It was a blue sari from Bihar that kickstarted a social media trend. Though Smriti Irani’s initiate of #IWearHandloom made way for a social media revolution of sorts, we know it will take much more beyond that first step to revive handlooms. And so, we cajoled and coaxed some people to dig into their cupboards for the handloom attire they loved. Come, hear us, as we bring you a few handloom tales.
Indrani Jagga Row
My handloom tale
“Back in our time, we always wore cottons. We would wear dresses to school when we were little, but would eye our mother’s saris and hope to wear them for weddings and special occasions. The earliest recollection I have, of wearing a sari was when I was fourteen years old, and I have been wearing saris ever since. “
“While I had a collection of many different saris like Chanderi, Rajasthani cottons, Mursheedabad silks, Tamil Nadu handlooms, printed silks, Kanchipattus and Odisha handlooms; Bengal cottons are the most special to me. For one, I would see my mother and aunts wear them very often. Secondly, they are not very expensive, are much softer, made of finer material and look very dressy. I still treasure my wedding sari from 1956.
The cotton saris were higher in quality back then, as that was what everyone wore. The weavers could give softer saris as there were people willing to spend on them. Even the silk saris were high in quality and used pure gold and silver zaris. “
Handlooms hardly seen today
“The younger generation hardly wear handloom saris today. I think that the main reason is the cost and maintenance factors. Handlooms are expensive and require more care and maintenance. On the other hand, polyester is easier to maintain. Also, while they may wear saris, it is only for special occasions, which means that they just have a handful of them in their wardrobe, and these too are usually silks. However, I do hope that the younger generation wears handlooms more often, as that is important for our handloom industry to survive. I also hope that private enterprises can take up the handloom revival process to make it more effective.
I personally am an ardent lover of cottons and don’t wear synthetic saris at all. I love pure cottons due to their feel and look. During the colder months I wear light silks which come in so many varieties.”
My handloom tale
“The earliest recollection that I have of wearing handloom was when I was ten years old. We’ve always lived in coastal areas since childhood and my parents would make us children wear cottons. We grew up as ardent lovers of cotton. I was too young to differentiate between handloom, powerloom and khadi, so I’d usually pick up material based on the feel of the fabric.”
Knowing the difference
“It was only when I got into fashion designing, I understood the difference. Actually, if you look closely, the thread can help you identify the cloth. Khadi is a rougher-looking uneven fabric with defects, as the thread is made manually on charkhas. Handloom threads are smoother, and the cloth is a smoother version of khadi. Powerloom is soft smooth fabric like mulmul. It costs lesser because it’s machine-made and the quality is lower, as many industries mix rayon, which is cheaper.
The handloom industry is still standing where it was. It isn’t pocket-friendly, and needs high levels of maintenance. So there’s only a niche segment buying it while a vast majority – that includes the younger generation – prefer wash and wear fabric.”
“For the industry to revive, I think that awareness about the benefits of handloom needs to come in. While Smriti Irani’s initiative is one step in that direction, it needs to be followed up with why one wears handloom. These materials are skin-friendly. Organic dyes don’t harm the skin like chemical dyes do. It’s also trend-based, so if designers pick up Khadi, others will follow.
We stand at a perfect place for the revival of handloom industry. Andhra is the hub of handlooms and khadi. It is the biggest producing area with towns of Chirala, Srikakulam, Amalapuram, Mangalgiri and so many pockets towards East Godavari. Vizag is a limited market and for all those wanting to add handloom to their collection, I’d recommend visiting these pockets and getting something back.”
What Madhu wears now
“This is my favourite combination of Pochampally with Kalamkari. I picked this up in Hyderabad. It is a Pochampally weave with Kalamkari block printing done using vegetable dyes.”
