Revival of traditional Indian fabrics is seeing a new avenue – that in new age fashion clothing. Naturally these kinds of clothes are finding favour amongst apparel exporters as they reflect a slice of India’s culture.
Twist of Tradition
Traditional fabrics in contemporary silhouettes are definitely finding favour among today’s generation. The Indian Handloom Industry demonstrates not only the artistry of weavers but also the richness and diversity of Indian culture. “Best known for its distinctiveness, style, traditionalism and modern technology, every state in India has its unique printing, needlework, weaving and design trends. These techniques and traditions have been kept alive despite sweeping changes, all due to continuous efforts of generations of artists and craftsmen in preserving the long tradition of excellence in hand-weaving, dyeing, in-printing and craftsmanship. Top designers of the country are collaborating with weavers to create exclusive designer ensembles. These are good signs for a startup like iShippo where we try and bring traditional Indian fabrics to the masses that have the desire but have no means to source and produce these fabrics,” says Karma Bhutia, Founder & CEO, iShippo.com. Radhika Rao, Founder, Gartika opines, “I think fashion trends change when new patterns, colours and styles enter the market. It’s also true that every few years you see the old trends come back, but the beauty of Indian fabrics be it block print, ikat, chikankari or any other regional Indian fabric-making method is that it can be styled in so many ways and it never goes out of style. The fashion industry has become about fast consumption and the attention span of a consumer today is very short so styles need to stand out. Indian fabrics have seen fashion runways for very long but I think now is the time when a lot of small business retailers and boutique owners are changing the game for this industry. It is this combination of old and new methods which offers an exclusive fashion range.”
Indian textile and apparel exports have risen continually. “For example let us take a look at the Benarasi revival. In an effort to revive the lost glory of Banarasi saris, some of the top designers in the country have come forward to work with weavers in Varanasi to create exclusive silk saris which will be showcased in national and international stores hence creating awareness about it. So revival is definitely helping the export market. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the brand ambassador of traditional Indian fabric in his engagements abroad by wearing them in style. Traditional Indian fabric is also a big “Make In India” story. We see a surge in the demand from the diaspora aiding apparel export as more Indians abroad are proud of their cultural heritage and what better way to show it then in the clothes we wear,” opines Bhutia. People are learning more about the high-quality Indian textiles the country has always offered. In recent years, there has also been a surge in foreign tourists travelling to India and being exposed to handlooms from Tamil Nadu, Varanasi, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and they have become big supporters and advocates of traditional handlooms. “It is the story of traditional textile making that makes the whole process very desirable. Once a consumer likes what they see, they want more of it. In addition, once the big fashion designers and retail giants introduce their luxury range of Indian fabrics on runways around the world, the rapid fashion industry copies those patterns and the range is soon available for consumption in clothing racks around the world. It’s the simple equation of demand and supply. We at Gartika want to trigger the demand – not for your quick $10, Made in China shirt that is available in tons, but for unique clothing and accessories that follow old ways of creating products,” explains Radhika.
The handloom industry now provides livelihood to over 90 million people in the country. It continues to be craft-oriented, even though it was restricted by a limited choice of processing and technology. Traditional Indian fabric is more of a niche and the mass market is still with the big brand western clothing manufacturers who export from India. However traditional Indian fabrics like Khadi & Indian handlooms are definitely gaining popularity with the increased awareness. Fashion Designer Surbhi Pansari says, “since the fashion industry has experienced a universal shift to re-invent and revive the age old practices and textiles. Many designers are bringing back the traditional fabrics and making and printing techniques. Modern silhouette in these fabrics give a contemporary look to the garments, finding favour among today’s generation. Designers are using Indian fabrics and artisans & moulding their work practices around Indian craft traditions. They are creating their place in the international arena and hence aiding apparel exports.”
Traditional fabrics are definitely gaining a lot of popularity among today’s generation. India boasts a massive handloom heritage, one that is steeped in fabrics, prints, techniques and perennial patterns. “We are trying to get back to the basics and reclaim our lost heritage. Not only us, designers are making conscious efforts towards identifying and collaborating with weavers who are familiar with the traditional and original weaving methods, but we are also working on sourcing authentic fabrics and ferreting for old formulas for dying the fabric in typical colours,” says Fashion Designer Ambrish Damani. The Indian textiles industry is extremely varied, with the hand-spun and hand-woven textiles sectors at one end of the spectrum, while the capital intensive sophisticated mills sector at the other end of the spectrum. “The close linkage of the textile industry to agriculture (for raw materials such as cotton) and the ancient culture and traditions of the country in terms of textiles make the Indian textiles sector unique in comparison to the industries of other countries. Plus the government is also helping the weavers to create more traditional fabrics,” adds Ambrish.
The biggest issue facing the market is definitely limited to people who understand and value the craft. Challenges faced by the industry include stiff competition in the international market from mass-market clothing manufacturers and synthetic substitutes. The biggest challenge is that people want everything cheap and at a low cost. Consumers want something different but they want it fast and cheap and they may wear it once or twice and forget it exists. “Then they will go and buy more such garments. It is a cycle they can’t seem to get out of unless they run out of space in their wardrobes or money in their pockets. The other challenge is that big companies use quick and easy methods to create patterns by screen printing and using machinery for everything. A few big and small business owners also say they are using organic fabrics and natural dyes when the truth is far from reality. Innocent consumers who have absolutely no clue about this process buy those clothing items thinking it is authentic fabric they are buying. For people who are trying to continue preserving and promoting ancient artisanal methods to offer distinct products, this certainly poses a big challenge. A good example is also of the term ‘pashmina,’ that is abused in the western markets. People advertise cheap viscose and synthetic or even bad wool variety as pashmina and some Americans think cashmere is sold on the streets in India for $5 to $50 dollars,” avers Radhika. Consumer trends will change in the coming years as they will soon realize that when you spend less on clothes and accessories, then you buy more. However, when you buy decent to high quality product, it’s supposed to last longer and after you have experienced high-quality, you will never go back to buying cheap stuff again. You will save money to buy better products that’ll last a few years at minimum.
This story appeared in the July issue of Apparel India: Apparel India – July 2016 – In-Focus – An India-Inspired Revival