Written by Sunil Sethi
In a country of billions, what has emerged out of the recent health conundrum is the need to be “atmanirbhar”, an emotion that surpasses the human need for acquisitions. Thus, the meteoric rise of the “Made in India” sentiment, which has captured both the hearts and minds of conscious millennials.
Not surprising then that handlooms are the flavour of the season. After all, the sector employs almost 3.5 million people with each region paying homage to its innate culture through the fabric of freedom. The movement has been gaining popularity over many years, but a noticeable momentum began four years ago, when the Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani’s #iwearhandloom became a sensation on Twitter, where handspun was celebrated with pride. This renewed the pledge to both support and resuscitate the industry, as the blue handwoven silk sari from Bihar she wore went viral.
The results were both ingenious and innovative, with not just design interventions with the help of leading style gurus, but also a government grant to the textile ministry for providing financial assistance to languishing weavers.
The key is in establishing a direct connection between retailers and weavers to eliminate the middleman, urging e-commerce giants to pitch in. The textile industry is dominated by women — they constitute almost 72 per cent of it — and the textile minister has offered various schemes like the National Handloom Development Programme to empower them.
Interestingly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, besides being an avid supporter of textiles, has reiterated the need for foreign investment to create employment as well as skill development. Almost 30 million farmers are a part of producing 60 per cent natural fibres in India, which is the need of the hour to help boost the economy. Most importantly, sustainability is setting the new world order.
India’s population, of which 50 per cent is below 25, and more than 65 per cent is below 35, has embraced this message. Whether it is schools or colleges, handlooms have succeeded in marking their presence in youngsters’ wardrobes. The fact that designers who have adopted clusters for Ikkat, Chanderi, Maheshwari among others, or even the rise of Banaras as a hotspot, is a sign of the popularity of going eco-friendly. It is, frankly, the new cool.
What has further generated interest is the National Crafts Museum and Hastkala Academy, Pragati Maidan, which not just holds meaningful talks on handlooms along with a showcase, but also in-depth, short-term courses for the discerning few who would like to equip themselves with knowledge about handloom/craft and Indian textile traditions.
As we grasp with new realities, the education sector has made strides in incorporating this aesthetic in their curriculum by taking fashion students on trips to clusters. This has opened a plethora of opportunities for them. As they enter the real world, they stitch together endearing stories of Indian crafts through their design prowess.
The Fashion Design Council of India has taken many steps to support handlooms. They initiated on Instagram a series titled “Celebrating the Maker” last month where designers paid homage to handloom weavers that they have been associated with. Another major thrust has been witnessed at the India Fashion Week where handlooms have been given a place of pride and for many years along with Ministry of Textiles, many programmes with designers and clusters have been initiated.
On handloom day, the FDCI board has decided that it will allocate from the COVID trust fund an amount to buy unsold stocks from weavers. The weavers will be identified by the DC handlooms, under the Ministry of Textiles, as well as the handloom designers.
The writer is chairman, Fashion Design Council of India