Poonam Shah Srinath
My Handloom Tale
“I grew up surrounded by Indian textiles, as my father was in the business and my mother always emphasised the importance of handloom. My first sari was a cream and fuchsia Dharmavaram that I bought when I was in college. But my true introduction was when I saw my mother-in-law’s handloom filled wardrobe. Now I add to my huge collection of saris whenever I travel, picking up the specialty of whichever state I visit. Our country has such a diverse textile culture, I ensure the Indian wear I dress in is always handloom. It’s impressive how the textile culture in India is evolving, as it is important for the survival of the artisans. A lot of designers are ensuring to use handloom in their collections and I see even youngsters donning it in some form or the other. People have moved past the saris and bedsheets and begun utilising them as bags, jackets and even drapes. I admire how the government is also trying its best to ensure that the profession of weaving doesn’t fade out.”
“The only Indian textiles missing in my wardrobe are from Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir.”
“Madhubani Tussar and traditional Assamese raw silk sari.”
“Uppada saris or Etikoppaka toys.”
“Sari, it holds a grace and identity no other outfit does.”
My handloom tale
“My earliest recollection of a sari that I fell in love with was a cream Tussar silk. Eighteen years ago, I took this plain sari for a Pattachitra block printing. I loved the entire look of the sari, and the fact that it draped so well, motivated me to build my collection.
Over the years I’ve picked up plenty of handloom saris, and I have a special liking for Odisha and Andhra handlooms. Baluchari, Sambalpuri, Chanderi, Gadhwal, Uppada silks, Bobbili cottons, Ponduru Khadi, Mangalgiri and Kanchi cottons and silks are all part of my wardrobe. Today perhaps I have everything that costs from Rs. 250/- to Rs. 25k, but a treasured possession is my Kanjeevaram Kanchi Pattu from Vijayawada, which was my wedding sari. From my collection, lower cost ones are from weavers, but when the same stuff goes into the hands of a designer, they see some additions and the prices are jacked up. Unfortunately, the weavers don’t make much money, and what’s even worse is that they aren’t interested anymore.”
“As a member of the newly formed Andhra Crafts Council, I also see that weavers lack motivation and aren’t always ready to take orders, unless there’s a bulk quantity involved. The weaver’s children too are looking at more lucrative work options. What we do is to purchase from the weavers directly, put some add ons and then display for free. We take orders from there.
When compared with handloom, powerloom does have advantages. For one, production is faster, rates become lesser and the variety of designs is greater. For the weaver, the designs are limited and if you ask for something specific it takes up to six months. Even if there is demand, they will have difficulty in matching it with supply.”
Change needed in buying habits
“To change things, I think we first need to change our buying habits. I’ve seen that children develop an interest when parents show that interest too. Encouraging children to wear handlooms is something parents should do and you can always get traditional clothes done in handloom for children. If people appreciate what they wear, they will want to get more of that done. This in turn builds awareness for handloom too. Also, instead of just heading to designer exhibitions, attending the small ones from weavers makes a lot of difference too.”
My handloom tale
“As far as I can remember, in our household we often wore handlooms like cottons and Khadi dresses. I come from Eluru, and there handloom is given much more importance; and the awareness levels are higher. Further, my mom is from Guntur and is heavily into Mangalgiri cotton. Many of my aunts used to actually go to Mangalgiri and buy from there, so in all likelihood, my first outfit too would have been a Mangalgiri cotton. The first time that I recall wearing a handloom outfit was highly appreciated by all, and since then I often wear handloom. Like for instance the dress I am currently wearing is a cotton piece with Chikan-work; the designer from whom I bought this dress is mainly into handlooms like Ikat, Patola and such. I really like his style.
The thing about handloom as opposed to powerloom is that a handloom cloth is painstakingly made – it can take up to 3 or 4 months for a really good piece to be made on the handloom. And while the powerloom is much quicker, it does not have the personal human touch that makes an outfit so appealing.”
“I have a lot of Ikat, Pochampally and my mom wears a lot of Bhagalpuri for work as she prefers it and finds it really convenient. I’ve also seen her wear a lot of jute. Jute imparts a feeling of warmth but considering that almost everyone is half the time in air-conditioned rooms, they can afford to wear a lot of jute. My personal collection of handlooms is pretty much dominated by handloom bags and accessories. My favourite is an Ikat bag which I treasure a lot.”
