Rahul Mishra on how to support and nurture India’s handloom industry

Rahul Mishra’s 13-year-long journey in the fashion industry has been full of exciting innovations and breakthroughs. Ahead, the designer shares his thoughts and learnings from his work with the Chanderi Back in 2010, Rahul Mishra visited more than 10 handloom clusters as part of a documentary titled The Warp And Weft of India that he was spearheading for Fox History Channel, presented by the Ministry of Textiles and UNESCO. It was then that one of the tour guides introduced him to Hukum Koli, a master weaver who worked in the village of Pranpur, Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh. “The tour guide told me that Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor Khan had visited Koli’s hut during the promotions of 3 Idiots, and suggested I visit him,” the designer remembers.

Little did Mishra know how that simple interaction would impact both his life and Koli’s life? Ten years after the two started working together, they are still going strong. “Koli now has a wonderful house and he also drives a car,” Mishra says. Evidently, the interdependent relationship of a designer and a weaver is key to a thriving handloom industry. In a chat with Vogue for National Handloom Day 2019, Mishra recounts his experiences of working with the Chanderi weave, and gives us five commandments that will help save India’s rich heritage of crafts.

1) Understand the history of weaves

Whether you’re a consumer, a budding designer or a fashion student, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the history of Indian crafts. “Most of the crafts are named around the places they come from, like Chanderi, which is named after its namesake village in Madhya Pradesh. It is said that the 15th-century mystic poet Kabir Das hailed from Chanderi, and was a weaver himself. The craft is more than five hundred years old, and Chanderi was completely hand spun till around 70 years ago. Silk thread used in warp is called “taana” and hand spun cotton used in weft is called “baana”. In extra weft, zari was used to create motifs during weaving. Now, machine made yarns have replaced the hand spun yarns—but the weaving tradition of handloom is intact, employing thousands of weavers in and around Chanderi. The weave, compared to the rays of the moon, traditionally had zari yarn in pure silver incorporated to make its signature motifs.”

2) Time-honoured crafts also need a modern update

A designer needs to keep innovating, and Mishra has gone to great lengths to explore how Chanderi can be reinvented for the modern-day consumer. In 2014, Mishra won the covetable Wool mark Prize—becoming the first Indian designer to do so. For his award-winning collection, the designer experimented with Chanderi fabric that was woven with around 90 per cent Merino wool. “It was a successful experimentation, and the looks we created appealed to everybody in the West,” he says. The collection made it to the famed window of Paris’s iconic store, Colette.

3) Deploy the undisputed power of technology

While a plain Chanderi sari can take around four to five days to weave, one with motifs can take around 20-25 days. And this excludes the 10-12 days that are needed to set up the loom. “Very simple buttas were used initially, but soon, the weavers started working with complex motifs (like tilak, flowers like jasmine, birds, peacocks, buildings and forts). These motifs would be drawn on paper by hand, which would take at least eight to 12 days and still have human errors. But now, because of computer-aided graph technology, this has helped the weavers to cut the time on pre-production and be more accurate. This also allows handloom weavers to create larger and more captivating motifs while putting their talent and time to the best use in weaving,” he explains.

4) Remember, it’s a circular economy

In the end, it’s crucial to note that the after-effects of employing artisans have manifold benefits. “Today, as I work with craftsmen across different villages of India, their payment is done through bank transfers that runs in crores. So if one craft cluster/number of craftsmen in total receives a payment of one crore in a financial year, it simply means every single rupee paid is spent in the village leading to further economic benefits of other people running small businesses that create a circular economy 10 times the value of the initial amount from our end. So, it's interesting how the one crore creates an economy of Rs 10 crore in the village,” says Mishra. This allows everyone to stay in their hometowns, and not migrate to over-populated cities in search for jobs.

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