Is Sustainability the future of Indian Textiles?

by Team Conscious Carma

Intro: Spinning sustainable textiles is the way forward if we want to save the rivers and planet. Indian handlooms will always be high on sustainability! Celebrating eco-friendly fabrics and fashion is the future!

Nona Walia – Will sustainability be the big trend in textile and fashion industry in 2023. We are moving in a world where people want to make more conscious choices in their personal space. Spinning a green yarn has been one of the oldest traditions in India. The slow woven cloth on the loom was one of the first lessons in sustainable fashion.

We are already witnessing a handloom boom in 2022, handwoven handlooms are high on sustainable textiles. India’s handloom love story took a new twist after 2018, when bloggers and influencers started making their love for handlooms fashionable again on Instagram, #handloom has 4.2 million posts on Instagram. The handlooms are now fast becoming heirloom pieces to flaunt on social media. 

Be it Chanderi or Paithani or Patola — every handloom tells a story. Every woman must own and be proud of her handwoven handlooms. Handlooms are a story in sustainability. From dyeing, weaving and printing techniques, threads, handmade traditions, India’s handloom story is historic. The skills of block-printing, embroidery and weaving (like shawls) has a global demand. From khadi to chikankari to Mulmul — Indian textiles have always been sustainable. Meghalaya’s weavers use sustainable natural dyes. Even the Ajrak workers in Ajrakpur use natural dyes. Around 20% of industrial water pollution in the world comes from treatment and dyeing of textiles, and about 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to turn raw materials into textile. We need to recreate old slow methods of producing textiles. Batik workers are finding it extremely challenging to exist in the age of digital printing which is not sustainable.

Original batik workers use only natural dyes. India’s cotton industry is polluting rivers and the environment. A return to traditional handlooms, natural dyes could make a difference. A big step would be to return to handwoven and handspun clothes. A big leap forward would be to also wear undyed fabrics. Says Deepshika Kalsi, textile conservation expert and historian, “Indian Textiles have been sustainable in their conscious approach of fabrication and end use at every stage. We have now coined the term slow fashion, whereas it was the way of life earlier. From seeding/harvesting/cultivating natural fibres, hand spinning of thread, use of natural dyes and production processes that wouldn’t pollute the rivers. Hand woven on loom. Every stage was time consuming. The key word here is consume! Water wasted in production processes, use of synthetic dyes and microfibres released from synthetic textiles after each washing cycle, tons of textiles ending up in landfills is alarming. We need to promote sustainability in textiles.”

India has one of the world’s major textile industries, estimated to be worth more than $209 billion by 2029. Here are some women who worked for sustainability and longevity for artisans and textile craft at the grassroots level.

Jasleen Dhamija, India’s first textile art historian, crafts expert and former UN worker. She has remained faculty at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, where she taught History of Indian Textiles and costumes. In her book Handwoven Fabrics of India, Edited by Jasleen Dhamija and Jyotindra Jain she writes, “The largest number of handlooms in the world operated in India, where 4 million looms occupy a workforce of apporx 10 million people.” She documents India’s weaving and textile history. In another article on Indian Velvets, Dhamija studied rare explanations of techniques to produce different velvets:voided velvets, ikat velvets, terry velvets…. Her passion project has been the Punjabi Phulkari.

Deepika Govind, who’s worked for years to create the ‘Eri-Peace Silk’ which is non-violent. Says Deepika, “I wanted to invent silk that did not harm any life form and was sustainable. The Ahimsa fabric till now was rough and expensive. We used a technique where the Eri cocoons are open-ended, thus allowing the moth to fly to freedom.” Besides silk, people are using other sustainable fabrics are organic cotton with no pesticides, linen made from flax.”

Sally Holkar, has been working with sustainable heritage fabrics for four decades – Maheshwari and Chanderi. “It was a time when traditional patronage lapsed. Almost 300 weavers were on the brink of extinction. Today, there are 3,000 weavers of Maheshwari fabric. I wanted to restore and revive the art of sustainable textiles.”

Pranavi Kapur has a lifetime of passion for Indian handlooms and textiles. Her passion for Khadi has been a lesson in Sustainable fabrics. She has used multiple textile techniques in creating new fabrics. Working closely with the ground level weavers, she has worked on — ikat loom from Andhra Pradesh; Khatris of Bhuj for bandhani and Bengal karigars. Every new weave is a stitch in history, reviving and restoring past legacy of treasured textiles some which are unique and becoming extinct. Says Pranavi, “Sustainable practice in textile production has been precious to me while creating a new fabric yarn or outfit. That’s the reason, I’ve worked a lot with Khadi.”

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