Need to generate awareness
“Most of the current generation including me, are hardly aware of how to recognise the sheer variety of handlooms. In this regard, I feel that Smriti Irani’s initiative is a real good step, but there is a need to educate people and not let this initiative phase out like a passing trend with a picture or two on Facebook or Instagram. For instance how jeans are so popular and widely promoted, handlooms too need a lot of exposure and awareness. Currently it is only a small section of society who actually opts for and wears handlooms. I believe influential people in society, brand ambassadors and film personalities should be roped in to promote and help revive the handloom industry.”
My handloom tale
“I was born and raised in Berhampur, Odisha and the street behind my house was filled with weavers. I was always fascinated by the way they weaved colourfully dyed threads on looms to make Berhampur silk saris. The first time I wore a handloom was for my school farewell. I have a natural inclination towards hand-woven pure cotton and silks. The beige and blue Uppada silk I’m wearing was bought from a weaver who comes to Vizag every few months. He was so sure I would buy it because it’s minimalistic. I don’t wear saris much but most of the saris I own are handloom. I also have basic kurtas and a halter neck dress but I would like to acquire more casual handlooms.”
Choice of Weave
“I love Uppadas, Ikat and Chanderi. I prefer simple and light saris with subtle designs.”
“Because I prefer simple saris, the blouses are where I up the ante.”
My handloom tale
“In India, ‘summer’ lasts for almost eight months of the year. And it is because of the comfort level that handlooms are still in vogue. I wore one of my mother’s saris for Teacher’s Day, a Gadwal sari. My choices were limited as I had only one blouse, a black one and hence it was the Gadwal that I wore, but after draping it I realised just how cool and comfortable it was. I loved being in it.
With my father working in a transferable job in the Central Government, we travelled across the country; right from Chandigarh to Kerala to Maharashtra. Shopping in the local markets taught me a lot about handlooms. Now, I consciously seek out and buy handloom saris. I am aware of their value – not only are they comfortable, they also represent our Indian culture – every sari from each Indian state is unique. I used to pick up handloom saris on each trip, but of late I get them easily in exhibitions and Fab India . The first handloom I bought was for my mother with my first pay-check; it was a sari from Gurjari, a Gujarat based store akin to Lepakshi. I also indulge in Khadi, a fabric that I got introduced to in Visakhapatnam. Shobha and I source hand-woven saris from weavers in Ponduru.”
“Shobha introduced me to the versatility of Khadi. I used to just buy something nice, without going into the specifics of the fabric. But from her I learnt a lot about the differences between handlooms and mills. When we visited the weavers I realised how much effort goes into each length of fabric. We give our requirements, designs and shades. But it is tough for them as they have to make changes in their loom to accommodate any design or change in shade. Watching them at work is really fascinating; wherever there is space, there is a loom with men and women busy clicking away and working so hard. They put so much physical energy into it. It takes them almost a month to weave four saris; four lengths that they weave at a time. When you consider the time and effort invested in each sari, you realise the value of that sari.”
Promoting the weaver
“Shobha and I conduct four exhibitions in a year and we source saris from weavers. With each exhibition, we try to introduce new weavers. Handlooms are in fashion today. I often gift handloom saris to my close family and friends too.”
My personal favourites
“I am wearing a Khadi silk, and it is my favourite. I genuinely love Khadi cottons and silks and I feel that they are very versatile. I often wear them for formal or evening parties. Saris are very graceful, though for regular daily chores or while travelling, I prefer the ease of a cotton chudidhar or kurta.”
My handloom tale
“I clearly remember the date when I first wore a sari. It was on August 30, 1986, the day when I was engaged. It was a Kanchipattu rani pink sari with a blue border and it had come from the groom’s house. It was a beautiful sari and I cherish it till date.”
“Being married into a family that is in the textile industry influences a lot of my handloom decisions. Before I was married I didn’t know much about the types of saris and even about the difference between handloom and powerloom saris. Now, I really love kora saris, in both cottons and silks as they feel and look wonderful. The colours often seen in my wardrobe include plenty of pinks and creams. Of all handloom saris, I love saris from Kanchi as they have certain grandeur about them.”
