The Tree of Life – the holistic approach to beauty & health

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

At Krya we have different lines of products:  A line of cleaning products for the home like our Detergent and Dishwash, and our soon to be launched floor cleaner, all purpose scrub and toilet cleaner. We also have a range of skin and hair care products which we have been testing in small commercial batches all through last year: our range includes a face wash, a body wash, a body wash for kids and a hair wash. In the near future will launch a line of botanical oils, serums and salves to moisturize and protect your skin and hair.
While these may seem like separate lines of businesses, to us, they form part of an organic holistic mother lode: they are all gentle, plant based products that help clean and care for you in the most natural and non toxic way possible.

Many times the human body is treated as a linear, system-wise, unconnected organism. By treating ourselves by parts, and essentially using the process of separation and division to look after ourselves, we sometimes fail to see the connection behind all the disparate products we use on and around ourselves.

It makes perfect sense to us as a company that advocates an alternate, more natural way of living and provides products to support that life to be in as many categories as possible.

Only with a large number of products can we begin to affect a change and make the impact that we would like to have possible. So for instance, if you suffer from asthma, are prone to sneezing / wheezing attacks, it makes sense for you to examine the impact of added synthetic fragrance not only on the soaps or moisturisers you may use, but also on the household cleaning products you are exposed to like your detergent, floor cleaner or dish cleaner.

4synthetic dishwash

When we started Krya, we thought long and hard about 2 things: the categories we would play in, and the ones we would not participate in.

Food (basic grains, lentils , fresh produce) was a category we decided not to participate in at Krya. This decision emerged out of several reasons: one of the most important being our belief that food, more than any other category of products should be hyper local.

Krya supports good food

Traditional medicine argues that the best health benefits accrue from plants, herbs, vegetables and fruits that grow naturally, easily and abundantly around where you live. This means that if you live in Chennai and have your roots in Tamilnadu like we do, the best cereal for you is probably rice. And within rice, it is probably the native, traditional breed of rice that was available in every season around where your ancestors lived. So instead of looking high and low for that quinoa brand or eating goji berries, it would do us a lot more good to eat traditional rices, or millets  and some Amla / Nellikai.

Mapillai samba rice

( Of course if you are a Bolivian or Peruvian national living in India, you could be excused for that quinoa craving.)

Quinoa - hyperlocal to the andes

Although Krya does not make food products, we fully acknowledge the vital role of good food for our health & well being. No matter how reverentially or carefully we create our skin and hair care products, they will only work as well as your overall health and nutrition permits.

So if you have not been taking care of yourself in this winter season, and have allowed yourself to experience its vata effects, then your skin and hair will feel dry and lifeless. Good nutrition, health, sleep and a positive attitude remain the base for good health. A good, well made product will only build on a strong foundation.

The Amazing Amla

One of the ingredients we use across all our skin and hair care products is the Indian gooseberry, called Amla in Hindi and Nellikai in Tamil. The Hindi name for this amazing India fruit comes from its Sanskrit name “Amlika”.

In Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean gave us Lord Dhanvantri and the elixir of Life, Amrit. In the clash between the Devas and Asuras over who got to eat the Amrit, drops of it were said to have scattered over our world, giving rise to the Amlika Tree.

The beginning of the Holi Festival in India, is called Amlaka Ekadashi, a day when the Amla tree and its resident deity, Lord Vishnu is worshipped. The Amla tree is ceremoniously watered and bathed, and a ritual offering is done for the tree.

Amla composite

The Amla / Nellikai has been a popular and significant gift across time in India. Even emperor Ashoka was gifted half an Amla fruit by the Buddhist Sangha – a stupa was created to mark the event, called the Amlaka Stupa.

The 2000 year old Vamana Purana, states that one can survive by consuming just the fruit juice of the Amla. Amla is also called “dhatri” or the nurse. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues, strengthens our internal organs, and is believed to increase prana, and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

Amla is one of the Three great Myrobalans used extensively in Ayurveda, Siddha and in the Tibetan school of medicine. Triphala (3 fruits), a multipurpose Ayurvedic formulation used both externally and internally has many uses ranging from ama (toxin) cleansing to wound healing and regenerative properties. Amla is one of the constituents of Triphala and ranges from forming 1/3rd of Triphala to 80% of the formulation depending on its source.

Chawanprash, an all purpose medicinal jam, or leghyam which is advertised every winter to build immunity and prevent coughs and colds, has many ingredients, but is main ingredient is Amla.

Amla works great: within & without

At our work in Krya, Amla is an extremely important ingredient. It is a Vitamin C storehouse, offering nearly 3000 mg of Vitamin C per 100 gram of dried herb. Studies demonstrate that this Vitamin C is extremely bio available for the human system compared to other synthetic sources.

Amla in Krya

Ayurveda and Siddha consider Amla as a tridoshic herb, a herb that balances all the 3 doshas. In tastes, it is said to satisfy all the 6 rasas or tastes. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues and strengthens the organs. It is believed to increase the life energy / prana and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

In its internal use, Amla is believed to impart youthful vigour, strengthen the lungs, cures many illnesses including diabetes, and anaemia, and helps activate many of the body’s systems like the circulatory system, digestive system and liver and pancreas functions.

Amla is described as a kayakalpa, or an ingredient that helps keep the body ageless and help extend life.

Obviously, Amla forms an important ingredient for our work at Krya and we use this ingredient quite extensively in our skin and hair formulations. In our face and body wash, it has been used for various reasons right from helping restore the acid mantle of skin abused by long years of using alkaline surfactants, to soothe and repair skin problems and even to firm up and tone skin.

In our hair wash it is used to soothe and repair damaged scalp and hair and help correct cuticle damage and restore the hair’s acid mantle.

Preserving Good Health

January – late February is the Amla season across India. I am of course referring to the indigenous Amla, which fruits once a year and not the hybrid Amla which is available throughout the year.

Our food traditions document many different methods of preserving Amla and enjoying its good nutrition through the year. Much before the advent of commercial jams that are full of E Numbers, synthetic flavours and colours and have incinerated any goodness in the fruit through high heat and chemical preservative techniques, we used to eat Amla murabba and Amla in honey.

Another way to preserve Amla is through the brining technique. While many detailed recipes are available online, the method of preservation remains simple. After washing and drying the Amla (preferably by sun drying for a short time to remove moisture), they are preserved in pure brine, and allowed to soak in the flavour in a glass or porcelain jar. By ensuring that your hands, utensils and ladles are clean in the process, you can preserve Amlas for several years using this technique. The Amlas thus preserved are not only storehouses of nutrition but also bring in the beneficial effects of fermented and cultured vegetables, helping flood your digestive tract with beneficial gut flora.

Ayurveda also lists several liquid decoctions in its medicinal arsenal. Arishtams are boiled herbal decoctions which are fermented for a period between 1 – 3 months using cane jaggery or date palm jaggery in anaerobic fermentation. The liquid thus obtained is called an “Arishtam” and usually has a natural alcohol content of upto 10%. Our family has a daily preventive dose of “Dasamoola Arishtam” every day to build our natural immunity and strength.

Asavas are fermented liquids which are not boiled. The process of making them is similar to an Arishtam (except for not boiling them) and they are usually left to ferment in either their own biological water or added water until they are ready to use.
Amla Asava is an interesting, indigenous, easy to prepare asava that you can try during this Amla season. This Asava can be had by everyone in the family (including children above the age of 2 in small doses) everyday. Regular use is said to build immunity to respiratory diseases and infectious coughs and colds, helps increase appetite and digestive powder and helps flush out ama or toxins from the body.

Amla asava is traditionally made in homes across Kerala during the Amla season. I first got to taste it in my yoga class, courtesy a fellow student whose family traditionally made it every year. The traditional method prescribed in the Sarangadhara Samhita suggests using a clay pot for the asava / Arishtam preparation.

However traditional medicine is extremely particular about the soil from which this clay pot is made, prescribing the use of river soil harvested in a particular season. Further, to prevent any oxygen from contaminating the asava, Ayurveda prescribes the use of ghee from an indigenous variety of cattle to be used inside the pot. This ghee creates a natural air lock preventing the entry of oxygen and unwanted micro organisms into the asava.

As a vegan alternative, the texts allow the use of glass or porcelain instead, which is what I have used. Care should be taken to ensure that your hands, utensils and spoons are clean and dry when making this asava to avoid contaminating the asava.

Each home in Kerala follows its own individual method of making Amla asava. I’ve given below a recipe which uses no water. I’ve followed this recipe to ensure longer shelf life of the asava so that it needs no refrigeration. Other recipes exist which use water to increase the amount of asava that is available.

