How can fashion that upholds India’s handloom legacy be defined? This was one of the questions that came up in a panel discussion titled “The Future Of Handlooms”, on the first day of the Amazon India Fashion Week’s (AIFW’s) Autumn/Winter 2017 edition in Delhi last week.
Among the five panellists were Sally Holkar, founder of The Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, and Anita Lal, founder of design and lifestyle brand Good Earth. Holkar emphasized goal-oriented training of new-generation weavers with an eye on global-local markets, while Lal’s focus was on design, with sensitivity and sensibility being key. However precise and apt, though, words can only express an idea so much.
The rest was done by the opening show of AIFW that followed the discussion. The culmination of a collaboration between 65 THS graduates and 13 designers, it communicated how diverse aspects of the nation’s weaving ecology could be interwoven. The textiles were woven by THS graduates and the garments created by the designers. Supported by Good Earth, the show displayed a harmony in design despite the many minds and hands that had gone into creating it.
Dresses, palazzos, fuss-free sari drapes, tops, skirts, jackets, cropped pants, shirts, long and short blouses, jumpsuits—there was plenty to choose from, both in womenswear and menswear, to instantly pinpoint what contemporary handloom fashion looks and feels like.
“The clothes had the signature of each designer who was part of the collaboration and yet they had a voice of their own,” says designer Sanjay Garg, who was one of the participating designers.
Garg hit the nail on the head. It wasn’t exactly easy to point out from a seat in the audience which outfits were by Neeru Kumar, Rajesh Pratap Singh, 11:11 CellDSGN, Urvashi Kaur, Akaaro, Rohit Bal, Rina Singh of Eka, Suket Dhir or Garg, yet one could see clearly that some of India’s best textile designers were at work. The clothes were wearable, looked easy to wash and maintain, and were stamped with the difficult combination of simplicity and design value. The textiles stood out.
So what really worked? A string of factors perhaps. “Besides Good Earth’s unwavering sponsorship of all expenses, the weaving was mentored by two brilliant senior textile designers, both products of Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design,” says Holkar, talking about Sayan Shadna and Neha Lad. Their design intervention at the weaving stage was valuable, says Holkar. The show exemplified what Holkar had tried to point out during the discussion—that for younger-generation weavers, learning to create products for new markets and consumer segments must come from training in quality, design, marketing and entrepreneurial skills, that it’s a process, not a deluge of laments about weavers.
When THS weavers, dressed in self-woven kurta pyjamas cinched at the waist with woven stoles, took a bow at the show, it became apparent that attention to process and educational impetus for aspirant weavers could close the gaps of opportunity we assume are large and dispiriting. Garg and Holkar also credit young, Mumbai-based stylist Kshitij Kankaria for the inventive styling of the garments that heightened their ramp appeal. “They did not invite designers backstage; none of us could style models or offer suggestions on hair and make-up,” says Garg, adding that this enabled a smooth, seamless show.
It was refreshing indeed to see a celebrity designer like Rohit Bal and veteran textile conservationist Neeru Kumar share the moment with smiling THS graduates.
While the collection won’t be sold as it was shown on the ramp, it is a template to invite orders from buyers and stores from India and abroad. “Orders are pouring in,” confirms Holkar. To pick designers and/or order, visit Thehandloomschool.org. Look up the site even if you don’t want to order—you may want to send your young sons and daughters to learn weaving.