The Times Of India, Nov 2015

From the little-known Mubarakpur weave to malkha and mashroo, the market for handlooms is seeing a huge upswing

For seven years now, Bhubaneswar-based designer Gunjan Jain has been combing the weaving villages of Odisha for dying motifs, unusual dyes and weaves. In the process, she has expanded the handloom lovers’ vocab beyond the familiar ikat. Dhalapathar, Habaspuri, Kotpad, Koraput, rare Bomkais…they’ve all become must-haves.

Jain gives the traditional saris a smart twist with contemporary colours and designs. At bazaars, melas and e-commerce sites, her experimental work has a dedicated following that is not fazed by her prices: a stunning thick cotton mustard Bomkai tussar cotton may cost Rs 9,000, a price no one once paid for a cotton sari.

“There is a greater sensitivity and exposure to handloom today,” says Jain. These are great times for Indian handlooms even if the market is now sharply divided between the affordable/common and exclusive/designer handlooms. There is a considerable amount of effort being put into research and experimentation.

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The fascinating story of the rise of Malkha (malmal+khadi) illustrates the point. Tagged as Freedom Fabric, this pure handwoven cotton cloth made with local resources and minimal use of mass production technology, is becoming increasingly popular in the market. Initially, its khadi-like texture, vivid colours and absorbent weave were things that drew only hardcore handloom nuts. Today, it is a cool fabric to sport, fashioned into saris, palazzos and tunics.

Uzramma, among the leading forces in the Malkha revival movement, says there is demand for much more than the 5,000-7,000 metres being produced. “We are looking at getting into the garments market, new designs on the loom, changing the block print designs, and creating special prints,” she says.

Among the biggest names in the field today is the indefatigable Sanjay Garg who with his dazzling work and marketing skills made handloom, especially Chanderi, cool among the young and well-heeled. He too is moving ahead and beyond Chanderi. “There are many more Chanderis waiting to be discovered,” says Garg who has started work on reviving fabrics like mashroo (from Ahmedabad, Varanasi and Hyderabad), himroo (from Aurangabad), Gadwal and Mangalgiri and Venkatagiri textiles from Andhra Pradesh. “My aim is to introduce people to the fabulous, indigenous fabrics of our country. Good work will bring in buyers,” he says.

While he was looking at the trademark tussars of Nalanda in Bihar, NID graduate Pradeep Pillai stumbled on the baavan bootis — 52 similar motifs woven on the pallav of tussar saris. The motif hadn’t been used in 50 years when he started working with it. This, along with his Venkatagiri silks, are Pillai’s identifiable lines. “You have to keep adding to the handloom vocabulary because there are a lot of young buyers with contemporary sensibilities,” he says.

Recently, the All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA) has started pushing the weaves of Mubarkapur, a town in Azamgarh. Because of its proximity to Varanasi, its work got bundled with Banarasi, but that is now changing. The 20,000 weavers there had nearly lost their creative identity when AIACA stepped into the picture. With design, research, marketing and other kinds of intervention, the Mubarakpur weave is now finding its place in urban markets and also grabbing the attention of designers.

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