It is estimated that the Indian handloom and weaving industries employ over 5 million weavers and allied workers. Woven textiles and handlooms make up around 15% of the cloth market and 95% of the world’s hand woven fabrics come from India. These government statistics don’t even take into account the highly unorganised embroidery industry that is almost completely run in non descript locations all over the country. Small workshops that are mostly dilapidated structures with little to no electricity and no basic amenities. It’s easy for the word ‘sweat shops’ to immediately come to mind. The establishments are operated by well meaning but uneducated owners who are struggling themselves to make ends meet after paying for their overheads. Resulting in no official record of their businesses and most dealings happening in cash to save on taxes.
In stark contrast are glitzy fashion weeks, opulent Bollywood movies and towering urban cities with their uber rich residents who don’t bat an eyelid before dropping a few hundred thousand rupees on their bridal lehengas by the designer du jour. It’s hardly surprising then that local artisans from rural India are no longer grooming their next generation in the trade of their fore fathers. They believe these skills to be obsolete and prefer that their children get an education and find other jobs in larger cities. Thankfully Indian designers have taken it upon themselves to reconcile the economic disparity between the haves and have-nots while also preserving these venerable and vulnerable indigenous industries.
After much experimentation and with help from local governments, most Indian designers have worked out that the key to making India’s indigenous sectors not only sustainable but also profitable is reinvention. Modern Indian men and women don’t want to dress like their parents and grandparents but they don’t want to completely isolate their Indian ethnicity either. This is evident from the past decade when there has been a sudden resurgence towards being and wearing Indian albeit with a modern twist. It might seem like this was just a random change in trends but in reality India’s stalwart fashion designers have been working hard behind moulding this mind-set with their conscious and continuous efforts.
Christened the accomplished reviver of India’s finest craftsmanship, Anita Dongre has spent her entire career trying to help struggling industries become relevant again. All of her labels AND, Global Desi, Anita Dongre, Grassroot and Pink City rely heavily on the skills of rural artisans. Not only Indian celebrities but also royals like Kate Middleton have chosen her designs and it’s because they’re extremely contemporary while also being intrinsically Indian.
At the India Couture Week 2017, she unveiled her collection Tree Of Love, dedicating it to the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan. By reinventing bridal couture with their age-old motifs and embroidery techniques, she proved that modern fashion and traditional crafts can exist in perfect harmony. Remember that you can shop the latest Anita Dongre collection here
Anita Dongre’s Collection
Credited with making the saree unbelievably cool again with his label Raw Mango is Sanjay Garg who shares the same philosophy as his senior Anita. Garg’s work is extremely influenced by history as he painstakingly researches old fabrics and techniques with the intention of reviving and reinventing them.
At the Amazon India Fashion Week in 2016, he brought back the lost art of Mashru weaves which was brought to India for Muslim men whose religion forbade them to wear silk. After locating a small pocket of weavers in Varanasi who had some idea about the weaving style, pooling their collective verbal knowledge on the subject and working from historical samples, he successfully created a collection using Mashru weaves. Raw Mango has also diversified into lehengas, kurtis and anarkalis using primarily Indian fabrics to make it more relatable to younger Indian women.
Sanjay Garg’s Collection
Mijwan, the obscure tiny hamlet of Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh seems like an unlikely venue for a meeting of the minds for Bollywood’s favourite designer Manish Malhotra, actress Shabana Azmi and airline heiress Namrata Goyal. However they have been collaborating for over 6 years to promote and celebrate the exquisite art of chikankari from the region. Shabana’s father Kaifi Azmi with an aim to revive the embroidery industry and provide empowerment to the village women founded the Mijwan Welfare Society.
With Manish Malhotra’s help the endeavour has not just borne fruit but is now a thriving trade that started with 40 women and now engages 300. The designer however doesn’t see it as a charitable endeavour but rather as a symbiotic relationship that provides him with immaculate embroideries and the women with a means to support themselves. The star-studded Mijwan shows have only become bigger and better with each passing year proving that given the right opportunities social welfare models can work wonderfully.
Manish Malhotra’s Collection
One of the strongest voices in support of reviving India’s dying indigenous crafts is Sabyasachi Mukherjee. So much so that he used his most prestigious commission yet, the Virushka wedding as a platform to make a national statement about supporting Indian weavers and embroiders. Anushka Sharma’s red Benarasi saree at the Delhi reception received a lot of flak and brickbats directed towards the designer for being outdated and boring. But that didn’t deter him from standing behind his convictions.
Sabya (as he’s affectionately referred to by India’s fashion elite) isn’t about just one project or a particular line dedicated to socio-economic development. His entire multi-million dollar empire is based on a mutually beneficial growth model. He dedicates his immense success to working closely at the grassroots level with traditional artisans and capitalising those unique skills into the bridal luxury market. The ace designer employs over 3000 craftsmen in over 18 clusters all over India. It’s his belief that Indian designers need to embrace their ethnic sensibilities to carve a niche for themselves and that incorporating a bit of local flavour to their creations is essential for global growth.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee’s Collection
Sources: Apparelresources.com, Famousfashiondesigners.org, Pinkvilla.com, Indiatvnews.com, Youtube.com, Scmp.com, Wedmegood.com, Archtecturaldigest.in, Scoopwhoop.com