When you hear the word handloom, you might subconsciously relate the term to things like exhibits, art shows, your much-dreaded history class, or even a museum. But when the costume designers of Game of Thrones travel all the way to India to source the outfits, you know there’s more to the art we so delightfully neglect.
The beginning of this year marked a huge victory for India’s handloom industry. Leading retail giants came together to join forced with the Indian government to boost the development of the handloom sector. This commitment requires the private sector to source their fabrics from handloom clusters, thereby improving the economic opportunities for weavers and artisans. Through this commitment, textile companies Arvind True Blue Limited, Raymond Ltd., Welspun India Limited, Titan Co. Ltd., and Reliance Retail Limited signed contracts with textile clusters identified by the Government to ensure a sustainable future of the handloom sector.
As a result, India’s leading fashion designers got together to showcase the prowess of India’s textiles. Payal Khandwala took to Banarasi brocades; Rahul Mishra and Meera Muzaffar Ali put the spotlight on chikankari; and Padmaja utilized Maheshwari textiles. Others focused on Kota Doria, Chanderi, hand-block prints on handloom cottons, and Kanjeevaram silks. All these textiles come from different regions of India and to ensure that the crafts are preserved, the Government has patented exclusive crafts with Geographical Indication (GI) with around 168 handlooms and handicraft products registered under it.
So why are these regulatory actions being taken to preserve handloom?
Handloom, simply put, means woven by hand. Apart from its basic definition, handloom is about culture, community, craft, and so much more. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Mahatma Gandhi, you might recall one where he is seated beside a spin wheel with a strand of yarn wrapped around the wheel. That yarn is that of a cotton fibre.
Gandhi favoured handlooms and expounded his views way back in 1919 when things seemed bleak for the handloom industry. Two things were of great importance to Gandhi; He envisaged tremendous variety and scope in the craft of weaving and associated craftsmanship.
He also foresaw its excellent employment potential and a means to mitigate the existing rural poverty.
Most handloom weaves are made using natural fibres like cotton and silk. In most cases, these fibres are grown organically, thereby making them eco-friendly and biodegradable while earning all kinds love and appreciation from planet Earth. Natural fabrics feel significantly better against your skin unlike synthetic fabrics like polyester which are made from chemicals and petroleum and can feel sticky and static. That being said, not all synthetic fabrics are bad as many are developed keeping a certain utility in mind.
Handloom is more sustainable as it uses minimal resources like electricity. The industry involves a community that has been practising an artisanal skill or technique for generations, where each person has a specific role and contribution.
If you are like most fashion savvy women, you’re familiar with Sabyasachi and its Instagram account. Sabyasachi Mukherjee is one of the many designers continuously working towards preserving such treasurable arts. Their heritage lehengas are made by artisans in different regions of India and are hand-painted, hand-embroidered with tilla work, bandhej, dabka embroidery, gota work, and much more. Their latest collection, Namaste Easy, Sabyasachi revisits Khadi and Organdy fabrics and showcases them in a luxurious, sophisticated, and culturally powerful way.
Another designer working towards the same is Rimple and Harpreet Narula. If you’ve seen Deepika Padukone in Padmavat and loved her outfits, you can thank them and the many artisans they reached out to in Rajasthan. The badla and flat beaten metal wires for the gotta embroidery were specially sourced and given to the weavers to create authentic gotta. “ [Their] team procured old, lost lots of gotta and zari from specialist vendors. Artisans were specially commissioned to create Gokru, which is the crickled gotta used in the edging of the odhnas. The angrakhas for Ratan Singh, played by Shahid Kapoor, were made using organic cotton. The printing and embroidery were done by various artisan clusters in Rajasthan. The yokes were hand quilted by artisans in Bundi and Udaipur.”
When you invest in handloom, you are doing your bit in preserving a traditional craft and supporting an artisanal community.
However, the price tag on something handmade is always followed by a few zeroes. The level of artistry and intricacy achieved in handloom fabrics is unparalleled, with certain weaves and designs still beyond the scope of modern machines. That being said, not handlooms are expensive, with the cost depending on the fabric or the yarn being used and the region in which the handlooms are coming from as the techniques of weaving differ from place to place. While India provides about 95 percent of the hand-woven fabrics in the world, sadly there is very little demand for handloom products within the country.
It’s strange, isn’t it? How
we can walk into a Gucci store and not question or bargain their price tags for even a second. But as soon as we step into a bazaar in India where a poor man is using his skills and crafts to feed his family and also pay for his children’s education in hopes of their brighter future, we start negotiating.
We negotiate to a point where the long hours they put into creating a piece worthy of being couture is sold for pennies on the dollar. So why do we continue to give to those who live an abundant life and steal from the ones in dire need of remuneration? Probably because we are afraid of being judged by the staff inside the sumptuous stores of big brands like Gucci and Prada. But we can argue with a poor man because who’s he to judge. Right?
When we choose a handcrafted product by paying its right price, we are encouraging the artisans to continue practising the art, thus saving their craft from entering the endangered list.
This also stands true for when we decide to replicate a designer’s creation. We not only undermine the hard work of a designer, but also disrespect their designs. Designers use superior quality fabrics and utmost attention to detail when creating each piece. By encouraging replicas of their designs, we are not only discouraging them but also robbing them of their fair share of income.
The secret to appreciating handloom cloth is in its touch. The unevenness of the hand and spontaneity with which patterns can be created are far more diverse than machine-made cloth.
Anything made by hand is sure to encounter some irregularities. But these are intrinsic to the beauty of the textile and should not be considered defects.
Handlooms are so much more than just ethnic wear. However, with use of the right construction techniques and a good understanding of silhouettes, handloom fabrics can be used for a wider variety of clothing. So, as you get ready for the summer, be sure to give these artisans a chance and opt for clothing made using natural fibres like cotton and linen which will also keep you cool in the raging heat. Here are some brands to get you started. Khara Kapas, Nandini Studio, Maison Shefali, and Himani and Anjali Shah