As always our recipes are a starter. Once you begin making them, we hope that you will be inspired to read and research more on this subject and introduce your own unique variations to the food and medicine you prepare for your family.

Here is the Amla Asava recipe.

Amla Asava:

Ingredients: (Please use organic ingredients as much as possible. I was able to get completely organic ingredients for the entire Asava recipe)

  1. Ripe, unbruised firm Indian gooseberry – 3 Kg
  2. Date palm Jaggery – 2.5 Kg (If this is not available, you may substitute with any aged , dark cane jaggery)
  3. Cardamom peeled – 20 gm
  4. Cloves – 20 gm
  5. Cinnamon sticks – 2 – 4
  6. Black dried raisins – 150 gm
  7. Washed, clean and dried Porcelain / glass jars to hold about 4 Kg of material
  8. Washed and clean thick large squares of cloth (for tying the top of the jar)

 

Method:

Carefully inspect the Amla to ensure there are no bruise marks or black dots on the fruits. Wash in clean cool water, wipe with a clean dry cloth and dry in gentle sun for about an hour to remove all trace of moisture.

Powder the clove, cardamom and cinnamon finely, separately, under low heat, and mix the spice powder together.

Now prepare the asava by scoring 2 / 3 cuts on each Amla fruit and lining them in the porcelain jar. Follow each Amla layer with a smattering of black raisins, some of the spice powder followed by a thick layer of jaggery powder. The jaggery powder should completely cover the Amla, raisin and spice layer like a thick seal.

Continue the process until you exhaust all your material. Ensure that your last layer is the jaggery layer. Seal the porcelain jar with its cover and tie your cloth several times around the lid to ensure it is completely air tight and does not allow any oxygen to go into the jar.
Leave the asava jar in a cool dark place for 40 days. On the 41st day, open the jar and filter out the black asava extract without squeezing the gooseberries. This extract can be stored without refrigeration for upto a year and can be consumed.

When drinking your asava, remember to always drink it diluted by adding an equal quantity of water. For children, 1 teaspoon of asava with 1 teaspoon of water is a safe dosage. For adults, 3 teaspoons of asava + 3 teaspoons of water is a good dosage. It is recommended this asava be eaten the first thing after waking up on an empty stomach atleast 30 minutes before eating breakfast to help absorb nutrition from food better and improve digestion.

Amla asava composite

Good Food: The foundation for great skin & hair

We are putting the foundation for the Krya factory to manufacture our skin and hair care products. At the same time we are always exploring the idea of what constitutes good food , which is the foundation for great skin & hair.

We hope you find some inspiration for treating your body to good food with this article.

Disclaimer: The amla asava is a wonderful, time  honoured product that is very safe to use for most people. However as good corporate practice, we at Krya must mention that this blog article does not constitute medical advice & request you to use your discretion about your particular state of health or consult your doctor, before embarking on its use.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
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2 non toxic cleaner recipes and a Krya factory update

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

When we started Krya, the life we left behind was hurried, quite thoughtless, filled with consumption and was full of products. I went from a seven step skin care routine and a 4 step hair care routine to a completely natural, simplified life. Having left a life immersed in the opposite of what we wanted to do at Krya, it seemed natural to wonder if we were starting something that was years ahead of its time. If we were in fact, pockets of a parallel universe living in our world.

As time goes by today, I am happy to note that our Parallel Universe is growing. And that our mission to replace harmful, synthetic, often petrochemical derived products that people use in their homes and themselves, is being aided by a growing concern and awareness around the world.

I was struck by this this week as we met different sets of people to buy equipment for the upcoming Krya factory. The manufacturer of our solar drying equipment broke off our technical discussion of the sun’s path and drying angles to tell us to “stick to our noble path”. He told us that while our going might seem slow, and sometimes difficult, what we were doing was right and needed and that we had to keep on working to help cleanse people’s bodies and lives.

He spoke from the bitter experience of watching his Mother suffer through 2 rounds of surgery for intestinal cancer, and how choosing conventional allopathic medicine did not give them the panacea they were promised.

The connection between the diseases we succumb to, the small illnesses we see in our children, and the food we eat or the products that we apply on ourselves, can seem elusive. We certainly do not equate eating a sugary caramel popcorn at our favourite movie hall with fatigue, irritability or our inability to wake up on time the next morning. Neither is the connection between a 2 am visit to the Pediatric hospital with a breathless child and the detergent used in the home, evident.

But the connections are real. And it is our Life’s work at Krya to  educate and inspire people about these connections and create, safe, completely natural alternatives to care for you as a support structure.

The factory we are working on at Siruseri is in support of our Life’s work. We have been working for more than a year on putting together a clean, thoughtfully designed manufacturing location that creates high quality products with great reverence and joy.

Our factory is located within the Sipcot IT Park, in an oasis of calm and greenery called the Golden Jubilee Biotech Park for Women. This is a special Park that has been designed to promote Women Entrepreneurship in Life sciences. Our layout and machines have been thought through to create gently processed products that retain their natural characteristics and aroma. Wherever possible we have used machines that are much slower (and therefore take more time) than their regular commercial counterparts. By reducing the speed of each batch, we are able to retain the unique natural characteristics of our herbs, leaves and fruits that become such wonderful cleaning , skin and hair care aids in the hands of our consumers.

Designing our factory and creating our manufacturing space has come at a cost: I have been unable to write more frequently in the Blog. My intention when we started this series was to provide a lot of useful and impactful information on leading a toxin free life. I apologise for this long gap in writing on this subject.

I spoke earlier about our Parallel Universe growing. In early december, Arathi, the editor of the Week’s “Smart Life” supplement wrote to us asking us to write an article for the Week’s January Issue with information on the toxicity of household cleaning products. “Give our readers some easy to use, inspiring suggestions on replacing these easily at home”, suggested Ararthi.

George Watt, a medical graduate of the University of Glasgow came to Indian in 1873 and published an authoritative 6 volume dictionary of the economic products of India. 10 years later, inspired by his monumental effort, the British Government asked George Watts to organise in 1885, an exhibition of the economically useful plants of India in calcutta. George Watts did not look back and went on to devote the next 25 years of his life in cataloguing India’s natural biodiversity and wealth.

Our true wealth in India lies in our rich, biodiverse flora and fauna. And in the context of creating non toxic cleaners for our home, our trees and plants provide us with a staggering array of formulation options to easily and efficiently clean and care for ourselves.

Here are 2 recipes that you can start with. We wrote this for our article for the Week. They are easy to make, and work extremely well. They are water based, liquid recipes, which we don’t make commercially at Krya, but are easy to make and environmentally sustainable when made by you for your home.

Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaneruse this to mop your floors, counters, bathrooms and to even scrub your toilet

1. Soapberry powder – 100 grams (Cleansing and anti-bacterial agent) (Use the Krya detergent if you have some)

2. Neem Oil – 25 ml (Anti bacterial agent, insect repellant)

3. Citronella Oil – 50 ml (Insect repellant, freshness)

4. Citric Acid – 25 grams (Preservative, mild bleaching agent)

5. Arrowroot powder – 20 grams (Thickening agent, optional)

6. Water -1.2 litres

Instructions

Mix the citric acid crystals in a small cup of warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve completely. Mix the soapberry powder in 1.2 litres of water and bring it to a boil in a thick bottomed vessel. As the liquid begins to boil, add the arrowroot powder and stir until the liquid thickens to the consistency of a watery shampoo. Once the liquid has thickened, take it off the flame and add the dissolved citric acid liquid. Let the soapberry liquid cool before filtering out the soapberry residue.

Now stir in the neem and citronella oil into the filtered soapberry liquid and mix well. Bottle the liquid cleaner and store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge (after labeling it properly!).

This recipe should give you approximately 1 litre of liquid multi purpose cleaner.

This multi-purpose surface cleaner can be used to clean floors, tiles, kitchen tops or even glass surfaces. This is a concentrate and a few spoons of this can be added to a mug of water which can then be used to clean surfaces. As mentioned before always do a patch test on a small portion of the area to be cleaned before proceeding further. If there are pets at home, you can exclude citronella oil from the recipe.

The Natural no-napthalene linen freshener:

sweet basil

A non toxic fragrant alternative to stinky napthalene balls
A handful each of the following dry herbs:
Neem leaves
Thiruneetrupachai (siva tulasi) leaves
Tulasi leaves
Lemongrass stalks
2 balls of pure camphor or edible camphor (pachai kalpuram)
4 sticks of Sweet flag (called vasambu in Tamil)Place all these ingredients in a pillow case, and coarsely crush them together. Shake well so that the ingredients are mixed well together.  Now divide this mixture into equal quantities (about a tablespoon each) and fill into muslin / cotton bags. Use this in your linen cupboard instead of naphthalene balls to keep insects and moths away.
Replace your natural pot pourri pouches every 2 – 3 months or as the fragrance fades. The old herb mixture can be composted.

