A Chanderi turban, a Bandhini Safa and a Jodhpuri Leheriya are some of the traditional Indian fabrics worn by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on occasions of national significance such as the Republic Day and Independence Day. While many consider his style to be a statement about his personality and politics, it is also symbolic of his message to the nation: Wear Indian.
The objective is clear: create a market for Indian handloom products and handicrafts. In recognition of this, the Ministry of Textiles took noteworthy steps like the creation of the Indian Handloom Brand (IHB), which is a certification for genuine, high quality natural colourfast fabric produced using safe chemical dyes in compliance with social and environmental regulations. In addition to creating IHB retail outlets in major cities, the Ministry has also engaged popular e-commerce websites to increase the weaver’s market accessibility and availability of these products in mainstream markets.
While slogans like “Khadi for Nation, Khadi for Fashion” and Irani’s #IWearHandloom movement caught our attention, it will take much more than that to make India wear “handmade”.
However, the key to revival of the textile industry lies in restoring the relevance of these products. In order to increase usage of Indian handloom in our daily lives, it is crucial to contemporise these products to keep up with the needs of today’s consumer. The system currently focuses on marketing what is supplied instead of producing what is in demand. This also resonates with the objectives of the Indian Handloom Brand, which is to create a niche market space for quality handloom products that cater especially to the youth and export markets.
Contemporising a traditional product does not mean that we need to depart from the culture and heritage that define these products. For example, making a formal jacket with Kalamkari work would not only carry the same art and culture of a Kalamkari Saree but it would also incorporate the contemporary style that the youth relates with. Similarly, using Gujurati Brocade or Rajasthani Bandhani in a long skirt would allow the tradition to make it way into mainstream fashion and eventually into the wardrobe of the young Indian consumer. This will also reduce the heavy reliance that majority Indian crafts have on tourism as most of these works are sold through retail shops to tourists.
The Textile Ministry’s initiative to educate the consumer about these crafts on social media can be furthered by celebrating its amalgamation with modern lifestyle and preferences. To make consumers appreciate the non-standardisation of these products, there should be sustained marketing efforts to communicate the value of the humane aspect of the skill involved, their social and ecological effects as well as the time and effort that goes into their making.
To increase their global footprint, Indian textiles need to adapt to modern trends whilst retaining their character. The industry needs to focus on restoring the relevance of these products in light of what our modern lifestyles demand.