There is no other country that still has an indigenous fashion like India. She 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. Our country is home to many crafts and textiles that have been sought after by the western world from time immemorial. However, in recent times the production of handloom fabrics has been dwindling due to a number of reasons such as low income of weavers, rising costs of raw material, lack of local demand and cheap knock-offs to name a few. Mill made fabrics and synthetics largely dominate fashion markets.
For a land as rich in textiles and weaves, the introduction of National Handloom Day was much awaited. It 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 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. 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. August 7 has been chosen as the National Handloom Day as it marks the official commencement of the Swadeshi Movement in 1905.
The Swadeshi Movement celebrated our indigenous fabrics, weavers and the country’s artisans. In keeping with this, every year artisans and weavers are presented with Sant Kabir Awards to promote their handiwork and Indian crafts. Governments have implemented schemes and programmes to benefit artisans, weavers and rural women. The Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, Handloom Census, Geographical Indication status of some of the looms ensure that the crafts and looms enjoy a patented identity. Twitter campaigns such as #iwearhandloom, initiatives in e-commerce such as ‘e-dhaga’, capacity building programmes and overall revival of handlooms, craft fairs and Khadi Gramodyog industries are steps in the right direction. The recently launched solar charkha scheme has also been set up to benefit artisanal clusters. The government is trying to develop some villages which have weavers associated with handloom and handicraft as tourism destinations.
Handlooms aren’t just important for aesthetic and cultural reasons. They’re also integral to political and diplomatic engagements, as they are symbols of a nation’s identity, culture and inclusive development. Approximately 95 per cent of the world’s hand woven fabric is from India. More importantly, handlooms are eco-friendly and a sustainable means of earning a livelihood. Countless weavers across the country depend on the handloom sector as a means of earning. The textile sector is the biggest employment generator in India after agriculture with the share of handloom in production being 11 per cent, providing employment to 44 lakh weaver families. The sector also provides employment to women in underprivileged areas.
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. It’s time we proudly adopt Indian textiles into our daily lives.
This National Handloom Day, proudly flaunt your handloom product like a badge of honour. It could be a beloved saree inherited from your mother, or one you carried along in your trousseau. Be it a gift from a loved one, or upholstery you bought to adorn your home, show your love for this hand woven story. It will be a story that belongs not just to you, but to those myriad weavers and their families, who are longing for their voices to be heard.
Until then, stay stylish!
(Writer is a fashion designer. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @ninoshkaindia)