 

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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A little green goes a long way – a guest post by Rashmi Vittal

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

And we are off on a field visit. We are going to be spending this week visiting 2 organic farms in Karnataka and round it off with a visit to a hand loom weaving centre. In this trip we will be following an organic and Khadi trail of sorts. One of the organic farms we are going to be visiting is a passionate advocate of using indigenous cotton seeds, growing the cotton organically, hand spinning it and weaving it to make Khadi fabric. The weaving centre we are going to be visiting is the centre which weaves all of Tula’s magical rain fed cotton fabric.

Our blog posts this week will be filed from more exotic locations than our office in Chennai. We will be “reporting” live from the field and are excited about meeting these passionate custodians of the land who have been generous to offer to share their time and expertise with us.

Which brings me back to a basic question: why organic fabric? Most of us now understand the need to eat poison free food. Is choosing organic cotton an esoteric exercise? Isn’t it going to be un-findable? Is the expense worth it?

To answer these and many more questions, I’m happy to introduce you to Rashmi Vittal, founder of Little Green Kid. Rashmi’s passion for environmentally sustainable living led her to start Little Green Kid in the quest to help parents replace their current basket of toxic-full clothing for their children with safe, sustainable alternatives.

1. rashmi vittal founder

Started little over a year ago, Rashmi is building a strong team of designers at Little Green Kid along with resources from the export garment industry to create a company that is focused on great design and good quality.

Here is Rashmi Vittal talking about a subject very close to her heart, Organic cotton.

Why I prefer organic cotton over diamonds

Sometimes you use something every single day without much thought and then you suddenly learn something new about it and go, ‘Wow – I never knew that’.  Organic cotton was like that for me. It was paradigm shifting to learn that the humble cotton that you take for granted has a very interesting story.

Cotton, as we know it, is yet another crop – just like any other vegetable. But this one single crop uses 20% of entire world’s pesticide production. Yes, that’s right – that much of pesticide for just one crop.  The first time I read it, I had to re-read it to really understand the magnitude. ‘But why so much?’ Just because nobody eats cotton, there are no limits on the harshness or the amount of the pesticides used on it. While it is a proud fact that India is one the largest producers of cotton in the world and fluffy white cotton is made into garments and sent off across the world, the flip side is that all those harsh pesticides and chemicals remain behind on Indian soil and water.

1024px-CottonPlant

I don’t eat cotton, so why do I need Organic Cotton?

 When I tell people that we run Little Green Kid, an organic cotton clothing company focusing on kidswear, people often ask, ‘I don’t eat cotton, why should I bother if it is organic or not? I can understand that organic food grown without harsh pesticides and chemicals has direct benefits on my health. But how does wearing something made of organic cotton give me any benefits?’ A very good question.

When we look at a t-shirt or that cool kurta in a shop, we look at it in its singularity. As shoppers we do not want to be bothered with the comprehension of how that piece of garment came to be on that shelf.  We want to trust the store where we bought it at and let them worry about how it was made. But today we will ask you to join us take a peek behind the scenes and share a few secrets. If you think about it, cotton is everywhere – the dress that we are wearing at this moment, the sheets that we slept through last night, the diapers on our baby, the towels we used to wipe ourselves and more – all made from cotton. What we may not know is that sometimes even the food that we eat, like chips and other snacks, are fried in derivatives of cotton seed oil. Nothing from cotton goes a waste and is used in some form or the other that you may not explicitly be made aware of. So where does the journey of this omnipresent cotton begin? What are its dirty little secrets that we need to know as a consumer?

Lets zoom out a bit and start with the macro picture. The demand for cotton rises every year and to meet that demand, the worldwide production has been rapidly increasing as well. When there is high demand for a commodity, companies in that space come up with ways to rapidly increase the supply, often via unconventional means. So what did they do to cotton? How successful was their attempt?

Long time ago farmers in India used to set aside a small portion of their cotton flowers for seeds for the next season. Seeing the great potential for high yielding and pesticide resistant seeds, big companies poured money into research and came up with genetically modified (GM) seeds. In 2002, the Indian Government introduced Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) cotton trying to encourage farmers to grow more. The farmer abandoned the natural seeds and bought the GM seeds with dreamy eyes. The yield in the first year of adoption was good, but the crop was highly susceptible to damage due to variation in climatic conditions. As well intentioned as it seemed, the seeds did more harm than good in the long run for cotton. Remember those automobile pamphlets that tell you X kms/liter mileage but only run X-y kms in real conditions? It was and is the same with these seeds. In Indian agricultural conditions the seeds did not thrive and created controversies instead because it was not just the yield that was disappointing. These genetically modified seeds are four and half times more expensive than the traditional seeds. Specially formulated chemical pesticides and fertilizers were recommended whose expense constitutes almost 60% of the cost of growing cotton. What was worse was that not all promised were warded off.

While the GM seed companies made money, on the other side, with low yield, dropping cotton prices in the market, huge debts and a land that is ripped off all fertility (due to the use of super harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides) the farmers entered what is called a ‘Death Spiral’ – a few years of which lead the farmer to commit suicide. Today the so-called ‘Cotton Belt’ of India has become a ‘Suicide belt’. In 2012 alone 13,754 farmers committed suicides in India. Suicide is only the tip of the problem iceberg.

8. vidharbha farmer suicide

As of 2014, Bt Cotton has taken over more than 93% of the seed distribution and original seeds are very hard to find, making it immensely difficult for farmers to go back to original seeds even if they want to.

If you think, ‘Well, the Government needs to take care of the farmers as I am paying my taxes and how does organic cotton have anything to do with me?’. Well, lets now dive right in. The customized harsh synthetic pesticide and fertilizer concoctions that were developed to go hand in hand with the genetically modified crops do not vanish after the cotton is harvested. They are left behind in the soil, are carried through water and dispersed through air – pretty much as expected. It is the magnitude of this toxicity that is worrisome. The land is so toxic that it requires three years of pesticide-free cultivation just to detox the land. Give this a thought – if it takes three years with three seasons a year to get rid of those harsh chemicals, do you think that a few washes during manufacturing would have gotten rid of all of those harsh chemicals on the cotton fabric? Laboratory tests reveal that they don’t. Have we stopped to ask why do we see more incidences of skin disorders in children today – irritations and issues that we as children did not face?

7 of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton contain “likely” or “known” human carcinogens (cancer causing). Almost half of the pesticides sprayed on cotton is classified as ‘hazardous’ by the WHO even today. Aldicarb is a toxic nerve agent developed in WWII and termed as ‘extremely hazardous’ by WHO. US$112 million worth of this chemical is applied on cotton crops alone. Endosulfan was used in huge amounts in India until banned recently. The damage that it has done to a generation of farmers in India is beyond anything we could agree as humane. Even in the United States DDT and Toxaphene were banned recently, but continues to be used in India, China and other countries. Insecticides like Parathion is 60 times more toxic that DDT! . Carbofuran, one insecticide kills one-two million birds annually and whole colonies of honeybees have been wiped out. We, the human race, continue to grow cotton at all costs – environment, animals and ourselves. I suppose you remember that your favorite crispies may have been fried in derivatives of cottonseed oil – the same, which comes from these pesticide sprayed farms and may not even know about it.

The GM cottonseed manufacturers argue that they have a seed formulation for fewer pesticides. What they conveniently do not tell you is that the pests grow pesticide-resistant with every passing year and they have to make harsher and harsher pesticides every single year. It is like drug abuse. It only gets worse. Ironically, for all the effort that these GM companies invested in it is estimated that less than 10% of the chemicals applied to cotton accomplish their task, the rest are absorbed into the plant, air, soil, water and eventually, our bodies. While these companies started with a good intention of creating a win-win situation for themselves and the farmer, their product has gone horribly wrong. It is as if they opened the Pandora’s Box. To continue on the same path is being both ignorant and stupid.

What we should really ask ourselves about the Bt Cotton seeds is that – can we have dinner made from the veggies grown on the same field that Bt Cotton is being grown with the toxic pesticides? Before toxic pesticides and before Bt Cotton the answer would have been an undoubted ‘yes’. That is how our grandfathers cultivated their land – which we now call ‘Organic farming’. While Organic cotton might seem like a respite there is more than that which completes the picture today – lets hold on to that thought a bit longer and see what else is in store on the journey of cotton once it has left the pesticide ridden field today.

