On August 7 India will observe National Handloom Day which commemorates the celebration of aesthetics and indigenous art. India is the only country that still produces traditional hand-woven textiles created by weavers, whereas the rest of the world has lost the art of hand-weaving and loom process, along with all natural and organic processes involved in creating textiles. There is no other country that still has an indigenous fashion like India.
Our country is home to many crafts and textiles that have been sought after by the western world from time immemorial. Even today, Indian weaves constantly make their way onto international fashion runways. However, in recent times the production of handloom fabrics has been dwindling. There could be a number of reasons for this decline such as low income to weavers, rising costs of raw material, lack of local demand andcheap knock-offs to name a few. Mill made fabrics and synthetics largely dominate fashion markets. According to a Ministry of Textile 2015 note, India is home to around 43 lakh weavers. However, this figure was a staggering low as against the 65 lakh weavers counted in the 1995-1996 census. In Goa itself the handloom industry is literally hanging by a thread. Revivalists are fighting hard to bring the Goan weave back on the textile map of India and create a steady market for it.
National Handloom Day was launched in 2015 with the purpose of generating awareness about the importance of the handloom industry as a part of our rich heritage and culture, promotion of handloom products and the increase in income of weavers as well as to enhance their confidence and pride. This also goes hand-in-hand with the government’s Make in India campaign, which in fact, derives its inspiration from the Swadeshi Movement. Realising the social and economic damage owing to colonial extraction, Mahatma Gandhi promoted the model of Hind Swaraj and Swadeshi with a focus of reviving traditional crafts, looms and most importantly self-reliant, human skills. August 7 has been chosen as the National Handloom Day as it marks the official commencement of the Swadeshi Movement in 1905.
Gandhi’s charkha symbolises the timeless legacy and art of spinning. It also exhibits the importance our ancestors attached to environment friendly and resource optimisation of scarce materials. The handloom sector is diverse, eco-friendly, organic, sustainable and a source of employment for countless weavers across the country. The textile sector is the biggest employment generator in India after agriculture. Although the share of handloom in production is only 11 per cent and the revenue of the sector is just `2,812 crore, it provides employment to 44 lakh weaver families. The sector also provides employment to women in underprivileged areas.
The central government has done a great deal of work in promoting khadi and village industries by investing in capacity development and marketing through Khadi Gramodhyog and craft fairs all across the country. The Indian government has also conferred geographical indication status of some of the looms so that the crafts and looms enjoy a patented identity. It is trying to develop some villages which have weavers associated with handloom and handicraft as tourism destinations. The textile ministry’s interpersonal campaign #IWearHandloom started on August 1, 2016 as an effort to resuscitate and promote hand-woven creations. This campaign took the social media by storm, with many celebrities and commoners promoting handloom on their online posts. Many lost weaves were revived and reinterpreted to suit the contemporary flavour. To add to all these efforts, the prime minister launched the India Handloom Brand so as to promote Make in India and preserve the unique monopoly Indian weaves enjoy across the world.
The Indian Handloom Brand promises better market positioning of quality handloom products. Interested entrepreneurs may apply for the brand. After an inspection and much scrutiny, a textile committee decides on the application and provides the company a registration certificate only if it meets the criteria. The India Handloom Brand is only issued to entrepreneurs who promise quality of yarn, purity of design, socially compliant processes and abide by zero defect, zero effect.
We still have distinctive fashion handwriting, designed and created by our craftspeople. Handloom products, at the end of the day, are not just about aesthetics and style. They define heritage, culture, timeless traditions, sustainable consumption and a revered Indian work ethic. This National Handloom Day, treat yourself to at least one handloom product. You will be supporting a weaver and his family, besides promoting a traditional craft.
Until next time, stay stylish!
(Ninoshka Alvares-Delaney is a fashion designer and is available at www.ninoshka.co.in)