“Most of my sari decisions are influenced by what my husband likes. He is really good at selecting and I get the advantage of draping some of the most beautiful colours and weaves.”
Go to gifts
“I usually gift saris or silverware. When I’m gifting saris, my choice usually revolves around handloom and I choose saris which I’m sure that the receiver will wear.”
My handloom tale
“I’ve been wearing handlooms for as long as I can remember. I picked up that interest from my mother who is much into handlooms too and has a great collection.”
“I have plenty of handloom attire in my wardrobe and this includes both dresses and saris. My favourite attire is a beautiful white Khadi sari with an intricate Krishna backdrop that I simply adore.”
“One of my favourite places to go shopping for them is Fab India. I specifically love Chanderi saris and Khadi, and I often get customized designs made. When it’s not Fab India, I like to shop directly from the weavers or even buy at exhibitions where plenty of stalls are put up.”
My handloom tale
“It was in the final year of NIFT that my association with Khadi and handloom actually began. We would get extra marks if we worked with handloom, and that drove me to do so too. After passing out of NIFT in 2001, I wanted to do my own thing, and so I did my own fashion shows. I met the State Director of Khadi Samsthan during one such show, and became part of the designer intervention project that happened at the same time. Khadi and handloom doesn’t enjoy many privileges and I soon realized that even at top level, people weren’t very sure about the product. And to prove that Khadi did have takers I set up a stall with Khadi-wear which was well received. Trithvaa Khaadi, my store that sells designs in Khadi happened simultaneously.”
”I went on to design for films like Anand, Godavari, Ashta Chamma, Leader and also Happy Days. Working with Tollywood taught me many things. For one, movie makers work for commercial purposes and prefer trendy looks. Secondly, the perception that the trendy look doesn’t come from handloom is common. So when I got to work with Kamalini’s look in Godavari, I wanted to portray her as a woman who doesn’t follow trends blindly. She listens to her heart. It took a little convincing and the end result was worth it. But not all directors are like Sekhar Kammula. It takes a lot of time and convincing to enable movie makers to go for Khadi and handloom. That said, the trend is changing, but with a lot of effort.”
Initiatives – need of the hour
”I appreciate Smriti Irani’s initiative through #IWearHandloom. Every step we take in reviving this dying industry is a useful one. I only hope that more designers don’t get carried away with ‘trends’ and work with our beautiful materials. Also handloom shouldn’t be sold based on its sad stories, but on its wealth of benefits. This is an eco-friendly material that breathes. Moreover, it improves with use, becoming softer with every wash. And once you have Khadi and handloom in your wardrobe, it’s difficult not to like it. I have many repeat customers and handloom lovers, but then there are an equal number of people unaware about it too. That awareness should increase and instead of blindly following trends, we must all become thinking-buyers, as that’s the only way to save the industry.”
My Handloom tale
“My earliest memory of hand woven fabric is with Pochampally. My dad is from Hyderabad, and Pochampally is very close to Hyderabad, so we used to shop there a lot. My wardrobe has quite a few Pochampally, Ikat and a few pieces of Khadi, Kalamkari prints and Uppada too. I have always had an inclination towards handlooms; as it is the best fabric and each woven cloth has an inspiring story to tell. In our collection, we maintain a section exclusively for handlooms.”
“Our shop stores Pochampally, Khadi, Ikat, Kalamkari prints and a few materials from Uppada too. Our garments are sourced mainly from Mumbai and Kolkata. But unfortunately the high maintenance for handloom fabrics deters many from buying handlooms. Everyone prefers low maintenance garments today, because they need less ironing and cost less. However, current trends show an inclination towards Ikat.”
“I feel Smriti Irani’s initiative will definitely make an impact. Also, more Indian designers are today using handlooms, which will hopefully generate more interest. If designers reduce the prices they can definitely play with the trend. Attractive designs and more variety can help revive the handloom industry.”