It has been an interesting week for the fashion community in Pune. It started with a session on the history of Indian handloom, was followed by movie screenings on sustainable fashion, especially handloom industry and textiles formed from bio-wastes, and ended with a 3-day event (comprising of workshops and panel discussions) dedicated to the fashion narrative in the country.
What was heartening being that these three events were organized by three different groups, at three different places, with one common thread tying them together; textile. India’s textile story is so large and so diverse that you could write an epic story. 29 states— each with its own fabric story and textile language.
What is it about textiles that makes them such an integral part of what our country is and what it stands for? Is it the fact that textiles are associated with traditional rituals like the birth of a child, the Shashti Poorthi (60th birthday) of a man, or the worship of a God? Is it simply because happy occasions like weddings or festivals are oft celebrated with new clothes? Or is it because textile became a political war cry with Gandhi’s call for hand-spun Indian cloth? The history of our country is woven so intricately with textiles that it can be hard to identify one narrative on its own and in isolation.
Thanks to creative know how and technical expertise, the Indian subcontinent was at the helm of the textile trade around the world, until Industrial Revolution. Themes and weaving patterns that have taken birth in India have traversed borders to shape the design language of countries across the world.
India’s design and textile legacy has endured till date. From paisley prints, which on pashmina became the shawls 18th century ladies swore by, to Madras plaid, Ikat, chintz (which can trace its ancestry to Kalamkari), batik, and silk brocade, all textile art forms which have been heralded for their unique beauty, are products of the genius artisanship of Indian weavers.
Today, thanks to movements dedicated to sustainable fashion, revival of fabrics, a growing love for everything home-grown and eco-friendly, and the Make in India campaign, India’s textile sector is all set to experience, hopefully, a second coming of sorts. As an industry that provides the second-largest employment in the country, employing according to some estimates approximately 32 million people, calling it important would only be an understatement.
The industry has not only for its ability to provide livelihood, but also because it is a reservoir of skills, talent, and heritage that has been passed on for generations. These artisans and weavers have been the curators and protectors of some our country’s greatest treasures. Which is why enthusiasts and industry leaders have been asking for a national policy and implementation plan to address challenges like fast fashion trends cycles, a need for machinery modernization, skill upgradation, change in tax policies, meeting increasing supply demands, etc.
Yes, we need all of that. But what we also need is education and awareness, an inculcation of appreciation of art forms that are our own; a knowledgeable consumer who knows the choices at hand and how to make the right choice. Then and only then can we untangle the knots that threaten the tapestry of textiles that makes up this country.