Every artisan fabric or accessory speaks for itself through its exquisite touch, feel and look. Not only are genuine artisan products sustainable, they are masterpieces of art with nostalgic charm. If you aren’t convinced, just take a close look at any garment made using traditional, hand-work techniques. You’ll quickly notice unique qualities and begin to appreciate the time and skill involved in its creation. No machine-produced replica can duplicate this.
Whether it’s in the name of better quality, sustainability or exclusivity, many modern designers are embracing traditional artisanal skills. Most opt to blend traditional artisan techniques with modern fashion, to create unique statement designs. There is also a significant focus on the social aspect of reviving traditional techniques. I don’t know about you, but I always appreciate the work of such committed designers who champion traditional local arts. Efforts like these immensely benefit the communities dependent on these art forms for their livelihood. The contributions of these designers to fashion are meaningful as it keeps the heritage of textile techniques alive.
I’m not just impressed, but excited to see the promising revival of heirloom textiles by some of these designers. Let’s take a quick look at some of my favourites.
The Ones To Watch
The Lakme Fashion week this year showcased amazing curated collections of designer labels that highlight the artisan forms of Indian textiles. The clever designers behind these collections succeeded in conforming to traditions of heritage textile arts, while appealing to global fashion trends.
Nupur Goenka’s collection Aish is an amazing example of traditional ware that appeals to mainstream fashion needs. Aish features handloom kaftans, scarves, and tunics with contemporary motifs and colours. Nupur’s brilliant idea of transforming heirloom handloom textiles into versatile modern accessories is bound to find favour with fashion enthusiasts everywhere.
Deepa and Jay Lakhani are the founders of the jewellery brand Deepa Gurnani. With rich use of metal and intricate detailing that uses feathers, beads and stones, the designs are exquisite and in great demand. They are designed in New York and handmade in India.
Injiri by Chinnar Farooqui is another notable collection. This professional textile designer finds inspiration in traditional Gujarati nomadic dresses and creates her designs with organic cotton. Every garment is comfortable with a rustic, natural feel.
The fashion line, Maku Textiles, has been instrumental in reviving the dying art of weaving. The designer duo Shantanu Das and Chirag Gandhi work closely with hand weavers in West Bengal to source fabric for their exquisite designs, using only natural fibres and dyes. Their collection uses traditional indigo dyed clothing, handspun Khadi, and Tangail saris in contemporary fashion garments with a unique traditional aesthetic. Maku pride themselves on being more than a brand; they are a slow fibre movement against rapid industrialisation, working towards sustainability.
The Nor Black Nor White collection by Amrit Kumar and Mriga Kapadiya is as unique as its name. The unusually stylish collection is a bold mix of traditional artisan textiles from different regions of India. At London Fashion Week, NBNW showcased unisex garments, dresses, tunics and shorts with conventional design elements from various states of India. When dyed, silks from Kutch mixed with Ikat patterns and cotton checks from Kerala, the results are simply stunning.
Just like India, Africa too has a rich history of traditional textiles and artisan jewellery. Erica Domesek of P.S—I Made This partners with Rwandan artisan women communities to bring out limited edition handcrafted fabric patches. She uses them as part of DIY crafting kits for jewellery or accessories.
Domesek’s project deserves appreciation for how it has helped the local communities it works with. As designers, we are all aware of the struggle of local communities that rely on artisan skills for a livelihood. They suffer the brunt of fast fashion and have more than a tough time finding customers who pay them fair prices. With no alternative source of income, it isn’t uncommon for these communities to be exploited by profit-driven fashion companies. This is where fashion designers like Domesek make a remarkable difference. As part of the collaboration with the communities of Rwanda, she arranges job-skill training and entrepreneurship programs for the women.
The internet has also helped many artisans in a big way. Online ventures like Soko give artisans access to global customers. Maiyet and Nest work closely with artisan communities and enable them to become independent. Co-founder of Maiyet, Caylor, has been working with weavers from Varanasi for four years now. Her invaluable support has helped the community overcome issues, like inconsistencies in fabric quality, that affect the scope of sales.
There are other organisations like Women for Women International that not only create sustainable employment opportunities for the artisan communities, but also aim to improve their overall quality of living. They educate and train these groups, mainly women, to think out of the box and come up with new ideas that appeal to a global audience.
Of course, I couldn’t finish without a mention of SPINNA circle. They support the growth of women entrepreneurs (like me!) and artisans across the fashion and textiles industry by linking them and providing training, mentoring and business opportunities. For buyers, the organisation present these fabulous sources of talent, that they may never have otherwise discovered.
Commitment like this helps marginalised communities to hold on to their art and find the means to improve income on an ongoing basis. This, I believe, is the right approach to preserve traditional artisan skills. It is the right way forward for the fashion world to enjoy handcrafted products that are as beautiful as the story behind their design and creation.