It was in 2012 that designer Vaishali Shadangule embarked on a road trip to search for an elusive handloom fabric that always fascinated her. Memories of her Maharashtrian mother and grandmother wearing jewel-coloured blouses made from khun always intrigued her. Shadangule’s search for the forgotten textile took her via Pune, Solapur, Kolhapur and interiors of Maharashtra to Guledgudda in Karnataka. “It took two days of driving through remote areas and literally asking around. Back then, this village wasn’t even plotted on Google maps,” she recalls.
That first encounter with khun weavers of Guledgudda wasn’t exactly what the designer had envisioned. “There were powerlooms everywhere in the village. And finding the 400-odd handlooms was a task.” But Shadangule persisted, and khun came at the centre of her eponymous label Vaishali S’ 2012 collection.
The lightweight brocade fabric, which comes in vibrant colours with a metallic sheen and is characterised by tiny motifs and a distinct border, was traditionally woven in the form of blouse pieces proffered to deities, explains Shadangule. “The weave originally employed motifs inspired by the local Badami Fort and its architecture, with faces of goddesses, animals and geometric shapes woven in. I thought it’s such a wonderful weave, why confine it to a blouse?” says Shadangule, who also used khun in her subsequent collections — in 2014 and 2015. “I used and promoted the fabric in three collections, received a lot of media coverage and presumed things were going well for the weavers. Imagine my shock when I discovered last year that they have only 40-50 handlooms left in the village. The weavers I had originally worked with had only one loom in their house where there used to be six at one time,” she adds.
Shadangule sprang into action and dedicated her Autumn-Winter 2019 line to this fading tradition. ‘Bisra’, which literally means “the forgotten one”, is her homage to the weave, and uses khun in dramatic silhouettes, with contemporary layering styles and her trademark cording technique. Subsequent to the collection’s showcase at Lotus Make-up India Fashion Week in Delhi earlier this year, Shadangule has now adopted the remaining 40 handlooms in the village and buys whatever the weavers produce, apart from giving them a monthly stipend. Since the traditional 35-inch blouse width of the fabric poses design limitations, she is hoping to get them to weave wider widths.
Shadangule now aims to improve the weave and colour quality, provide the weavers other avenues for sale and create more refined collections fit for Indian buyers and her international clientele in New York, Italy, the UK and the Middle-East. “The idea is to take this wonderful textile global through my work,” she says.