A Legacy of Textiles – Vimor Handloom Foundation

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Vimor Handloom Foundation is an enterprise that turned 45 years recently and is an enterprise driven by people, art, culture, handloom enthusiasts.

Established in 1974, by Chimy Nanjappa and Pavithra Muddaya, Vimor is involved in research, conservation and design of handlooms and weaving traditions across India. As a charitable foundation, Vimor also works in close collaboration with weavers to enhance their capacity and empower them as entrepreneurs and as an integral and critical part of the industry. The Vimor Handloom Foundation recently launched the ‘Museum of Living Textiles’ in an attempt to showcase ancient, forgotten weaves and be a platform for saree enthusiasts to connect with weavers. In an attempt to take the state and country back to its days of handloom glory, Vimor is spreading awareness about not just handloom, but also about the economic implications of supporting the sector. Pavithra Muddaya, Managing Trustee, Vimor Handloom Foundation tells us more in this exclusive conversation.

Saris in Vimor
Saris in Vimor’s Museum of Textiles

Tell us something of the history of Vimor and when it was started.

My mother used to work with Cauvery Emporium as the first manager in the late 1950’s and this exposed us to the situation of handlooms. Since the beginning, my mother has influenced many, not just in India, but abroad as well, to support handlooms. After my father’s death, my mother and I had no other option but to involve ourselves in the one thing we knew, sarees and handlooms. We had many friends who helped us at the time. In 1974 my mother Chimmy Nanjappa and I set up Vimor. We started with selling temple sarees that were supplied to us by Premraj Bhandari. When these sarees started dwindling in numbers we started recreating these. We began working extensively with weavers with an intention to revive traditional designs and weaving patterns through design. We had the support of Pupul Jayakar and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay who always encouraged us. Through our 45 years, we have had the privilege of working with master weavers and watching the next generations of weavers enter the industry. I must remember at this point, one of the most memorable projects we have worked was the birth centenary of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. Creating, designing and reworking some of our own designs was something that all of us at Vimor will cherish always.

What is the design philosophy of Vimor all about?

We have always believed in the power of design. Through our journey, Vimor has created many beautiful designs that have gone into production with large numbers over the years. These sarees have impacted not just weavers, but businessmen, designers and enthusiasts have also gained a lot from our work processes. Design is the one tool that will push conservation, revival, empowerment and improve livelihoods. The idea behind the design is not about making it complicated to such an extent that the weaver will lose interest in creating it. But, simplifying motifs and weaving patterns to enable even the least motivated of the communities to work with it. If a design stays in production over a long period of time, I personally think it is a success.

Vimor Fashion-show
Vimor Fashion-show

Please describe the collections you have.

Other than the Indira Gandhi Centenary Collection and the Rajasthan Heritage week we have not worked on any of our designs as a collection. But some of the iconic sarees that Vimor has recreated is the Pooja Saree and the Broad Border Chettinad. The Pooja saree is technically the ikat weave. But, when we started researching and finding weavers to work with, no one in Karnataka weaved ikat. It was then that we decided to retain the design, but use thread work to make the designs look like the ikat weaves. Inspiration comes in different forms and we work on revival of a design without thinking of a collection but as a design that interests us.

How often do you have new collections?

We do not work on a collection but every year we work on at least 20-30 designs either revival or original, each year. This includes grandmothers’ sarees, heirloom sarees and many others.

Vimor Saree
Vimor Saree

As you work with weavers, please tell us all about how you select who you work with?

We do not have any process to select whom we work with. One of our main criteria is to look at weaving enhancing livelihoods of weavers. In this respect, we work with anyone who is willing to upskill and work. Weaving is an art. It needs the heart, mind and hand connection. Taking this art to a stable position where it can benefit the weaver is the goal. We first study the design and then see if we have a weaver whose skills can match the design. We then make changes to the design to suit the weaver. We do not bind our weavers. After working with them on designs and in the process teaching them some new techniques, we allow weavers to use their freedom to work on their own. This provides a free hand for both to work independently without interference.

Vimor Saree
Vimor Saree

Tell us about the conservation work you have been doing?

Vimor’s entire journey is based on conservation and revival of handloom. Starting from weaving patterns, techniques and even traditional designs, our entire work is majorly divided into revival and renewal. In revival, we look at recreating designs as authentic to the original as possible. In renewal, we look at adding our creativity into traditional weaves. Most of the conservation happens through design. One of our major works in conservation is mapping the Molkalmuru weaves. During my research, I saw a direct correlation between migration of weaving communities and the spread of the molakalmuru weaves. A large chunk of conservation efforts are through the grandmother saree revival. While recreating household heirlooms, we get an insight into design and weaving traditions that we can pass onto our weavers.

As Vimor just turned 45, how do you look back on your journey?

We are ecstatic about  Vimor Handloom Foundation turning 45 this year. We had no idea that our work would continue so far. Over 45 years, our relationship with our weavers has strengthened and today they are family. Being able to support textile preservation along with empowering weaving communities has made Vimor’s struggle been worthwhile. It is definitely a joyous occasion for all of us at the foundation. As a celebration, we had a five day handloom event that was a platform to discuss and exchange ideas on bringing weaving and weavers into the limelight.

Tell us something about your textiles museum.

Vimor’s ‘Museum of Living Textiles’ was opened in July earlier this year. The museum was created to be a space for dialogue on conservation of textiles and handlooms. Spread across 1,300 square feet, the museum houses handlooms that have been sourced, donated and some of which have been created by us. Every piece of handloom has a story to tell – about people, culture, traditions, trade and other socio-economic elements. Understanding these was undertaken as a series of research, documenting, interacting. Yet, there are several gaps when it comes to drawing a complete timeline of these pieces. The ‘Museum of Living Textiles’ is open to interact with anyone who is able to add to what we know about these timeless exhibits.

Vimor Saree
Vimor Saree

What are the challenges you face and how do you handle them in your business?

Thankfully, till date we have not faced any major challenges. One that I could point out is that we have found it difficult to find weavers to do skilled work. Sometimes it is the smaller things that we have lost in terms of techniques. More than individual challenges that we face as someone working in this field, we are concentrating on the larger challenge that the handloom industry is facing. Unemployment, market-driven designs, lack of support and mentorship, and preference for power looms are the factors due to which handlooms are not being picked up. Through our process and design intervention, Vimor has been able to impact many areas positively. If we can do it as such a small entity, anyone can.

Your future plans?

Through Vimor, we would like to conduct weaving programs and other programs related to weaving at the ‘Museum of Living Textiles’. We are also embarking on a project in which we will be working with weavers affected by the floods in North Karnataka. We are involved in documentaries that speak about the state-of-affairs in the handloom industry and weaving. My book on the Molkalmuru weaves in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is in its final stages and we will be launching that as well.

This story first appeared in Apparel Magazine’s January 2020 issue here:

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