India's textile industry is aiming to tap into its heritage and seek innovative solutions to preserve it

Vandita Jadeja

23 Jul 2017
India does not have an agency that has been able to map the wealth of its tribal textile design and use the same for the benefit of retailers, importers and design students. India has a tribal population of 104.28 million. The Northeast is home to more than 200 tribes and textile design is more geometric in the hills because the tribes work on simple looms. As you move downwards, a transition can be noted and shuttle looms can be seen.

The Textiles India 2017, a trade fair that brought 15,000 Indian textile industry representatives, 2,500 international buyers from 106 different nations and hundreds of craft connoisseurs together has brought about a lot of change in the industry for the future. Textiles from the North Eastern India that were collected during the anthropological fieldwork were put on display here. The digital collection also featured the Pani Gamcha, which is a black cotton cloth with white stripes that was used by the Meitei women in Manipur.

The protection and development of design can help uplift the textile sector that sustains the livelihood of more than 45 million and contributes about 5% to India’s Gross Domestic Product.

In an interview, Union Minister for Textiles Smriti Irani had mentioned that it is time to realize the India’s products are novel and can tickle the fancy of any foreign buyer. The tourists coming from the UK and EU want to learn more about the life of an artisan and tour operators also want to offer an experience of it. The handloom and handicrafts sector is highly unorganized and operated on a small scale through traditional methods. Narendra Kumar, designer and creative director at Amazon, points out that Amazon runs a handloom store on its website where big and small scale sellers can showcase their products to the world. About a year and a half ago, Amazon came out with the movie India Modern which captured the confidence of a new India that can stand up for its designs.

Anavila Misra, a designer has been working with weavers across West Bengal and craftswomen from Jharkhand since 2009, mentions that she had recently approached a community in Phulia to start creating linen saris. The community had been weaving stoles for the Japanese market for a while now, but they kept insisting that linen is too heavy and will break on the loom. In such a situation, the designers need to ensure that they bear the initial losses of all kinds. The Garhwal sari is a simple cotton body with a silk pallu and a border, which has converted into all silk since silk commands a higher price. The result was a dilution of the trademark aesthetic and the saris end up looking like they belong from anywhere in India. A lack of understanding of the design economics could result in a huge slash in the price of the craft.

There is a difference between designers in the East and the West which is that the latter are ready to invest in a great deal of time and energy into design because the end product commands a huge price. With 1,243 ITIs that offer clothing technology courses, 17 NIFTs, 44 powerloom service centers in India, and to enhance the technical skills in apparel industry, the Indian Government has established 75 apparel training and design centers.
The Indian apparel growth story is incomplete without ensuring that the design skill is passed on from one generation to another across design schools and not limited to the families of weavers and artisans.  

Retailers, exporters and design houses are one of the largest pool of employers of the design graduates. The Indian textile industry does have a long way to go, but for now, it seems to be in sync with Prime Minister Modi’s formula of ‘farm to fibre to fabric to fashion to foreign’. 

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