Tradition is important for the future

Alisha Shinde
Monday, 6 August 2018

On National Handloom Day, Alisha Shinde catches up with two fashion designers who, through their respective labels, consciously promote the handwoven cloth

‘Giving handloom a modern context keeps it relevant’
Textiles are an important part of our lives as they fulfill one of our basic needs but out of all the varieties that are being produced, handlooms are respected the most. One, because it a handloom cloth which is woven by hand and provides livelihood to lakhs of weavers and artisans in India. And secondly, there is a lot of dedication and passion involved in it. 

The awareness about the importance of handloom has led to its appearance on runways too. We chat up Payal Khandwala of Payal Khandwala label and Anavila Misra of Anavila label to understand more about the scope of the art.

Talking about how the fashion industry can successfully revive the traditional handloom and thereby help the weavers’ community, Khandwala says, “Nothing is impossible. With a concerted and continual effort, we can revive most of our traditional weaves.” 

She adds that people need to understand that slow fashion can be a little expensive, the process and skill required to make these textiles cannot be compared to factory-made textiles. This awareness has to be created and communicated. “We have to invest in this sector, not because it’s a trend but because we truly believe in this as a philosophy. Only then will it have the support it needs for the paradigm to shift,” Khandwala says. 

She adds that handloom makes the designers more proud of India and it is important to design with context. “Fashion that comes from this space can separate what we do from what the world does, so to me, it is integral that we use the plethora of craftsmen and their skills to reintroduce what makes our handwoven textiles so unique,” adds Khandwala. 

She believes that it helps to modernise handloom and give it a fresh new perspective so that it can represent the voice of a newer, younger India without compromising on our rich history of traditional crafts. Giving handloom a modern context keeps this craft relevant and most importantly tells the story of a changing and new India. 

She believes that consumers should know that they are helping an entire community of craftsmen to be economically sustainable when they buy these products. “Handloom fabrics, if responsibly sourced and manufactured, are indispensable in a world where we have to be more responsible in our buying patterns,” she says, adding that handlooms are our differentiators in this overly homogenous fashion landscape. “We are unparalleled when it comes to the richness of this craft. And as a conscious consumer, this has always been a huge advantage,” she says. 

When asked if the Indian market is ready to restore handloom to its glory,  Khandwala says, “I think there definitely seems to be a shift in consumer awareness, but I think it’s a long way before we can reset and it’s going to be a while before we can restore handlooms to their former glory. But I see this change as a positive step.”

‘Handlooms and sustainable fashion have a strong future’
Anavila Misra believes that handloom is a neatly organised industry where the various steps are beautifully aligned and planned. She says that the beauty and comfort of handlooms, combined with contemporary silhouettes and designs, is making it a very high fashion, luxury commodity.

“I strongly feel that the fashion industry is making all the right moves to revive the handloom industry. Look at the runways of two most prestigious fashion weeks in the country — both have a dedicated day for handwoven textiles,” Misra says adding that it speaks volumes about the interaction both established and young designers have with the handloom clusters today and how the traditional handlooms are being revived by the fashion industry.

Misra believes that there is a very strong parallel voice of sustainable slow fashion emerging in terms of young designers. “Indian women today are taking the fashion movement towards comfortable relaxed clothing through their choices and handloom textiles play a very important role here,” she adds.  

She goes on to add that there is a slow and steady movement towards ethical, conscious and comfortable fashion worldwide and Indian designers are finding their own voice through our crafts and textiles. “Though it comes from tradition and heritage, if rightly put together, handloom itself can be very contemporary and urban in its appeal,” she says. 

Handlooms and sustainable fashion have a strong future, that’s the only way forward if we want to adopt responsible fashion, Misra adds. Giving an example she says, “I remember, our very first jamdani saree had a dragonfly motif on a ‘tie & dye’ black and white linen sari which beautifully balanced a blend of techniques and made this a very unique piece. It was a striking design and even now, after four years, we get inquiries for that piece.” 

“Due to the many hands and detailed workmanship involved at every step, handlooms always tell a story,” Misra says pointing out that most of the textiles and weaves in India are region-specific and blend with the history of the place itself. There are many anecdotes and stories related to every regional craft and its role in the life of the local people, she points out. “It’s always charming to know the origin of a story; it changes the way you look at craft,” she adds. 

Misra points out that India is currently going through a very exciting time. Designers have found their own voice and are confidently finding artistic expressions. “The design landscape is full of young designers eager to work with Indian craft and textile heritage and create beautiful products which are a true representation of the unique skill set of our artisans and weavers. This is resulting in unique products with inherent USP,” she says.

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