If one speaks about handwoven khadi, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian Independence movement are what comes to one’s mind, instantly. Imagine creating a wedding outfit from this fabric, giving kilos of embroidery a miss? A handful of Indian fashion designers, with a passion for reviving our traditional textiles and fabrics are doing this, and the result -- path-breaking, indigenous fashion.
For a while now, Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) has been celebrating Indian textiles in a big way with their Indian Textile Day event. This initiative is now in its fourth edition. “The Indian textiles sector has a deep impact on our society -- from weavers and their village communities to cooperative organisations who sell the product, and eventually, the consumer,” believes Saket Dhankar, Head-Fashion, IMG Reliance, event organisers. He adds that textiles have an important sustainability impact and are a precious revenue earner for the Indian government too. Weaver communities in Benares, parts of Bengal and Madhya Pradesh and South India are known to export traditional fabrics to Western companies selling luxury, high-end fashion. “The use of Indian textiles and craftsmanship is the USP of India and Indian fashion,” he asserts.
Season of change
This season, the Indian government’s support to fashion will reflect in Shruti Sancheti and Soumitra Mondal’s collections that have been created in association with the Maharashtra State Handlooms Corporation Limited. Veteran designer Krishna Mehta will showcase Manipuri weaving crafts on the ramp through her association with Manipur Department of Commerce and Industries. Oinam Nabakishore Singh, Principal Secretary (Commerce and Industry, Sericulture), Government of Manipur explains this development, “Locally, depending on the patterns of the fabric, the woven cloth is known as Ranithee, Wangkheithee or Moiranthee. Those who live in the valleys of Manipur use a form of cotton-silk; tribes from the hills create a unique colourful fabric made from acrylic yarn (instead of woollen yarn) since it is colder. We wanted to expand our market for these textiles; we believe that a high-end fashion event like LFW will be the right platform to display our crafts to the world. Also, these fabrics are woven mostly by women and hence, apart from helping us promote these fabrics, Krishna Mehta is supporting a social cause.”
Mehta explains, “Manipur is bordered by Myanmar and these women use Burmese looms. The women in the villages are given looms in dowry. Almost every family had a loom in their home. But, there’s no market where one can place an order for fabric; it takes hours to weave a metre, and I needed 500. I had to visit every home across numerous villages, to meet the mark. To make it more contemporary, they needed guidance to understand what changes had to be made to the traditional textile.” Manipuri fabrics do not rely on embroidery and hence different motifs are included while the fabric is woven, hence, creating patterns. Mehta feels that designers need to develop the right way of structuring Indian textiles and the right price to sell more and get the economy rolling, “Only then will it help the value chain.”
Rahul Mishra, known for his logical play with Indian fabrics and silhouettes puts the trend into perspective, “India’s festive lines are weighed by kilos of embroidery. But Indian textiles have the power to build couture lines on their own merit if structured well. Fashion must help push this envelope by applying talent in the right direction and without changing our heritage.” Mishra will showcase a festive collection for the first time and true to his style, it is practical couture for which he has used Chanderi and Maheshwari fabrics.
“The Indian bride is a power dresser and loves to show off. This collection is for the bride who loves glamour, but doesn’t wish to be weighed down. There’s volume in the line. Chanderi has been used in the best way possible,” he reveals.
Echoing views about the adaptability of Indian fabrics is Vivek Kumar who will showcase his collection, Kirtimukha. The collection has been designed using a variety of silk and handloom cotton: “It is the most comfortable fabric and Indian fashion buyers are aware and prefer it. Several designers use Indian textiles but they need to promote it such that it helps the weavers.” Mishra reminds us of a success story where a Chanderi fabric weaver moved on from living in a hut to a three-storey house with a car, after his work was publicised and recognised.
Support and survive
A welcome example of supporting Indian textiles is Shravan Kumar who through his organisation, Aalayam Society, has been backing textiles from different states. “Many craftsmen earn more if they opt for labour jobs and hence have left their trade. But if supported well, it would give them a better lifestyle and also help bust the myth that Indian textiles cannot be glamorous,” he says. Shravan’s efforts have helped increase the per capita income of villages surviving on handloom textiles in several states.
LFW, as an event has benefitted from this cause too. “The response from Indian buyers has been strong because they are aware and educated about local craftsmanship. International buyers tend to source from Indian designers because of their of Indian textiles and Indian craftsmanship. This has created a new set of partnerships and outreach with government institutions for us,” Dhankar sums up.
We should make most of our national identity, and not try to outdo the West. We can’t outdo the West in what they are good at. Someone who imitates will remain a mediocre wannabe. Designers here strive to reach a 100-crore mark while international fashion houses are churning up revenues of 1,000 crores. Our wealth of textiles should be utilised. If pushed in the right direction, the West will respect you for who you are.