National Handloom Day: Loom reclaims spaces in fashion shows, Parliament, campuses and streets

Here’s how handloom is progressively causing a stir in the fashion landscape by re-birthing as a modern product
Archana Jaju's collection, titled Revival
Archana Jaju's collection, titled Revival

The swearing-in ceremony of the fifteenth President of India, Droupadi Murmu was historic on many levels — the first woman from a tribal community and the second woman in general after Pratibha Patil to hold the esteemed office. However, she also etched history in the fashion space by wearing a Santali weave sari that not only reflected her aboriginal roots but revived handloom in public on a national stage.

As she put a spotlight on the native weave from East India’s Odisha, it stirred a dialogue on how handloom is no longer old. It’s being worn in the Parliament, on the streets, on the campuses, on the fashion ramps, amid the travels, and is gradually making inroads into the wardrobes of the young.

On World Handloom Day, we find out how handloom is gaining glory by being held in pride by designers, influencers, Parliamentarians, and even the common folk:

About pride and identity

India is a textile-rich country known for its magnificent weaves since ancient times. It is home to over 744 handicraft clusters and lakhs of artisans who aim to preserve our rich heritage. From the famed Coimbatore saris to Jamdani of Bengal, Ikat of Odisha, Pashmina of Kashmir, and Mekhela Chador of Assam, the list of handloom weaves is endless. So when President Murmu wore her native weave, the fashion community considered it a breakthrough moment — one that honoured the pride of the country and native identity with homegrown fashion. “President Murmu wearing a Santali sari shows her homage to her Odissi roots. She has broken all barriers to emerge as a leader and as an inspiration to women of all age groups across the country and the way she carried her handloom sari with utmost honour invokes pride for our rich handlooms,” shares Hyderabad-based designer Archana Jaju. 

From Kolkata, designer Saroj Jalan shares, “The first citizen of our nation wearing a handloom sari sets such an economic and social boost to our textile industry. It promotes our rich cultural heritage, which comes from the fact that India is a diverse country with many influences from Mughals, Rajputs, and even the Europeans, who have contributed to a great variety of textiles. The President adorning a native weave speaks volumes of the scope of this industry.”

The President’s Eastern weave resonated in the country’s western side too. Jaipur-based label, The Loom Art’s founder and designer Aarushi Kilawat shares, “Seeing the President wearing handloom showed how she believes in promoting the true essence of Indian heritage and promoting its weavers and artisans at the ground level and giving them a global platform.”

Re-imagining on-ramp

India, the second largest exporter of handloom, not only transports textiles to the world, but it also shares the idea of local fashion on the global stage. When popular south-Indian actor Kamal Haasan’s newly launched fashion line, KH House of Khaddar debuted at Paris Fashion Week in March this year, who would have thought that the old-school khadi could be reimagined in such a way! We saw dapper ensembles by lead designer Amritha Ram and her team — from a brown miniskirt to a beige crop top, a Fuschia pink co-ord mini dress to uber cool mini jackets — all made in the same khadi in which Gandhi’s old legacy was re-interpreted for a contemporary wearer. Now, the label is gearing up for the biggest trade show — the Magic Las Vegas to be held in the USA this August, further re-invigorating khadi for the global consumer. 

Amritha Ram shares with pride, “As Mr Haasan has mentioned earlier, khadi runs in his family as his father wore khadi to court as a lawyer. Now taking a step further in the legacy of handloom, we feel immensely gratified to contribute to preserving our heritage through khadi designs. With our endeavours, we are able to shed light on some of the greatest craftsmen and weavers by helping them to create a demand which in turn translates to better livelihoods."

Reinvigorating for a new generation

Making handlooms trendy is bringing them back to our closets. Several designers are working to popularise them. For instance, in Hyderabad, Archana is working with handlooms where her family's tryst with the looms goes back several decades. She says about her family’s deep-rooted passion for handlooms, “Our roots lie in Chanderi, where we were one of the initial weavers of Chanderi. Currently, we are working with 18 plus craft clusters across India. Some of the handlooms weaves we work with are Banarasi, Chanderi, Jamdani, Paithani, Venkatgiri and Narayanpet. In fact, even the base fabrics that we use for hand-painted tie and dye crafts like Kalamkari and Bandhani are handwoven and handcrafted.”

Archana is also re-imagining traditional crafts with new motifs, colours, and silhouettes for a more global appeal. “We’re acting as a bridge to bring traditional handlooms to modern-day consumers. When celebrities like Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Madhuri Dixit Nene, Dia Mirza, and Vidya Balan, carry our handcrafted ensembles with utmost grace and beauty, this creates an awareness about these age-old crafts within the younger generation. That way, it invokes the feelings of pride towards heritage crafts.”

Working on similar lines, designer Saroj Jalan is also experimenting with ancient weaves for modern-day consumers. She explains how handloom is very close to her heart as by wearing them, ‘one can truly carry forward the old traditions’. “In my previous and present collections, I have used Patola silks, Banji, Bandhini and Indu with intricately crafted jackets over lehengas. Currently, we are working on a very special handloom collection and reviving it by giving it a new twist. We are making it more wearable and accessible for the young, modern and confident brides and girls of today.”

Loom on the streets

Handloom has many benefits, which is why it's becoming a rage amongst youngsters too. Notable designer David Abraham of the label Abraham & Thakore elucidates some enticing qualities of handloom fabrics. He shares, “Handwoven textiles are extremely versatile and can be easily adapted to changing demands. Many fashion designers today use handlooms in their collections in fresh and unexpected ways. This has also been possible because throughout history the handloom sector has always adapted to change and found new markets across the world. And I am sure, It will continue to do so.”

With handlooms being environmentally friendly, durable, trendy and soothing to the skin, they are becoming a go-to option to invest in. Travel influencer and entrepreneur Shramona Poddar often dons handloom saris paired with chic crop tops and quirky mini bags on her travels. And no, it is not just for the sake of a photoshoot, but she feels very comfortable and confident in handloom ensembles. The trendsetter shares, “It’s fascinating to say the least — how in a world of fast fashion — handloom is a slow art that involves persistence and spectacular craftsmanship. So I grab every opportunity to wear handloom and I feel immensely proud and beautiful each time. My confidence has stemmed from watching my mother, grandmother and so many women draping cotton sarees at ease and working relentlessly throughout the day in it.”

Shramona also has her own sari brand. She feels her label brought her closer to handloom and its value, and now, she carries it with confidence on many tours. “On one of my trips, I decided to pack a sari in my bag and soon I realised I could go about wearing it with absolute ease. It made such a statement wherever I went! Now I take less than five minutes to drape one and I can wear it comfortably all day without it coming in between my adventures and travel escapades.”

Along similar lines, Srisht Walia, a young research scholar from JNU feels that wearing handloom saris has become a part and parcel of her strollings around the campus, to cafes, bookstores and anywhere on the streets. “I believe, for me, handloom saris as an attire needed to be reclaimed first. Then comes the question of the material. I have seen young women wearing sarees only occasionally, for events or festivals like weddings, farewells etc. However, I wanted to include it as part of my everyday life, to resist the norm that a sari becomes your outfit only in case you are married. Handloom cotton was the clear choice for it as mul is soft on the skin, shields from scorching heat in summers, and is easy to drape.”

To a generation of Srishti and Shramona, handloom doesn't feel old. It’s smart, fashionable, evergreen, and a complete trendsetter. "I aim to wear more handloom and educate and inspire the youth around me,” Shramona avers, heralding a key message.

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