The Handloom Exhibition held at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair, London, on Friday 2nd November was a first of it’s kind that I had the pleasure of witnessing here in the U.K. It exceeded all expectations I had of it, despite it being an intimate affair, it was truly an event filled with an air of focused and like-minded synergies.
The day started with an introduction to the runway show of forthcoming collection, ‘OONI’, by it’s lead strategist Abhilasha Bahuguna (also founder of Looms of Ladakh Women’s Cooperative).
OONI (A Hindi word which translates to ‘Made of Wool’) is essentially an artisan led fashion brand bringing together weavers from Looms of Ladakh, Bhutti Weavers Cooperative in Himanchal Pradesh and Uttarakhand Handloom & Handicraft Development Council (All based in the region of North India). The best thing about this collaborative approach is that artisans bring their valuable craft and are further trained to innovate in product range and run departments independently.
The vision for the brand is to pave way for India’s wool industry consisting of mostly cashmere produce, in the same way that Harris Tweed has for the U.K’s fashion industry and Ermenegildo Zegna for Italy’s.
The show that followed was a fine portrayal of what India’s regional wool weaves could translate to in the form of modern, tailored fashion with a touch of tradition coming through with patterned handwoven tape trimming the garments. Each look boldly stated that it could most definitely achieve a great level of attention in the global fashion market today.
I managed to catch up with Abhilasha who explained that by bringing representative artisans to this exhibition they ‘wanted the artisans to come to the international market, and get them some tangible results in the sustainable Fashion Revolution’. What excited me the most about this conversation is that she made it clear that
‘the idea is not to retain ethnicity, the idea is to make it more appealing to a larger audience.’
This is exactly what is needed for the cottage handloom industry of India and the artisans in order to grow confident in innovating and designing to compete with global standards and qualities. It gives great confidence in knowing that there are people like Abhilasha in India who are pushing for this result for India and doing so for the benefit of artisans rather than use of them.
Interacting with the weavers themselves through the day was also a huge eye opener in getting an insight into their livelihood, and how they perceive their efforts in weaving. They spoke with pride when they showed each of the pieces they had made themselves and the length of time it took them. However, there is a lot of work to be done in making them feel comfortable, empowered and confident when they are the centre of a platform.
The day concluded with a panel discussion lead by Lakshmi Kaul, Head and Representative of Confederation of Indian Industry, who was integral to the organization of this event. The key question that she put out for us was an extremely relevant one when it comes to The Thin Line’s purpose; ‘How do we internationalize?’ and it was answered with several angles:
- Tamsin Blanchard (Journalist at Fashion Revolution) spoke of using India’s Pashmina wool from goats as a narrative just as Britain hails Harris Tweed, branding it in this way to appeal to international design houses and consumers.
- Abhilasha focused on the awareness that needs to be fed to the international consumers, where fashion journalists are responsible for digging deep into the value chains of India’s handloom industry (Pashmina in this case) to investigate where the herders of goats, the spinners, the weavers are in the supply chain and whether they are having a say to those they supply to in order to create transparency.
- Shivani, a representative of a cooperative, made the vital point that in order to grow internationally, a collaborative approach is a must in organising stakeholders in their respective fields and creating a chain of awareness between them to reach the end goal.
At the end of it, what the day felt like was a start, a start of a concrete goal set by diverse players in the industry. It was entirely in line with what The Thin Line is about in giving a platform for the handloom crafts of India, its makers (artisans) and its translators to international fashion silhouettes (designers & brands).
Looms of Ladakh- @loomsofladakh
Bhuttico Weavers Cooperative- @bhuttico