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In 2012, the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) launched an enduring idea. By setting aside one day each season for handlooms and textiles, calling it the Indian Textiles Day, it attempted to create a business platform for designers who worked with Indian weaves and crafts. Some had been doing this for years; others were only beginning to wake up to the potential of handlooms for their brands and businesses. Such work kept getting mixed up with many other concurrent narratives in Indian fashion, creating a blur instead of a distinction. Handlooms—whether we call it positive discrimination or not—need separate categorization and push.

The initiative was spearheaded by Anjana Sharma, then director of fashion at IMG-Reliance, which organizes the LFW. Now it is championed by Gautam Vazirani, fashion curator at IMG-Reliance, who is instrumental in showcasing designer-weaver synergies from around the country on the mainstream fashion landscape. By marking this day, the LFW has been able to include a governmental dialogue—it has the nod of the Union textiles ministry—as well as draw media and celebrity attention to the cause. “Somewhere down the line, handloom fashion was going out of trend, affecting the livelihood of our weavers. It was time to reimagine how we engaged with handlooms as part of our daily wardrobes," says Vazirani.

Designer Anavila Misra making her debut at the Morarka Foundation show at the LFW’s Summer/Resort 2014
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Designer Anavila Misra making her debut at the Morarka Foundation show at the LFW’s Summer/Resort 2014

By mounting the works of veteran and emerging fashion designers who engage with indigenous textiles, the Textiles Day initiative has become a noticeable high point. Despite scepticism inside and outside the industry about the authenticity of the raw material some designers use (with power-loom fabric being paraded as handloom) and questions about their lasting commitment to handloom fashion, the day has been able to throw light on a niche sector and tap buyers among fashion stores. It has certainly contributed to giving handlooms a glamorous spin, with the presence of high-voltage film stars as showstoppers (Aditi Rao Hydari for Ritu Kumar, and Konkona Sensharma for Anavila, to name a few) and the spectacle that fashion weeks are known for.

Actor and musician Monica Dogra walking the ramp for 11.11/eleven eleven at the LFW’s Summer/Resort 2014.
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Actor and musician Monica Dogra walking the ramp for 11.11/eleven eleven at the LFW’s Summer/Resort 2014.

According to Anita Dongre, India’s most commercially successful designer, who launched her sub-brand Grassroot at the LFW’s Winter/Festive 2015 edition, “The LFW was a platform for us to showcase Grassroot’s awareness for handcrafted designs which today’s discerning customers will endorse."

Anita Dongre launched Grassroot at the LFW last year.
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Anita Dongre launched Grassroot at the LFW last year.

“Today, several designers are working and weaving with rural clusters," says Wendell Rodricks, who installed the Indica Emporia during the LFW Summer/Resort 2016 show held in March. Rodricks celebrated handwoven textiles by showcasing contemporary renditions of dhotis, kurtas, capes and blouses.

Wendell Rodricks’ Indica Emporia installation in March
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Wendell Rodricks’ Indica Emporia installation in March

The Indian Textiles Day initiative has also helped create success stories for emerging brands such as Anavila, Paromita Banerjee, Divya Sheth and P.E.L.L.A. These labels address different markets through their artistic interpretations of handloom fashion. Vazirani says the selection starts with the designer’s core philosophy, and the processes and techniques s/he adopts towards fabric development. “How they interpret Jamdani, Ikat, Eri silks, Chanderi silks, Maheshwari cottons and Banarasi as part of the normal and occasion-wear wardrobe for consumers is important," he explains.

Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj in designer Anuradha Pegu’s Eri silk sari—Pegu will launch her collection at the LFW this month
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Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj in designer Anuradha Pegu’s Eri silk sari—Pegu will launch her collection at the LFW this month

“The LFW helped build my brand from obscurity," says Anavila, who works with clusters in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat. She made her debut with the Morarka Arts and Crafts Foundation show at the LFW Summer/Resort 2014 with a range of lightweight linen saris that now have a cult following.

The Woven Wonders of Varanasi exhibition at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, 2015
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The Woven Wonders of Varanasi exhibition at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, 2015

The LFW has been layering this initiative with panel discussions and exhibitions. Woven Wonders Of Varanasi, an exhibition on the revival of Banaras textiles, held at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum last year, brought together skilled weavers and fashion designers on one platform.

Rta Kapur Chishti (right) at a textile workshop in 2012
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Rta Kapur Chishti (right) at a textile workshop in 2012

Now, in the LFW’s 10th year, the initiative has been renamed Sustainable Fashion & Indian Textiles Day. As a precursor to its ongoing show in Mumbai, the LFW organized the first-ever North-Eastern model auditions in Guwahati, with the two winners dressed in traditional Mekhela Chadors.

Anuradha Pegu’s show—#MadeInAssam—at the LFW 2016
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Anuradha Pegu’s show—#MadeInAssam—at the LFW 2016

As a run-up to National award-winning Assamese designer Anuradha Pegu’s debut ramp show at the ongoing edition of LFW, renowned transgender Bharatanatyam dancer Narthaki Nataraj was invited to model in her saris for a photo shoot.

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