I died dyeing

Once the cotton is harvested, it is washed and spun into yarn and then made into fabric. To keep the costs low, conventional methods use harsh bleach chemicals. While that does not sound good, they are not the monsters yet. The big bad ugly monster is the chemical used in dyeing. Dyeing is the act of adding color to fabric. As simple as it sounds, it harbors another dirty little secret of this industry.

2.noyyal runs black

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu, which is dubbed as the t-shirt hub of the world, houses a very large amount of dyeing units all of whom got there because of easy access to the Noyyal River. The dyeing chemicals are harsh and again fall in the ‘carcinogenic’ category. Noyyal River, downstream from Tiruppur, found blackish water in their tender coconuts, as hard it is to believe. They fought a case against the dyeing units in Tirupur, which was finally presented at the Supreme Court of India. Dyeing units are now required to filter their waste. During inspection the effluents were found to be so toxic that 20,000 acres of land downstream had to be declared unfit for cultivation. The locals are still working with the government to enforce laws to ensure filtration of water before it is let into the river. The effort is still in progress.

 Organic Cotton clothes: A good way forward

 World over farmers and consumers have woken up to realize that the current way of cultivating cotton with pesticides or GM seeds has been a recipe for disaster as tricking nature is not so easy. What can the solutions be? What started as a small experiment about going back to basics with natural farming methods and scientific ways of bio pest management is going very well today. It is called Organic Cotton. The farmers are happy, the environment is not compromised and the customers are happy. Today, 30% of the babywear in the European market is made of organic cotton. India produces 70% of the world’s organic cotton today. But organic cotton is still merely 0.7% of the entire world’s cotton production and but is a growing phenomenon. We have a long way to go, but meanwhile people are striving to do the right thing and learn from the mistakes.

 Why is organic cotton better?

When you buy organic cotton clothing today – it is more than just non-GM seeds or using fertilizers available in nature or using biological methods of pest control.

Organic cotton clothing is about  ‘Sustainability’ – creating clothing with a 360-degree approach to ensure that all involved parties including the environment, the consumer and future generations are kept in mind. It’s a philosophy of ‘Sarve sukhino bhavantu’ (May everyone live happily).

An organic cotton garment means that

1 – The farmer is looking beyond immediate yield and is willing to detoxify his land of harsh chemicals and fertilizers by making it a pesticide-free zone for three years at a minimum

2 – Various third party certifying agencies such as SA Certification (Soil Association) help test and evaluate the authenticity of the land during these three years. Some of these certification agencies are NGOs themselves that initially started working in this field to prevent farmer suicides and have now progressed to do more. Various NGOs also help the farmer with tools and training during this period.

3- Seeds used are heirloom/natural seeds, which help preserve the diversity of cotton. This stops seed or company monopoly as well

4 – Various bio PMTs (Pest Management Techniques) that are scientifically proven are used to maintain yield

5 – Better irrigation techniques are practiced for better yield among other seasonal techniques to ensure better yield

6 – Dyes are either natural dyes (which are yet to be widely available and gain popularity) or certified eco-friendly dyes, which upon using a purifier will not release any chemicals harmful to the flora and fauna of a water ecosystem

7 – Every little detail like – the threads used during the stitching of the garment, the water used during ironing just before packing, etc – are all checked for eco-friendly measures

8 – Some of the standards even include additional check points – if the garment factory workers were paid fairly, if they have adequate sanitation, if their children are attending school, so on and so forth. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

9 – Last, but not the least, surprise checks are made at any point in the lifecycle by picking a random shirt of the rack at any step to check for prohibited chemicals.

Buying organic cotton clothing

Organic cotton is new to a lot of people and just catching up. As a shopper try and look for an established organic cotton certification. Since this is still a developing category, all organic cotton may not be certified as yet.  So we encourage you, as a shopper, to always ask your shop for the source of organic cotton if the certification label is not available. Companies like Disney who support organic cotton on some of their collection even let you track the farm where the cotton was organically grown.

Little Green Kid

At Little Green Kid, we thought that it would be a shame to leave behind a polluted earth for our children. We started this company in 2013 because of our interest in creating ecofriendly products that will help people make better choices. We believe in a better tomorrow!

2. safe organic clothing

Little Green Kid offers cute organic cotton clothes for children of ages 0 to 5. Our mission is to give parents a choice of great looking clothes that were made without harming any one or any thing.

We are on this journey and we are more than happy to share our knowledge or vice versa. Please write in to us. Our favorite question in the world is ‘What is organic cotton?’ . That lights up our faces. We hope that answering this question is a short lived excitement as we look forward to the day, sooner than later, when all cotton is organic cotton – cotton that is grown responsibly without resulting in any harmful side effects to people or the environment.

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End Notes:

Thank you Rashmi for that educative and inspirational piece on organic cotton. You can find out more about Little Green Kid either by looking up their facebook page or writing to them at thelittlegreenkid@gmail.com. Do consider supporting their work by buying their well designed, and comfortable clothing for children.

Our organic cotton and Khadi trail series continues tomorrow from the field.

This post is a part of our continuing series on Sustainable fabric and India’s textile traditions. The rest of our series can be read here: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
  11. Our post on the Sustainable Fabric Workshop conducted at the Green Bazaar exploring natural dyes is here.
  12. Our post with notes on Kalakshetra’s Natural dyeing workshop and a guest post by Kavita Rayirath of Indian by design on inspiring Handloom appreciation is here.

 

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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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The warped state of Handlooms in India

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

I was surprised to read a few days back that Flipkart has signed an MoU with the Indian Textile Ministry to provide an online marketing platform to handloom weavers and their products. Through online marketing platform, Flipkart is also supposed to provide support in data analytics, market intelligence, guidance on how products should be priced, brand building & packaging to the weavers.

Someone reading this report may well question why the government continues to spend money on this Handloom sector. And if so much money, schemes, man hours and support has been already given to boost the handloom sector, is it undeserving of all this aid, as it still hasn’t improved or really turned around?

Handloom Numbers:

When we speak of the handloom sector, we first need to understand its scale through some important numbers. 95% of the world’s hand-woven fabric comes from India and this sector also contributes to India’s export earnings. The Handloom census of 2009 – 10 tells us that that this sector provides employment to 4.33 Million people.  This number has reduced significantly from 1995-96, when the number of people employed by this sector was close to 6.5 Million people in either weaving or allied activities.  But only 15% of the total fabric produced in our country comes from the handloom sector.  Compare this to power loom fabric which in 1956 contributed to only 2.3% of India’s total fabric and today occupies 85% of our fabric market.

In 2011-12, the handloom industry wove 6900 million square metres of cloth. The Government since Independence has (at least on paper) poured thousands of crores of money, and resources down this sector. As of last year, The Textile Ministry’s annual report cites several schemes to rejuvenate the handloom sector. Some of this include:

  • Subsidized rates on hank yarn (of 10% on yarn price) under the Mill Gate Price scheme
  • Marketing events and promotional activities to help weavers exhibit their wares (about 700 were done last year), A ministry sponsored Handloom week event every year,
  • An integrated handloom development scheme with a budget in 2011-12 of 236.5 Crores to provide financial assistance , training in weaving and dyeing, design and management and construction of new handloom sheds
  • Institutional Credit scheme – which provides margin money assistance, an interest subsidy for the first 3 years of loan repayment, a credit guarantee trust fund,  and promotional activities and camps by banks disbursing the loan to help make weavers aware of the scheme.
  • Comprehensive health insurance and health care facilities,
  • A scholarship scheme and life coverage under the Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima Yojana
  • Diversified Handloom development scheme which is to upgrade weaver skills through workshops, exhibitions, design development, documentation of traditional designs, setting up of Weavers service centres, R&D facilities and Institutes like IIHT, NCTD, etc.

Despite all these measures, people in handloom sector have high levels of poverty, extremely variable incomes and sometime abject penury.

Our discussions with companies like Exind Corporation, which is the company behind Kalpadruma in Chennai, tell us about eerie ghost towns where the handlooms are draped with cobwebs.

Older weavers want their children to have nothing to do with the crafts and handloom weaving appears to be largely the occupation of senior citizens with several 70 year old handloom weavers (as seen in the picture below) continuing with the craft with no younger apprentices in sight to continue the tradition.

10.handloom weaving

 

Did you know about the Handloom Reservation Act ?

These activities are over and above the Handloom Reservation Act which was passed in 1985 by the Rajiv Gandhi government. This act is still supposed to be under enforcement and regulates 22 types of garments for the exclusive production of the Handloom sector.

