Rajesh Pratap Singh, Sabyasachi Mukherjee and Abraham and Thakore are among those few names from the fashion fraternity who have always contributed their bit to support the weavers and craftsmen of India. Not only have these designers taken pride in our traditional weaving techniques, textiles and fabrics, but time and again, through their collections, they have highlighted our rich culture. And now these designers have another agenda on cards — reviving handloom sector in Odisha. The Odisha government has roped in the veterans and other designers like Delhi-based Anjali Kalia and Odisha-born Bibhu Mohapatra, now based in USA, to work on the state government-sponsored 18-month project.
The designers will work with Orissa State Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society and Sambalpuri Bastralaya to improve designs of saris and other materials to popularise them. “The famous author Rita Kapur Chishti is coordinating between the designers and weavers. She has authored a book on saris from 14 states, including Odisha. The major focus will be on the revival of fabrics and techniques like tie and dye and ikat. The poor weavers in the state have been suffering due to lack of attention and getting poor returns for their hard work. It is mandatory now to take such steps to revive the handloom industry here,” says G D Das, managing director of Sambalpuri Vastralaya. “Weavers of Odisha are highly talented and need certain technical and marketing guidance in order to attract customers in international market,” adds Arti Ahuja, the secretary, textiles and handlooms.
Once in great demand, Odisha handloom has fallen on bad days due to a variety of reasons, the main being the rising cost of inputs and materials, prevalence of age-old techniques, lack of proper marketing network and little scope for skill development.
The designers would work on improving saris, dupattas, scarves and also skirting and coating material for men. “We have the tradition of most beautiful saris that have lost out because of lack of patronage and awareness. Double ikat sari from Odisha takes the genius and precision of a watchmaker to recreate. The designs by these master weavers are marvellous. India produces the finest handloom saris, which, in today’s automated world, are an epitome of sustainable luxury. Yet, the tradition is quietly decaying as we have adopted an alien culture mindlessly. As the world globalises, regionalisation will set us apart and ahead,” says designer Mukherjee who recently paid a visit to Bhubaneswar to assess the handloom scene in the state.
Designer duo Abraham and Thakore have already started working with the weavers and say that since the designs and techniques of the state are quite popular and known across the world, they do not need to do much. “All they need is support and motivation. The basic idea is to keep the traditions alive and moving. We first have to look at what we have been doing traditionally, respect the textiles, analyse design aesthetics and introduce our sensibilities. I am sure working with weavers would be helpful even for us. I am amazed to see the creativity and skills of these craftsmen,” says Abraham.
Fashion designer Anjali Kalia says that besides ikat, she will try to revive bandha work, kotpad, dongariya kond and kalahandi saris. “I have believed that we need to sustain handloom and for that we need to make people re-interested in our traditional craft. Handloom industry provides employment to hundreds of people and we need to make sure that they get sufficient amount for their skills. In the last few years, handloom weavers have gone down by 60 per cent in our country. I met a few recently and found out that they are confused and losing confidence. My efforts will be directed towards giving the weavers motivation to get back to traditional and adding my design aesthetics to their craft. I will also try to focus more and more on the fabrics,” she concludes.