to create diverse textiles based on the traditional crafts that would appeal to the modern contemporary global fashion market.
At present, we are working with some of the famous sustainable fashion brands across India and abroad. We have taken a new initiative to partner with textile designers from the west to incorporate new design ideas into our traditional crafts and also work out modern western apparel. (PC)
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