When this act was passed, it was criticised as being draconian and unfairly skewed towards the handloom sector. The act was also criticised as being sweeping and including generic categories of garments into the reserved status.

The Handloom Reservation act has defined a handloom to be any loom other than a power loom, and its reach extends to the whole of India. It also gives sweeping powers to the Ministry to include any garments it may seem fit outside of these 22 reserved garments to be included in the Act whenever they feel the need.

Many of the textile products we use every day are regulated by this act. For example, the Handloom reservation act includes almost all cotton and silk saris for the exclusive production of handloom mills or weavers. Similarly Dhotis, Angavastrams, lungis , dress materials, kambals and shawls with a few exceptions are included in this act.

Certain kinds of fabrics and weaves are exempt from this act. For example, synthetic saris made from polyester, nylon, etc and saris made from chiffon, georgette, crepe, and cotton voile are completely exempt and can be made in a power loom.  Saris made with blends that use material other than silk and cotton, or where 45% or more of the weight of the yarn is made from synthetic or manufactured yarn like viscose are exempt from this act.

Perhaps because of the protests and lobbying of the powerful textile and power loom lobby from the time this act was passed, till date, this Act remains powerful only in paper. If you leave aside the huge sweep of this act and how it seeks to protect a large part of what we wear and ensure that what we wear remains Handloom, which may be called draconian, the fact is that while the Act remains powerful, its execution has been lackadaisical at best.

In January 1995, out of 72,553 power looms inspected for possible violations 656 cases were booked – this is despite the fact that violation of this act by power looms is more the norm rather than the exception. ( as per some government reports)

So what ails the handloom sector and why are such a large number of weavers struggling in utter penury today? Is the only reason the financial might and concentrated power of the power loom industry? Is the government to blame? Are we also responsible?

Conundrum : Is what I buy even handloom?

The Weaver communities talked about in the ancient Sangam period and even upto the 17th century were integrated entrepreneurs. They had close associations with the cotton cultivators who were generally close by. The cotton bales would reach the villages where they would be hand spun by the women in the weaver families. The yarn would then be woven into fabric. Textile dyeing done either at the yarn stage or after the fabric was printed was either done in-house or by a close association of dyeing craftsmen who would typically be located close to a water body. The dye would be produced from plant based material and then transferred onto the yarn or the fabric. The entire process of textile making was integrated more or less within a geographical location. This meant the weaver had to go nowhere for his raw material or textile accessories.

Resources have now become more and more centralised. Today’s handloom weaver cannot find hank yarn or dyes within his geographical location. As weaving today is done in rural and semi rural areas, weavers have to travel far to obtain their raw materials.

The availability of hank yarn for handlooms is also a serious issue. A hank is a coiled unit of yarn or twine.  Handlooms need yarn in this format compared to power looms which need yarn in the cone format.

2. hank yarn

Under the Handloom reservation act, a spinning mill is supposed to produce 50% of their total marketable output as hank yarn for handlooms. Hank yarn is tax free and has other subsidies. A garment is classified as handloom by the government if the raw material purchased is Hank Yarn. This classification based on raw material is merely for convenience as authorities would find it very difficult to physically monitor the output and then classify it as handloom or powerloom. Further, the supposed output of hank yarn, which is handloom ,is also exempt from excise duty.

So some power looms use this subsidy illegally as follows. They purchase hank at the lower rates, re-wind it in cones to fit their machines and create textiles. Since they purchased hank yarn, they then claim that their output is “handloom” and further avail excise duty exemption. This diversion of the hank yarn to power looms reduces raw material availability for the handloom sector. As a result handloom weavers face a year round shortage of yarn for their fabric. This excise evasion not only diverts yarn from a weaver to a mill, it also mis-classifies power loom output as handloom output! So the power loom owner buys yarn at a subsidized rate, weaves it in his mill & sells it as handloom (again at a lower excise rate) – in this process the handloom weaver loses hank yarn, the government loses excise money and consumers like us don’t get to wear a genuine handloom product even though the label may say “handloom”.

Myth : Handloom garments are expensive & old fashioned

Hank yarn and dye are the raw material used to produce a handloom garment. We have already seen how hank yarn can be diverted from handlooms by the loopholes of subsidies and excise exemption. The basic price of the yarn itself that weavers have to pay in a centralised system of yarn production is much more than what they would have paid in the past, when yarn was available in their villages. High cost machine produced yarn available in large towns or cities is what they have access to today. When weavers who are small scale entrepreneurs buy this high cost raw material, it stands to reason that the garments they produce will also have a correspondingly high price.

Consumers used to low cost, mass produced powerloom fabric are often unable to accept this high cost. The question of design innovation is caught in a classic chicken and egg situation: weavers may be willing to innovate if their market risk is reduced by the investor. Investors are of course willing to have innovation if they are sure their fabric will be sold.

In the meantime no one is addressing us the consumers as we sail forth, shopping in Malls and buying powerloom fabric. We do not know their ramifications of our choices. We do not understand what we are losing as we continue to push our traditional fabric and garments out of our wardrobe.

The biggest strength of a decentralised, village based, weaver system of the past was that regional designs and identities were preserved.

For example, in our earlier post written by Richa Dubey, she spoke about the Leheriya design which was created by artisans in a desert longing for the rain. This longing was immortalised in the flow of rain drops on their garments through their dyeing craft. Similarly, a Baluchari sari from West Bengal had motifs like animals, plants, marriage processions, horse riders of vignettes from the Ramayana outlined in white.

4. paisley

The Kanjeevaram saree which was believed to have been woven 400 years ago have peacocks, parrots, swans, mangoes and leaves as common motifs. The borders have triangular pinnacle like marks which represent the temples in and around this town, which gives this town the sobriquet of the “Temple town”.

3.handloom inspiration

With globalisation of fashion, our regional identities and where we come from becomes blurred. And the weaver who continues to craft his fabric taking cues from his environment becomes obsolete and old fashioned.

Myth : Handloom garments are difficult to maintain

Our pieces earlier by handloom and textile enthusiasts talk about the differences wearing a handloom fabric give to its wearer. We have experienced this for ourselves when we wear our Tula rain fed organic cotton handloom shirts, or our Kalakshetra handloom vegetable dyed saris or our Kalpadruma vegetable dyed organic cotton handloom towels.

Handloom garments are extremely breathable and absorbent. So you do not feel sweaty or hot as the fabric allows air to pass through. They also feel very cool and comfortable and soft, especially after they are washed many times. However, they need to be maintained with care – you cannot simply toss them into a machine thoughtlessly like you would with your knits, t-shirts and other powerloom fabric. But this care can reap rich rewards for you as your handlooms will last much much longer.

We are going to write a more detailed post on why there is this difference in handloom garments and how they should be maintained well, and can actually be made to last for decades if not years when done so.

But this post will simply carry a small note on what makes handloom garments different. Natural fibres like cotton and silk require more careful handling compared to synthetics. They are also generally less elastic compared to synthetics which mean that they can shrink or tear under stress unless treated. In large processing plants like those which create cotton knits or t shirts, natural fabrics are specially treated using techniques like mercerisation, or superwashing to enhance the fibre’s properties.

But native handloom weavers have always used local, indigenous methods to enhance the fibre’s strength and ensure that the fibre can withstand the rigours of handloom weaving. Weavers from different states have slightly different ways of tearing yarn. In many places in South India where rice is freely available, rice paste or rice starch is used on the yarn. It is soaked in this paste and then dried before being woven on the loom. In our research we have seen different natural pastes being added to this basic mix including onion paste in some cases.

This natural starch and plant combination along with the handling of the yarn by hand keeps the handloom fabric in better shape compared to powerloom fabric. And as the cotton is gently treated from the beginning it feels soft and comfortable when worn. In order to retain the properties of the handloom garment, it needs to be treated with a similar amount of care from the wearer’s end. But with this care, your handloom saree, skirt or dupatta can retain its colour and be worn just as proudly by you even twenty years down the line.

This post has been able to cover only a few of the issues that assail the handloom sector. We have not even begun to cover the important aspect of fair trade when it comes to this industry which is a point worth pondering about or the question of working in a hazardous occupation, which is a problem associated with chemical dyes. Our upcoming posts will cover all of these and as promised introduce you to some companies and organisations which are worth supporting and are doing sincere and stellar work in this field.

We hope you are enjoying reading our sustainable fabric series and also hope that our series is inspiring you to take a closer look at your wardrobe. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interveiwing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

 

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Handloom Love – conversations with Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

In most causes worth protecting, there exist polarised opinions. And the activist fighting for these causes is always the owner of one of the poles. I see activists as border guards. They exist at the extreme to atleast show us the consequence of our actions or neglect. And to inspire us to live better. We may not be able to do everything they do, but by listening to them, understanding their point of view and absorbing their wisdom, we become less lackadaisical, more open.

The environment has many activists. Animals also have activists who are willing to do the extreme to get people to notice their cause and change their ways.

While writing this series, I was happy to see that textiles and the cause of farmers and weavers also has activists. But many of these activists choose to demonstrate their ideology by simply wearing their cause on their sleeve or in this case, on their person.

The question you may now ask is this: is the cause of handlooms really a cause? Is it a tradition worth saving? Or are we simply witnessing free market choices being played out today, which is that consumers have stopped buying handlooms and the weavers ought to take up another profession as the market has spoken.

You may also ask as a consumer whose wallet is being preyed upon, just how many causes can you support? Are you to open up your purse and heart for every bleeding heart story? Should you support handlooms simply because there 4.4 Million weavers in the industry? Or is there a deeper, more inherent reason here?

To understand this, we spoke to many experts in the field of sustainable fabrics. We spoke to entrepreneurs, designers, people who work with weaver co-operatives and textile enthusiasts. The answers which emerged had their roots in many places:

  • the role of the East India Company and its effect on Indian handlooms
  • the short lived effect of the Swadeshi movement
  • the government’s well intentioned but flawed execution of centralised schemes for the handloom industry
  •  lastly, our role as consumers.

Today’s piece has a short introduction on the state of the handloom sector  goes onto an interview a textile enthusiast. We publish this to remind ourselves about our responsibility as consumers. Yes, we are aware that responsibility is onerous. And sometimes all of us want to be free, hedonistic and consume as we please.

But all of us are Super Heroes with the collective power of our wallet. And with this great power comes great responsibility. So an individual’s buying choice is more than just a bill. Collectively it represents a global force, than can decide the fate of lives. In this case, 4.4 million weaver families in India.

Handlooms in ancient India:

The craft of handloom weaving in India spans atleast 3000 years. And we know of its art, and evolution through our sculptures, inscriptions, epigraphs and monuments. The Vedic period has numerous references to textile craft.

3.12th century apsara

In the Vishnu Sahasranamam, the Lord Vishnu is described as the “Sutantu” or the divine warp, the basis of all creation.

5.vishnu sahasranamam

From this and other texts, a picture of a self reliant ancient India emerges where people not only grew their own food, but also wove the clothes they wore. Weavers were a professional community who did specialised weaving, and catered to Kings and Aristocrats.

6.radha at night

The State maintained a centre for production of fine garments and Kautilya’s ArthaShastra mentions how these centres worked and also describes the roles and responsibilities of the “Sutraadhyaksha” or the Chief Textile Commissioner. The State and these centres imposed strict quality control on every stage of textile production. Fines were levied if the weaving was found to be below standard. An officer called the “Vastraneeti” was employed in the King’s household to check and certify the fabric purchased, identify regional variations of the product, check if it was upto the fixed standard and then make the payment.

From this ancient time to the time around Independence we see a completely different picture of the Handloom Industry.

 

The Handloom Industry before Independence and Now:

With the rise of the east India Company, Indian weavers were recruited by the company to produce fabric and weaves to order. The creative freedom of the weavers was lost as they were asked to copy and reproduce the designs given to them faithfully. As the demand for Indian cloth increased in England, the local manufacturers of England began to cry foul. In 1680, England spent nearly 3 million pounds buying Indian goods of which a large proportion was Indian fabrics. The local British artisans began to riot, and women who wore Indian calicos were mobbed and insulted.

The British Parliament responded by limiting the use and wear of Indian goods. In India, the company responded by forcing weavers to produce only for the company on their terms. They were not permitted to work for anybody else and received advances to control their production and limit it for the company. Indian handlooms began to steadily decline in the 19th century following England’s repressive commercial policy towards Indian manufacturing. In the later half of the 19th century, British and other foreign imports of cotton fabric, and the advent of power looms displaced handlooms all over India.

Handloom production in free India has increased in output from pre-Independence times, but the Industry’s back has been broken by a combination of the lack of Governmental support, abject poverty and lack of access to capital of the weavers, and our indifference to their work.

The handloom sector is reported to have 12.5 million people dependent on the sector. A large proportion of the weavers are not formally educated and there is a crisis of innovation and technological advancement in this sector. As a result of this, the handloom weavers lie in utter penury, offer trading jobs with unskilled jobs like those in the construction sector simply to eke out a living.

We have a separate post coming up on the specific problems ailing the handloom sector, but for now we end this part with a simple statement: Handloom sector in India is on the brink of an utter collapse.

 

An Interview with Lata Ganapathy

I first met Lata last year when we worked on the series of workshops introduced by the Hindu called “Clean Chennai”. Lata helped put together a vibrant series of events to enthuse about solid waste management and managing their own waste.

1.clean chennai workshop

My conversations with Lata during the time revealed a passionate interest for the environment, a keen eye for art and aesthetics and an appreciation for classical Indian art and music. Lata always stood out because of the way she dressed: She wears gorgeous Indian handloom sarees and salwar kameez paired with beautiful, intricate handicraft jewellery.

I got in touch with her when we were planning this series to see if she would be willing to speak to us about why she supports the Indian handloom sector and she generously agreed to do so. Here is Lata speaking about the Indian Handloom sector:

I love beauty, art and cleanliness and I’m not sure what comes first to me!

I have trained as a Carnatic singer and have been singing with my twin sister Kala from the time we were four (I am now 43 years-old). I am married to the musician Ravikiran, so great music is part of my daily life! In addition to music, I have a keen interest in interior design and I enjoy experimenting with the decor in my home. The decor at home is not ultra expensive. I don’t believe in brands or labels or that beautiful things need to come with big price tags. I am obsessive about tidiness and putting things back in their place. Not doing so drives me completely batty!

8. in a bengal cotton

I work as an online journalist at The Hindu.

My wardrobe is almost entirely handloom.

My earliest and longest inspiration was my mother who expired 20 years ago. She always wore crisp and cool cottons for as long as I can remember. She stopped wearing silks at a young age because of the cruelty perpetrated on silkworms and wore very basic jewellery. I remember her lovely traditional Sungudis, Kotas, Bengal cottons, Maheshwaris, Kancheevarams and so forth. She used to carry her cottons off with much élan be it at a wedding or to the market.  I also learned to appreciate handlooms from a cousin, Lalita Ramakrishnan, during our visits from Calcutta and Bangalore to Chennai. Synthetics just never figured in our wardrobe once we hit high school and college. Thanks to a fairly traditional upbringing, I didn’t wear western clothes during my teens. Personally, I didn’t miss it or crave for it one bit as I enjoyed the clothes I wore. I appreciated the sari a lot more because I started wearing it early.

13.expectations

Handloom saris are really my weakness. I still have some of the saris that were owned by my mum. The fact that they have lasted many wears, washes and starching rounds merely speaks for their enduring quality. It is my opinion that a handloom sari, when worn well, lends a unique kind of elegance and style to one’s personality. The colours are inimitable and when teamed with gorgeous blouses, the sari is undoubtedly a beautiful item of clothing. I love the variety in texture, weaves and hues of our handlooms.  The sheer breadth and depth of craftsmanship our country has to offer in this regard is staggering and must be celebrated every single day.

9. in a block printed indigo

Wearing handloom sarees seems like a natural choice to me, as I live here in India.

I am not fond of or comfortable with western clothing on myself. During my travels abroad, I am in western wear more out of necessity than choice. I make it a point to wear my handlooms regularly – at concerts, to work, during festivals and other social gatherings. Wearing a sari may seem more time-consuming and cumbersome in everyday life. With practice, it isn’t all that big a deal and the effect, in my opinion, is quite incomparable!

I wear a handloom sari to also make a statement and to express my concern against the erosion of our heritage and culture. I think our generation has abandoned our traditional attire and cultural attire very easily. It is easier to spot synthetics like georgettes and chintzes – there is no pride in our national handlooms.

I remember the astounding variety I saw wheile growing up of embroidred fabric, handwork and craft in handlooms That these crafts are dying today is brought up by the lack of variety we now see in these textile crafts around us .I feel like we have relinquished the artisan to the back burner. I don’t know if it is our upbringing or the lack of time or the mall-isation of our cities, or something else – but we have lost our pride in our Indian-ness and an indefinable something else.

10.sari art

I wear my textile art everyday to celebrate my Indian-ness and my cultural tradition.

I am constantly being told that what I wear is beautiful but is probably expensive. And I beg to disagree.

Most of what I wear is really old – and this just attests how long handlooms last when maintained carefully. The variety, the artistry and the skill in our handloom traditions are unmatched and perhaps not appreciated enough. India is rich and diverse in incredible ways – take embroidery, textiles, jewellery, cuisine, carpentry, architecture, handicrafts, fine arts or the performing arts – the list is endless.

Unlike the performing arts which still continue to attract competent practitioners thanks to global and domestic opportunities, handloom textiles and other similar handicrafts industries are tottering dangerously. They have few takers to carry on the profession with passion and genuine interest. Globalisation and trade liberalisation have ensured that other fashions have penetrated our society with lower prices accompanied by the lure of easy maintenance.

I am both saddened and concerned to see that most women of my education and background have abandoned the saree. There are interesting labels attached to women who wear saris at non-traditional settings – that of being ‘unfashionable’, not ‘trendy’ and the most baffling one – not ‘modern’ enough! I am often asked why I don’t wear western clothing – it simply doesn’t excite me the way a sari or a salwar kameez does.

12.gayatri devi

Why are we so defensive about wearing a saree? I went to a party in a saree, and the automatic assumption is that I’m religious / old fashioned/ ritualistic! We are always running away from who we are – we think so little of our dress heritage!

Our textile traditions should be celebrated and cherished.

In January this year, I attended a fascinating presentation by Rta Kapur Chishti (of The Sari School, Delhi) at Kalakshetra who spoke about the innumerable ways one can drape a sari – there’s really no one way. With the six and nine yards, she was able to convert the sari into a frock, a gown, a short skirt and more! Rta spoke passionately about the historical journey of the sari, the countless weaving communities, the textures and colours, the climate-friendliness and functional aspects of the sari. It was eye-opening to say the least and I was highly inspired.

11.16th century sari

My buying handlooms is a very modest way of supporting the weaver who creates the magic. I own a small range that includes Orissa cotton, Khadi, Ikkat, Pochampalli, Bengal, Kantha, Kotas, Shibori, Chikan, Bagru, Mangalgiri, Kancheevaram, Chettinad, Sungudi, Jute-cotton, Korvai, Maheshwari, Kalamkari and Madhubani-painted saris.

I appreciate the amazing variety, the imagination behind every intricate warp and weft, the creative block prints, the beauty in the imperfections, the range of colours, the breathing quality of the handlooms, the hand-made texture, the knowledge that every item is unique and the fact that someone has (or a group of people have) laboured over that piece of cloth in a very personal way (as opposed to mass production).

 

Our textile traditions ought to be cherished and made to thrive. The onus is on the government to encourage artisans and weavers with attractive incentives so that their traditions are passed on to the next generation.

And it is our responsibility to support this beautiful industry.

 

If you want to get a more local, craft based and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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The Sutra of Thread – Part 2

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

One of the reasons the Indian handloom and handicraft sector is so much in the doldrums is because as consumers, we lack knowledge. We do not know our sustainable fabric basics which is why we sometimes easily forego our traditional textile crafts.

The incident that happened to us a few days back, illustrates this lack of knowledge.

An advertisement in the newspaper about a State government run handloom and handicraft exhibition had me visit an event. When asked where their advertised vegetable dyed handloom sarees were, I was shown a pile of sarees of which apart form a few, the rest were clearly dyed using synthetic shades. After some questioning, the salesman took out 4 – 5 sarees from his large pile – these were dyed in shades of green, brown, red and black, and he confirmed that only these were “pure vegetable dyes’ and that the rest were vegetable dyes that were mixed with synthetic dyes.

I felt the texture of the sarees and their weight and asked him if they were indeed handloom sarees. The manager at the billing counter told me that they were all power loom sarees, and that handlooms would be coarser and bulkier in comparison. I had to contest this statement. He replied that they did not have any cotton handlooms in the expo as they were much more expensive compared to the power loom saree. But the event was advertised as a “handloom” exhibition. And the sarees were sold at the counter as “handloom “.

Ignorance, in this case is not bliss. Our ignorance is costing us our water, soil, air and is putting an entire generation of weavers at risk as we no longer appreciate or even know anything about what they create. Here is the second part of Richa’s informative post detailing how the textile crafts of India follow our seasons. Here are the textile crafts that suit monsoon and winter.

Following hard on the heels of the scorching summer, are the cooling rainclouds. The country revives with the cooling drops of life-giving rain – (barkha in urdu). And the rejoicing that marks the season finds its way into the patterns and designs of Indian fabric.

Lahariya – the very name suggests its wave-like fluidity is a tie & dye technique that can be seen all year round in Rajasthan – on pagdis (turbans) and odhnas (versatile wraps). However there is no season when it comes as alive as during the monsoons in the rainy months. This technique of resist wrapping and dyeing is typical of Rajasthan. The pattern of diagonal lines is said to be inspired by the direction of rain drops – of special significance in the desert state.

2. leheriya printed saree

 

A variation on the plain lahariya involves a second overlay of diagonal stripes, creating a grid. The pattern is named mothra because of the grid’s resemblance to the motth – a lentil grown in Rajasthan. These wrap resist tie-dyed patterns were traditionally done on fine mulmul as it enabled tight folds which meant a finer patterning.

In times gone by, the Leheriya style was worn exclusively by the Marwari community in Rajasthan. The Royal class wore Leheriya in blue.

However, today the lahariya technique has made its way across communities and onto other materials like georgette and chiffon which lend themselves to this technique. Interestingly, Lahariya is so much a part of the collective consciousness of Rajasthan, that it is one of the most popular mehendi designs applied by women on Teej , a north India festival that celebrates the monsoon.

1. teej celebrations

 

As the frenzied beats of the monsoon wind quieten, the evenings become cooler and it is time for the all-too-brief Indian Autumn. The Sharad Ritu has arrived, heralded by a host of festivals and celebrations. And how can the festive season be complete without new clothes?

The season of festivals naturally entails a series of rites which involve ritual purity. Most Indian rituals involve a deeper meaning than mere symbolism and this extends to textiles as well. It is for this reason that in the strictest adherence to ritual, silk is not worn at havans or pujas because of the inherent violence committed during the production of silk, where the silk worms are boiled alive to yield the filament that then becomes yarn.

So, adherents of the old school still prefer the thicker khadi, which through its slight coarseness, creates a sophisticated, slubby texture that bespeaks honesty. In its thinner avatar, khadi lends itself to upcycling through the kantha technique of Bengal, just as the year freshens up after the monsoons.

Sujani Kantha or simply kantha was initially a quilting technique applied to rags and tatters to recycle them as bags, covers and wraps which were exchanged as gifts between friends and family. It was based on the principle of giving new life to things that have outlived their usefulness. This cycle of life is also manifested in two popular deities Cinidiyadro, the Lord of Tatters and Chithariya Bhairavi “Our Lady of the Tatters” who are believed to give a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to them.

4. nakshi kantha

 

When the lights of Deepawali have dimmed, North India starts to get cold – very cold. By the time the month of Paush comes around, chill winds are howling through the valleys and plains. It is the season to stay warm at home, think of the past and tell stories.  One tale comes to mind – the story of the paisley.

Once upon a time, long long ago, a teardrop from Babylon made its way to India. There it caught the imagination of the weavers of Kashmir. They stylized it in the shape of the raw mango – the kairi or ambi and began weaving this into the exquisite pashmina shawls they made.

These shawls were highly prized and went by the trade name of Jaamevar or “that which is woven in the length of a garment or jama”. They took upto 3-4 years to weave and were prized by royalty, who were about the only people who could afford it. History also states that The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, had a Kanni Shawl or a Jaamevar in her marriage trousseau. At the time, a Jaamevar shawl would take upto a year to weave!

empress josephine

Then, in the 18th century the officers of the English East India Company discovered the Jaamevar shawl which they took back to England as gifts. Their sweethearts and sisters were so taken with this that it soon became all the rage in fashionable circles. So coveted were these shawls that they formed a prized part of Josephine’s dowry during her marriage to Napoleon.

Over the years, the fashion burgeoned and the weavers were no longer able to keep pace with the demand even embroidering designs instead of weaving them. In the 19th century, the mechanized jacquard loom was introduced in Europe and used and inferior quality of wool to reproduce a semblance of the hand-woven shawl. Several of these looms were set up at a weaving town called Paisley in Scotland. For a while the looms of Paisley brought abundant prosperity to the town and gave their name to the shawls, as well as the stylised ambi motif typical of the Jaamevar. But fashions are fickle – the bustle came into fashion and the Paisley shawls became outmoded. The town became a ghost of itself but the name that it had given to the ambi stayed.

3. kanni shawl

While the finesse of the original Jaamevars is lost in the mists of Kashmir, there has been a revival in the village of Kannihama, a little way away from Gulmarg, and select wool still finds its way into Indian shawls today. And Pashmina wool remains popular option for Indian women today. (thankfully, toosh and shahtoosh varieties of wool have been outlawed for their brutality.

As the winter fog lifts to give way to spring, the cycle of seasons is complete, and the timeless saga of Indian textiles comes a full circle as well.

We would like to thank Richa Dubey, for taking the time to educate us through this wonderful, lyrical 2 part series on the textile traditions of India.

 

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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The Sutra of thread – part 1

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ignorance, in the case of Indian textile crafts is certainly not bliss. As I put together this series on textile crafts and the sustainable fabric tradition of India, I am continually amazed at how rich, varied and wonderful our textile traditions are.

I am also angry at the myopic school system that I studied in: none of this made its way into our curriculum, and was only offered at an advanced level in college or as a part of a Masters Programme. This compounded ignorance led me, in my early working days to mass produced clothing which I found in Malls. This clothing was not really cheap, but it was easily available, and seemed to be the norm around me.

Today, when I see power loom fabric being passed off as handloom, and synthetic dyes and screen printed fabric ruling the roost, I remember my time as a young working adult, making financial choices, and realise my choices have created the word I see today.

As I reached out to textile enthusiasts and people passionate about handlooms and crafts, I found a world of information, environmental sustainability and beauty just around the corner. And I’m happy to see the Krya blog hosting this information.

We are happy to share this guest post written by Richa Dubey on the textile traditions of India and how different types of weaves and fabrics exist for the different seasons in India.

Richa wears many many interesting hats. She conceptualised and runs a gender activism campaign ( see www.bitly.com/GurgaonGirlcott ); leads public affairs for a prospective national innovation university; built an advocacy strategy for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s India office; anchors a breakfast show on national television and manages an international world music festival.She also leads the marketing practice at niiti consulting a for-profit social enterprise consulting firm. She is a passionate believer in environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability (which is why she works at niiti). Her life is currently ruled by her children (one each, canine and human) her work and her passions (and all of them intersect, so it’s fine)

We are especially proud that Richa is a passionate Krya consumer, and that is how we came to meet her and know of her work.

 Here is Richa Dubey’s lyrical, eloquent piece on how Indian textile crafts offer different fabrics for the different seasons of India.

How often have we heard of the diversity in India? Its climate, food, culture, philosophy (in the 6th century BC there were at least 200 different schools of philosophy that co-existed). One example of this rich diversity is textile. Marvellous in its variety, texture, fibre… not forgetting the textile techniques that embellish a fabric, there is possibly a traditional textile that exists for every single occasion in your life, though we shall limit ourselves to the seasons in this piece.

However, before embarking on this journey through the warp and weft of India, where a common thread of understanding runs through the land, it is important to touch upon, at least briefly, the reasons why it holds such an important place in our lives.

Right from the philosophical to the everyday, the understanding of fabric has been intrinsic to the understanding of India. The Rig Veda pictured the universe as a cloth woven by the Gods – the cosmos an infinite length of fabric with its warp and weft constructing a pattern upon which all life is painted.

Much later, Kabir, the 14th Sufi poet-saint (who was also a weaver) likened the Absolute to the divine weaver and our souls to a pristine scarf which is sullied by a life of ignorance and sin in “Jheeni jheeni beeni chadariya” (incidentally, this piece by the late Pandit Kumar Gandharv is my favourite rendition)

2. kabir

As with other facets of daily life in India, philosophy and common wisdom spills over into textiles as well. Just as Ayurveda advises the eating of fruits and vegetables in season, it makes sense to pick traditional textiles according to the season as well.

Beyond being weather-friendly, these natural weaves and techniques also reflect the changing moods of the year and incorporate festivals into their lexicon.

The essence of Spring

Beginning with the season of Spring which takes the first place in the time-honoured Indian cycle of seasons, we see it blooming in textiles as an expression of eternal rejuvenation. Vasant is the season of rejuvenation of cosmic energy. It stands for new beginnings represented by fresh blossoms. It is also the time when Kamadev releases his flower-tipped arrows of love.

The essence of Spring has been captured in the repertoire of Indian motifs known as butis, butas and bels. Different regions of India have interpreted these motifs according to their own aesthetic sensibilities. While the Bagru tradition from Bagru in Rajasthan  is famous for floral designs in dark vegetable colours, the Kalamkari tradition from Macchlipatnam interprets them differently. In North India where Mughal influence still lingers, they take on a stylized air in gracefully drooping flower-pots. From whichever region, whether painted, embroidered, hand-block printed, or more recently, screen printed, they form an integral part of the Indian design lexicon.

One of the most popular motifs which are symbolic of eternal Spring, is the Tree of Life. Although not native to India, it has been a symbol of life, fertility, livelihood, food and protection for centuries.

4. tree of life sweden

Thus, when Indian crafts persons or women at home sought to embellish textiles it was natural that the tree motif was often embroidered, woven, printed and painted on fabrics.

3. tree of life in kantha

 

Its symbolism has been shared in ancient cultures across the world and the tree motif has found expression, both in natural and stylized representations, in varied art forms. At another level the tree is a representation of the Great Mother Goddess. The physical and metaphysical source of life was considered to be manifested in the life-giving powers of the earth and the feminine body, which the Tree is said to symbolize. And there is perhaps no better a time to celebrate this form of fertility than the season of spring, when there is an abundance of blossoming life forms.

 

The summer begins

The fragrant breeze of Spring gives way to the scorching wind of the summer – the loo. People venture out only when absolutely necessary and then, clad themselves in the lightest fabrics possible. The thread of seasons weaves into fabrics like mulmul, jamdaani and kota…

The quality of the fine muslins of India was probably best described by the Sufi-poet Khusrao in the 14th century. “One would compare it with a drop of water if that drop fell against nature, from the fount of the sun. A hundred yards of it can pass through the eye of a needle, so fine is the texture…” So sheer was this fabric (woven in counts of 2000) that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is said to have berated his daughter for her indecency in appearing unclothed before him. The daughter responded that she was wearing seven layers of cotton mul!

According to Laila Tyabji of Dastkar, What is unique about India is that it transformed cotton from being a kind of a village fabric in to something that kings and emperors and queens… not just in India but all over the world used.

The most prized muslins were woven in Dhaka and were so coveted since ancient times that Roman texts blamed the vanity of Roman women for emptying Roman coffers of gold for Indian cottons. Some of these were especially reserved for the use of royalty. In fact it was these same muslins that drew the British to Bengal . The picture below is a depiction of a Bengali girl clothed in layers of fine Dhaka Muslin.

1.Muslin girl by renaldi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal was also home to a special muslin weave – this was the jaamdani – the ethereal weave which uses an extra weft and gives the motifs the appearance of floating on the ground. Jaamdaani lives even today as the fabric of choice for the humid summers of Bengal. UNESCO has declared the art of Jaamdani weaving as an Intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

5. richa in jaamdani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But despite the historic and near cult status of the Jamdaani weave, the Jamdaani weaver has no financial motivation to continue creating this textile art. A senior taanti or “ostad” earns about Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per month. Junior weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600. As a result many weavers do not want their children to come to this profession. For many, the Bangladeshi garments industry, despite its several dubious practices and poor working conditions, is a better alternative to this craft.

 

Summer in West India

Beyond the East, the western part of the country also devised its own textile strategies to cope with the heat. A charming, but probably apocryphal story tells of the development of Kota. Kota which is now known for its coaching centres devoted to getting students into IIT also has a special place in India’s fabric tradition.

 

The story goes that a hill princess married into the royal family of Kota. But much as she tried to bear up under the fierce heat of the Thar Desert, she wilted under the heavy, coarse fabrics that formed the traditional garb of the region. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she commissioned the local weavers to create a light fabric for her. The weavers wove the lightest, airiest fabric that they could – the princess was still not satisfied. Then they pulled out the threads from the warp and the woof at regular intervals to create a lacy chequered fabric. This grid-like ethereal fabric took the eponymous name of Kota.

5.richa in kota

Initially these were woven only in the seven shades of white prescribed in the Vishnu Purana: – light white, tooth white, pure sandal white, autumn cloud white, autumn or sharad moon white, conch shell white and motia or pearl white.The texturing of the fabric was done by the simple expedient of varying the number of threads and the shades of white in the warp and weft of the grid giving it a subtle sophistication.

Today, however, Kotas are available in various colours (and regretfully, synthetic yarn too) and remain a popular summer option.

This post continues tomorrow with Richa describing the fabrics that were woven for Monsoon and winter.

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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