Today is the National Handloom Day. Declared in 2015 to create awareness among common citizens about the contribution of the handloom industry in the socioeconomic upliftment of India, the first Handloom Day was celebrated on August 7, 2015. Today is the 7th Year of Handloom Day and the pandemic has challenged in many ways to fully utilise our potential in handloom sector. There is an urgent need to know about the handloom sector, the life of the artisans and the opportunity in the global economy and how best to do it sustainably so that we can achieve SDGs by 2030.
Handloom has evolved with our civilisation and contributed immensely to the development of our identity, art, aesthetic, culture, economy and ecology. The practices of producing handloom using different hand-driven looms, tools, and raw materials like yarn and dyes were always taken from natural sources.
The entire production process of handloom happened to be completely eco-friendly and the distribution of income among the value chain actors was also equitable. That was one of the most important reasons for the survival and continuity of the tradition of handloom till date. There was a symbiotic relationship among the value chain actors and high degree of interdependency among them.
India produces more than 90 percent of handloom in the world. It is the second largest employment-generating sector after agriculture where more than 4.2 million people are directly dependent on it. The handloom sector produces nearly 15per cent of total cloth production in India.
The art of making handloom is spread across every region of the country with their uniqueness in terms of product, process, design and motifs. From the Jamawar of Kashmir to the Kasavu of Kerala, and from Kotpad of Odisha to Patola of Gujarat, each State has made its contribution to the composite handloom culture of India. The love for our culture, nature and heritage has kept the handloom tradition alive.
So when the same factors have successfully given a massive boost to the tourism sector why should not we encash upon this tradition? Global demand for eco-friendly fashion is on the rise due to the increasing awareness among global consumers about the impact of the textile and fashion industry on the environment.
The textile industry is the 2nd largest polluting industry and responsible for about 10per cent of total global carbon emission. Just imagine, it takes about 7,500 liters of water to produce one pair of jeans and 2,700 liters to make one cotton T-shirt. The impact is massive. The global value chain of fashion is very complex. The business model is predominantly linier, exploitative and non-sustainable. Both the producers and the consumers are equally responsible for this situation.
In a multi-trillion dollar fashion industry, any conservative estimate indicates about a US $200 billion dollar market for eco-friendly fashion.
And this trend is continuously rising. There are very few takers. There is lot of confusion about what is eco-friendly what is not. People are using terminologies like environment-friendly, eco-friendly, green, recycling, ethical, and circular as sustainable. The narrative of the industry about eco-friendly fashion revolves typically around “recycle, reduce and reuse”. Time has come to offer a 100- per cent eco-friendly fashion to the world. No one else, other that India can actually offer this to the world. Before the introduction of synthetic mauve in 1857, it was all about natural dyes and natural fibre.
Our farmers, weavers and dyers were well integrated. The weavers always used natural fibres like cotton, linen, silk and wool on their loom. They knew the art of extraction of natural dyes from plants, minerals and insects in the most sustainable way. Kotpad in the Koraput district of Odisha is a living example.
There are hundreds of different dye-yielding plants naturally grown in different parts of the country, so as, also we have different agro-climatic zones where we can grow different natural fibres like jute, linen, ramie, banana, sisal, kenaf, nettle, kapok, and many without the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Most of these are climate resilient plants offer multiple benefits.
So the country has also got appropriate climate and resources to grow all different varieties of silk like Mulberry, Tussar, Eri and Muga. With complete integration of handloom with natural-fibre and natural dyes from ‘farm to fashion’ this will not only further create millions of green job opportunities but can contribute many of the Sustainable Development Goals in general and SDG Goal No. 12 in particular.
On this National Handloom Day, there is a need to work towards creating the required eco-system for sustainable fashion from “Farm to Fashion”. Recently the Parliamentary Committee on Labour has recommended the Farm to Fashion model developed at NIFT to be replicated in all NIFTs in India.
Making it part of our national policy and practice along with making required budgetary allocation could make this a national movement. This could be the biggest tribute to the Swadeshi Movement initiated on August 7 1905 and give more strength to the call of the Prime Minister for an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
(Prof Jena teaches at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar, and has been credited to have developed the 'Farm to Fashion’ micro-model at the NIFT which in July 2021 received appreciation and recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour)