The Whole Nine Yards & an interview with Rta Kapur Chasti

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

The traditional Indian garment for men and women is just a piece of unstitched rectangular cloth, a dhoti and a sari respectively. A simple,  woven rectangular piece of fabric six to nine yards in length. With very few accessories this piece of unstitched cloth was draped in several ingenious ways to cover the head , torso and lower body. Variety was provided through colours and different fabric types like cotton or silk.

6.radha at night

 

When we examine our Indian textile traditions it is clear that we have great strengths in spinning, natural dyeing and weaving. But to me there is not much obvious evidence of a great Indian tailoring tradition.

Perhaps this had its roots in religion where only unstitched cloth is considered appropriate for all holy occasions and to help a seeker enter a pious frame of mind when doing reaching out to god. It is fascinating to note that wearing unstitched cloth for holy occasions is a tradition that is found among Hindus, Jains and Muslims.

Over time, with several invasions notably the British, the urban Indian dress is a lot more aligned to the rest of the world and has drifted considerably from the unstitched cloth.

Was it a process of global assimilation driven by travel and media symbols?Did this decline happen just for practical reasons ? Can one go for a morning run in a sari? Can one drive a bike to work wearing a dhoti?

This poses many questions about the relevance of the traditional Indian garment.

Is it now just a symbol of culture to be unleashed during weddings or at Diwali?

Textile Scholar, Rta Kapur Chisti is India’s pioneer in reviving the Sari and keeping it relevant for folks today. She has shown 108 different ways of draping the Sari to suit different occasions. Her research shows that Women in erstwhile princely state of Jhansi draped the Sari in special ways to ride horses and even swim across rivers. In 2009, She has also started the “Sari School” , a unique workshop conducted regularly in New Delhi that introduces novices to a whole new world of this unstitched garment. Rta is also the author of a book called the Saris of India, which is a bible on the subject and is a celebration of India through its Sari traditions and now part of India’s textile canon.

Saris tradition and beyond by Rta Kapur chasti

In this interview with the Krya blog, Rta Kapur Chisthi gives us  her own crisp, pithy version of the whole nine yards.

On the relevance of the Sari in “modern” Indian woman’s wardrobe

The sari is capable of constant adaptation & recreation In fact in the Sari School Workshops we conduct, participants are encouraged to create their own level of comfort, suitable for body form & occasion. What makes the sari unique is its capability of transforming itself into a long or short dress, a pair of pantaloons or even a pair of shorts & on the other hand can become a grand gown if required.

the myriad drapes of a sari - nov 4 2014

The question of what we wear is not a moral one but we should atleast know who or what we are in the way we dress.We are blindly taking to western wear but most often what we reveal are our short comings & not our assets. In particular the upper arms, the bust, the backside, the knees which are either dimpled or knobly at best. As we imitate others, we do not see ourselves anymore!

Dress is not a question of right or wrong but something aesthetically suitable to all the aspects you have mentioned including climate, body form, comfort level & occasion. We are what we wear & unfortunately most of us are looking more like “export rejects” !

The sari is being relegated for special occasion wear but is it not as difficult if not more difficult to handle the way we sit or stand or move in a short dress especially if we are not moving within the same social circle & have to go out on the crowded street or bus or any other part of the majority of India? I often see young people on television trying to take a seat with crossed legs turning side ways to prevent the view ‘upwards’.

 Are Saris and handlooms tied together intricately? Would you explain this connection further?

The sari in concept is deeply connected to an unstitched garment with different densities created by patterning in the borders, end pieces & body at times. This is a functional necessity for the way it is to be draped as the borders & end pieces take the load of the wear & tear at the feet or the tying at the waist & the inner end piece takes the load of the sitting or squatting & the outer end piece is often used to tie over as a pouch or as a shaded head cover.

Handlooms are disappearing because those who are involved in the spinning & weaving process cannot earn enough to sustain a livelihood leave alone being at par with other professions. Hand work is naturally slower but it can produce a superior quality of fabric at its best. It should not be propped up with subsidies which lower quality & justify poor quality because it is handloom made. The hand must produce finer & superior textures that cannot be handled by machines.

In all cases handloom produced saris should not require starching or shade drying. They were our heirlooms at one stage if you recall. Handed down from generation to generation & this was not because of high maintenance but largely because of superior yarn & fabric quality.

We happen to be fortunately placed with multiple levels of production possibility by hand & machine & we should use this to our advantage rather than opt for complete mechanized production. For instance we could be the only country in the world that can make handspun handlooms in some significant quantity & quality as we have the skill, fast disappearing raw material & a work force that cannot be entirely absorbed in the mechanized sector

We are opening our markets to the world but likewise are not entering the world through what we look at as ‘slow skills’ which give us an edge even among south & east Asia. These are being relegated to the past, neglected, ignored or at best being made to produce & compete in volume & not quality of the hand.

The “Ananda Khadi” movement  & Sari School.

In 2003- 04 ,the exhibition titled ‘khadi- the fabric of freedom’ had travelled to several cities in India. Over the next 3 years we realized that hand-spinning on the Desi Charkha unfortunately, had become the most neglected & forgotten strength of Khadi whereas, the faster semi-mechanized Ambar Charkha had been in favour over the last 50 years. Therefore, a concerted effort was made to develop hand-spinning upto 115s count on the Desi Charkha & develop 115s to 500s count on the Ambar Charkha. Both had their relevance & would never compete with mill spun yarns which spin to an average of 120s count & thus hand-spinning could reassert itself in a non-competitive context.

A team provided design & quality support, appointed a local weaver’s son/ daughter with some formal education to stay back in the village & look after the production work. After the first year, it was realized that the cotton quality & availability was not reliable & therefore cultivation for the support of organic farming was provided to indigenous cottons that could become totally organic & varieties of silk that were facing adverse conditions due to lack of interest in the market.

We now encourage local farmers to cultivate short staple desi cottons both brown & white with totally organic protection & soil enrichment to produce high quality rain fed cottons that can provide a regular flow of raw material to the spinners & weavers involved in this project. These cottons are ideal for fine textured, inlay patterned & 3 shuttle weaving which is prevalent. The challenge is to combine the unique skills in spinning & weaving for contemporary usage for both stitched & unstitched garments.

The unique quality of khadi is a low twist yarn that provides a soft supple fabric absorbent in the heat of summer & fulsome & warm in winter. It can provide the widest base of home employment as atleast 10 spinners if they were adequately compensated along with atleast 5 people involved in cultivation to cleaning, combing, carding could sustain one handloom for twelve months a year.

Products made from Ananda Khadi are now available in select stores across the country.

The Sari School was set up in 2009 as the last volume of the book “Saris of India” was going in for publication & we needed to connect with another generation to show them how simple it is to re-work an unstitched garment. To make of it what they want. Also weavers conceded that the books were useful in the long run but they needed support with weaving ‘now’ not later.

rta's sari school workshop nov 4 2014

 Preethi’s notes on the sari school: I was unfortunate enough to have missed Rta’s Sari school workshop at the Kalakshetra Foundation last year, but participants at the workshop swore by Rta’s acerbic wit and passion and came away mesmerized & inspired at just how versatile the Sari is. If you live in Delhi, the Sari School is worth a visit.

 

A guide to washing and maintaining handlooms

Our series on handlooms, the fabric traditions of India and our various detours into our cultural wardobe and how you could bring in more sustainability into your clothing ends with this post today.
But a series by Krya on fabric is not complete with one of our signature guides on how to care for this fabric. All along this series we have encountered questions from curious readers about the maintenance of natural and hand woven fabric, and this, apart from the question on why it is priced a certain way, is one of the big barriers to more and more people adopting handlooms.

Our little guide on maintaining handlooms draws inspiration from art, which in turn has been inspired by washing – (see, we knew we weren’t the only ones!). Maintaining great handlooms is not difficult, and it is a myth that caring for them takes time and energy. In fact, like tending to land, with great fabric, the less you interfere with it, the better.

Handloom washing guide

An important part of your washing arsenal with handlooms is the right detergent – and this is a step you absolutely cannot afford to skip – most popular brand, synthetic detergents are unsuitable for the fine, carefully woven handloom fabric. They are over engineered and tend to fray and damage the joints of the weaves.

We hope you enjoy reading our handloom washing guide. If you have any questions on the process or on the rest of the series do write to us.

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End Notes:

We would like to thank Ms. Rta Kapur Chisti for taking the time to respond to our questions on the art of sari wearing, cultural traditions and handlooms with so much wisdom and clarity. We enjoyed reading and editing your answers! Ms. Rta Kapur Chisti’s book on the Sari traditions of India is a bible for handloom and unstitched garment enthusiasts. The book is available online.

For those living in Delhi, The Sari school offers information and draping training to those wanting to master the sari. Ananda Khadi, Ms.Chisti’s brand of fine Khadi fabric and sarees can be bought in their store in Delhi and in other stores across the country. For more information please visit their website.

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This is our concluding post  of our 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.
  13. Rashmi Vittal of Little Green Kid’s guest post on why organic cotton is so essential for everyone can be found here.
  14. Our visit to Vivek and Juli Cariappa and our interview of this Krish pandit couple and their experiments with Khadi can be found here.
  15. Our post on Tula (organic, non GM Khadi) along with a video interviewing their founder, and an interview of Tara Aslam and Nature Alley Khadi can be found here.

 

 

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Khadi Chronicles – at Krac-a-dawna farm

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

We work only with organic plant based materials to create our formulations at Krya. So we take the process of sourcing and building relationships with our farms very seriously. Every single raw material we source is traceable. And we have a name and a face to match this source.

Traceability is important for many reasons. For one, natural materials have glorious variations depending upon the rain, soil conditions etc. Traceability helps us understand how the final Krya formulation performs.

A direct relationship with the farmers helps us practise fair trade, as we bypass middlemen and traders, and pay the farmer directly.

Because of the perishable nature of the materials we use, a direct relationship with the farm enables us to process them in a precise and timely manner to ensure optimal performance. For example, Fruit peels, especially those sourced from organic farms are extremely rich in aromatic essential oils. But if they are not shade dried carefully under low temperatures, these essential oils can evaporate removing all the aroma. And if they are not dried carefully, the peels can catch mildew and fungus before they reach our factory in Chennai.

Of course, an important, unstated reason for our farm trips is the inspiration it gives us. The beautiful environs of an organic farm or a plantation inspires us and reminds us of the reason why we do our work at Krya. To help keep these beautiful patches of land clean, and green, and perhaps lead a similar change in our crowded, not so green urban spaces.

The icing on the cake is the wonderful, like minded people we get to meet. The organic farmers we meet are committed to their vision, and have stuck to poison free farming through the lows and highs of the agricultural cycle. None of the challenges they continue to face, dampen their spirit and they continue to inspire us with their enthusiasm, positivity and reverence for the land.

Our farm and plantation trail had us exploring sources of organic cotton fabric and medicinal herbs. And took us to Krac-a-dawna farm, started by its custodians, Juli and Vivek Cariappa.

Krack-a-dawna Farm

Vivek and Juli met as students at the Delhi University. Juli tells me that she always wanted to be a farmer, and so in 1986 the two of them at ages 20, and 21, decided to live off the land in their own piece of land just off Mysore.

3. juli cariappa krac a dawna

A loan helped them purchase a barren piece of land with four trees, a cow, a dilapidated hut and a stream. Today this humble beginning has grown into a beautiful, verdant, 30 acre farm which produces 30 kinds of crops including organic cotton and the farm produce includes value added products like organic cotton garments which have been designed by the family, and dyed in house using natural plant based dyes, organic food products like jams jellies, butters, marmalades and pickles and personal care products like soap and bathing aids.

1. dyeing shed at krac a dawna

Vivek is a Krishi Pandit awardee, and Juli has played a central role in the initial years in drafting the Organic standards document to help certify farms for the OFAI.

Sathya Khadi

Krac-a-dawna’s organic cotton is especially relevant to our continuing series on sustainable fabric. Juli and Vivek grow their own cotton which is a hybrid of Indian and Caribbean cotton which is grown because it is long stapled, soft cotton.

2. Non Gmo Organic cotton at Krac a dawna

The feel of this fabric is outstanding, and Juli and Vivek get this cotton woven into many finishes including honeycomb waffle for towels and airy, light voile that gets made into flowing skirts.

 

The mechanised handloom & the master weaver

A conversation with Vivek and Juli leaves us feeling edgy and unsettled when we discuss the state of textiles and organic food produce in India. Krac-a-dawna’s organic cotton is sent to weavers to be woven in a powered handloom, which is a modified, “slightly mechanised” version of a handloom. This is easier on the weaver compared to a pure handloom, and allows each weaver to run 2 – 3 looms at a time, improving their wage earning capacity and productivity. Most importantly for the Cariappas, this frees the weaver from the master weaver, who is the first middleman we encounter in the textile world. Typically, a master weaver controls the output of several weaver families and often pays them a fixed wage and controls their output.

In many villages, master weavers are moneylenders, into whose debt weavers are trapped in exchange for funds to procure raw material or improve their looms. As a result, their output is forever tied to the moneylender who in this case acts as the master weaver, sourcing fabric at low rates from the indebted craftsmen.

We have spoken about the problems around powerloom and availability of hank yarn at length in India. Our conversation with Juli reveals another unknown fact about powerloom weaving.

Beef tallow and yarn sizing

Handloom weavers strengthen the yarn by dipping it into a mixture of starch derived from plant material like arrowroot and tapioca. This process, called sizing, helps give a protective coating to the yarn as it is woven, and helps keep in place during the weaving process.

The speed of powerloom weaving is so high that sizing the fabric is not enough. Instead, mutton fat or beef tallow is used to grease the machine and sizing is done using imported starch, typically from GM corn.

Powerloom sizing of fabric is not an organic process, as it is in handloom weaving. In handloom weaving, sizing is done from left over starch which comes from the rice or tubers that the weavers eat. In contrast, powerloom sizing uses nearly 1.6 Kg of firewood to heat and prepare the starch for every kilo of cotton.

Juli and Vivek call this whole value chain of conventional textile fabric, “violent”. It is harmful to our environment and eco system, and robs us of our seed sovereignty.

5.satyakhadi

Say NO to GMO

The war against GMOs is active and all over Krac-a-dawna. The labels which I help Juli stick onto the jam bottles reminds us to “say no to GMOs”. Vivek and Juli’s bookshelves and work apart from stewarding their farm include monitoring and being a part of several action committees to recommend next steps in suicide belts like Vidharba.

This activism is not restricted to GMOs alone. Juli is a licensed homeopath, and has eschewed vaccinations for her children. The farm animals are treated by Juli and her second son Azad using only gentle homeopathic medicines. Her bookshelves are filled with treatises on nutrition, making bread ,tofu and soaps, and have helped the residents of Krac a dawna stay completely self sufficient.

As we sit down to eat a fresh nutritious lunch made from scratch from the produce grown on the farm, Vivek proudly tells us that everything except the salt in our meal was grown and prepared on their farm.

The quest for self sufficiency

In a strange way, our series on sustainable fabric mirrors our quest for self sufficiency as well. Our nation once clothed the world, and was responsible for providing fabric for the entire world, exquisitely made, tailored and dyed. Our weavers were master craftsmen who occupied an important place in society. The sophistication of our textile produce was vast. The germplasm of our cotton was vast and varied and different parts of India produced different types of cotton. The linkages in our textile world were strong and every part of the textile producing chain was linked to both upstream and downstream. We used every single resource available to us from the dung produced by our cattle to the leaves, fruits and seeds to colour, strengthen and polish our fabric.

2. natural dye colour palette

And yet here we are today. 93% of India’s cotton is now genetically modified BT cotton. Vivek and Juli Cariappa maintain that the cotton germplasm across our country has been contaminated by BT, so much of the balance 7% cotton is also suspect. They tell us that UAS –Dharwad is the only source for uncontaminated cotton germplasm today. The path of Bt Cotton is violent and unsustainable. The cotton belt in India is marked in red by waves of farmer suicides. The handloom industry which would weave this cotton into fine fabric is languishing, underpaid and under supported. The dyeing industry has morphed into a chemically derived industry polluting our water, soil and air.

Krac-a-dawna’s model is a beacon of hope for us as we walk along the cotton trail. It tells us that it is possible to wear sustainable fabric. And that there is passion, joy and science in its production, as much there is in its wearing.

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End notes:

Krac-a-dawna’s sustainable cotton garments & farm produce can be bought from Elements, Cochin and Casablanca, Pondicherry. Vivek and Juli also sell directly to groups of families who can guarantee a bulk order of atleast Rs.10,000 and above – in this case, you could also buy their organic rice, pulses, jaggery and fresh produce. Juli Cariappa also makes a great range of jams, jellies, marmalades, pickles and soaps.

The minimum bulk purchase quoted above depends upon where you stay in relation to their farm. The farm is in a remote location off Mysore, with little connectivity, so sending small parcels is not an option for Krac-a-dawna.

Vivek and Juli Cariappa may be contacted at krac_a_dawna@yahoo.com .

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.
  13. Rashmi Vittal of Little Green Kid’s guest post on why organic cotton is so essential for everyone can be found here.
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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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To Bt or not to Bt – we think not

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India is now the top exporter of cotton and the second largest producer of cotton in the world. The agriculture ministry estimates that in 2010-11, there were 111.42 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation, and of those, nearly 90% were growing Bt cotton. Bt cotton is a genetically modified (GM) variety of cotton sold by seed companies that buy this “Bt gene” from Monsanto and was introduced in 2002 to India.

India is an ancient centre of cotton cultivation dating back to 5000 BC. Cotton cultivation was well developed during the Indus valley civilization. In just over a decade Bt cotton has grown exponentially and has wiped out roughly 90% of all land under desi varieties of cotton, disturbing an ecosystem that has thrived since ancient times.

Was it worth it for India and her cotton farmers to embrace Bt cotton in such staggering numbers? Consider this, the growth of Bt cotton in India also coincides with a period of mass farmer suicides by the cotton farmers. Since 2005, over 2.5 lakh Indian farmers have committed suicide; most of them were cotton farmers.

Apart from our farmers, we have also lost biodiversity in this mad rush for Bt. we have lost much of our cotton biodiversity. Before Bt cotton, farmers used to use about 40% hybrid seeds and 60% native cotton seeds. After the introduction of Bt Cotton, farmers began to use mostly hybrid seeds (over 90%) abandoning the indigenous cotton seeds.

India’s cotton crisis is a matter of grave and immediate concern to all of us.

If you thought that Bt cotton was an isolated crisis, remember that there are dark forces that are trying to inject the “Bt gene” into other crops, starting with Bt Brinjal. To paraphrase Martin Luther King,” To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it”.

What exactly is Genetically Modified (GM) cotton?

The chief engineer behind Bt cotton is Monsanto. It “creates” the Bt Cotton seed by inserting the gene coding for the Bt toxin of the Bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into the cotton seed. This is a family of over 200 different types of proteins that produce chemicals that are harmful to certain insects, specifically the larvae of moths, butterflies, cotton bollworms, and flies.  When this gene sequence is inserted into a cotton seed the cotton crop produces this Bt toxin in its tissue. When the insect larvae that are affected by this Bt toxin eat this “infected” cotton, they are killed.

The evolution of Monsanto:

Monsanto was founded in 1902 and by the 1940s was a major plastics company creating synthetic fibres and plastic derivatives like polystyrene which is used in take away coffee cups which remain cool despite the hot liquid in them. Monsanto is infamous for the development and production of Agent Orange for the U.S Army’s operations in Vietnam in 1970. Agent orange was a chemical herbicide that was sprayed by air US Helicopters over large tracts of agricultural land in Vietnam. It killed the trees and forests, depriving the locals of food and cover.

Agent-Orange-dioxin-skin-damage-Vietnam

Major Tu Duc Phang holding his pre-Agent Orange photograph

In effect it is estimated that 3 million Vietnamese citizens were severely harmed by Agent Orange

In 1983, the direction that Monsanto worked in began to change. The scientists at Monsanto were among the first to genetically modify a plant cell. As of 2012, Monsanto has 2 lines of businesses: herbicides and a line of seed “products”. Many of Monsanto’s seeds are genetically modified to work only with their herbicide range. So they force a package deal on the farmer who has to buy a system of seeds plus the herbicides to keep pest away.

In this article we will examine the dark agricultural crisis engineered by Monsanto, starting with Bt cotton.

Bt Cotton is not the “Final Solution” against pests

“Die Endlösung der Judenfrage” or the Final Solution to the Jewish question was the euphemistic and innocent sounding term given by the Nazis to the Holocaust, that massacred 6 million Jewish people.

Heydrich-Endlosung

A letter from Reinhard Heydrich (a high ranking Nazi official and one of the main architects of the Holocaust) to diplomat Martin Luther in Feb , 1942 asking for administrative assistance in the implementation of the “Final Solution”.

 

India’s cotton farmer crisis, that has intensified since the 2002 introduction of Bt cotton , is another  Holocaust. Bt cotton was sold as the “final solution” against cotton pests and promised a glorious economic future with bountiful cotton harvests.

On the contrary, In 2010, Monsanto reported to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) that the pink bollworm (a cotton pest) had developed resistance to its genetically modified cotton variety Bollgard1 in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Rajkot & Junagarh districts in Gujarat.

Besides Bt Cotton being ineffective against its main pest, the cotton bollworm, its introduction has led to the growth of hitherto weaker pests like sucking pests leading to significant economic losses. Cotton productivity has continued to fall in Bt cotton cultivation areas and pesticide expenditure has shot up despite the promised reduction as pesticides need to be employed both against new pests and against resistant pests like the resistant bollworm.

GV Ramajaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture states that data related to consumption of pesticides and micro studies indicates that there is initially a reduction in the use of pesticides especially those against boll worms when switching over to Bt Cotton. This reduction in bollworm is countered by a corresponding increase in aphids and sucking pests which means that a cocktail of pesticides are used to combat the new threat. Also, official data on pesticide consumption in India reflects no major change in use of pesticides after having adopted Bt cotton.

Seeds are no longer free, they are a product.

One of the biggest changes to the farming system with the introduction of genetically engineered seeds is the new system of economics that has come to plague agriculture, which depended only on nature and soil. For generations, farmers have saved native seeds and carefully bred select strains to produce indigenous varieties with regional variations. These seeds would be saved from the previous crop and would be swapped with another variety that would perhaps grow on a neighbouring farm.

Hybrid and genetically modified seeds on the other hand are expensive and take a lot of research to create.  Hybrid and GM seeds cannot be reused as they are sterile. This means a farmer has to buy seeds every time he plants the crop, making the very act of farming (which used to be living off the land) an expensive commercial production. Bt Cotton seeds are between 4 – 10 times more expensive than hybrid seeds.

The protests against GM crop also points to a more fundamental question: should seeds and therefore food production be corporatized? Because when seeds, which are the fundamental unit of food is declared as a private product and needs to be purchased, food, and the lives of the farmers who produce this food is controlled.

By patenting their GM seeds, Monsanto is able to charge money from farmers every time they produce food for us. Seeds which used to be freely shared by farmers and selectively bred have now become the intellectual property of companies like Monsanto. Every seed packet that is sold by Monsanto also charges a percentage of the fee as royalty from the farmer. After locking in the farmers to this system, Monsanto is free to increase their prices at will. At point when the price of a 450 pack of Bt cotton seeds went up Rs 1950/- , the Andhra Pradesh State government had to step in and limit the price to a ceiling of Rs 750/- and also enact the Andhra Pradesh Cotton Seeds Act 2007 to regulate prices. A farmer is forced to purchase 5 packets of Bt seed per acre of cultivation and the related pesticide. This cash outflow season after season is a huge financial blow to the small holding farmers.

When food is corporatized, then farmers who buy the seeds are treated much like consumers buying the latest electronic gadget are. When pink bollworms developed resistance to Bollgard 1 seeds, Monsanto urged farmers to “upgrade” to Bollgard 2, which it claimed offers better resistance to Bollworms!

Bt Cotton is not a law abiding citizen

In 1998, Monsanto started field trials of Bt cotton without approval from the GEAC. By the time the Indian government gave permission to plant Bt cotton in 2002, use of Bt cotton seeds had spread illegally in the major producer states. Again in 2013 , the next generation of Bt seeds were found to be sold illegally by the Maharashtra government well before the GEAC approval.

Bt Cotton is like an infestation: it spreads

In early 2010, the German edition of the Financial Times published a report stating that global brands like H&M were selling clothes made of Bt contaminated organic cotton. And this organic cotton was being sourced from India. Nearly 30% of the organic cotton sourced from India was contaminated with traces of Bt cotton.

A report released by the centre for Sustainable Agriculture studied the cotton seed production in India along the complete supply chain and found that were no standards to protect the indigenous cotton varieties from contamination by Bt cotton. The biologically and physical contamination possibility of cotton seeds range from 5 – 30%. The standard regulations ask farmers to maintain a 30 – 50 metre distance from nearest Bt farms. In practice given India’s landholding pattern and the presence of many many small farmers, this isolation is difficult to implement – this makes the infestation faster and easier to spread.

GM cotton is less profitable to a farmer compared to a non GM variety

A Feb. 2008 study published in the Agronomy journal had researchers from the University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environment Science analyse and compare the produce of GM and non GM plants.

The general belief driven by marketing around GM crops is that GM crops help plants fight pests better saving farmers’ management time and money. Because the plants are supposed to be pest resistant, a farmer can farm the land more intensively without hiring more people as the plant is supposed to be able to take care of itself.

The Georgia University study actually showed that Bt cotton is less profitable than a non Bt variety in any location or any year.

Bt cotton in India performs only in well irrigated fields. For example in Vidharba, which is a cotton belt in India, the climate is dry and almost drought like. Here adoption of Bt cotton has seen reducing yields from the crop which has been linked to the huge number of farmer suicides in the region.

Here the State Government alarmed at the huge human losses has stepped in to find more sustainable ways of making cotton cultivation feasible. This initiative has been aided by the Central Institute for Cotton research which has put together a package helping farmers with desi cotton varieties of cotton seeds which required less water and was traditionally suited to that arid region.Documentary_Cotton_for_my_Shroud' depicts_ the livesofcottonfarmersof_Vidarbha

Vidharba Cotton farmer – Image courtesy ‘The Hindu’

Apart from switching from Bt cotton to desi indigenous cotton, this project also aims to decrease cotton cultivation cost. And promoting desi seeds means less labour as there is a lower amount of weeding required, hardier crop that requires less input and also seeds which can flower twice and produce crop twice a year unlike Bt cotton which gives only one harvest per year.

There are 3 kinds of lies

There are 3 kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies & statistics.

There are many government reports, newspaper op-ed pieces, Monsanto case studies that conclude that yields of cotton ( & therefore the lives of farmers) have improved since the launch of Bt cotton.

We would like to ask some questions to those reports

1)      Can these so called success stores guarantee that yields of Bt cotton will continue to grow in the future? What if the yield collapses in the next 10 years?

2)      The cotton yields may have improved temporarily, but the farmer also had to spend Lakhs of rupees on seeds and herbicides (& loan interests). So after the Bt harvest , does have less money in the bank than before ?

3)      Have the yields improved in every single farm in every state of India ? For those families who lost their bread-winners in Vidharba, this national yield statistic will not bring any comfort.

 

What next ?

Our aim when we wrote this article was to write an informative and educative piece which simply presented rational facts. However when focussing on the rational, it is difficult to ignore the human life consequences of having switched to Bt Cotton.

We lose a farmer every 30 minutes in India as he proceeds to drink the insecticide or pesticide he has been forced to buy to protect his weak, Bt cotton crop. From 1995, there have been more than 2.5 lakh farmer suicides in India. And this suicide rate has peaked within 3 – 4 years of the introduction of Bt cotton as farmers find themselves chained to the higher costs of seeds, and inputs that are increasingly required when they allow the Bt crop to infect their soil.

Cotton cultivation has already been termed dirty. According to the Organic Trade Association:

Cotton is considered the world’s ‘dirtiest’ crop due to its heavy use of insecticides, the most hazardous pesticide to human and animal health. Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land yet uses 16% of the world’s insecticides, more than any other single major crop. Aldicarb, parathion, and methamidophos, three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health as determined by the World Health Organization, rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production. All but one of the remaining seven most commonly used are classified as moderately to highly hazardous.

Aldicarb, cotton’s second best selling insecticide and most acutely poisonous to humans, can kill a man with just one drop absorbed through the skin, yet it is still used in 25 countries and the US, where 16 states have reported it in their groundwater 

When you add Bt cotton to this already dirty cocktail, you get a crop that is not just dirty but is also toxic.

 At the end of this article, the answer to the question posed by our title should be obvious: Unlike Hamlet, there are no grey areas to consider when asking yourself whether or not to Bt. But if you would like to know what your non Bt options please come back and read us over the next few days.

We hope that our series on sustainable fabric 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 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.
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The warped state of Handlooms in India

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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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The sustainable Indian fabric primer

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Indian textile sector is the second largest employment generator after agriculture. According to a crafts council of India report, there are 4.3 million people employed directly or indirectly by the handloom sector, of which 77.9% are women. Handicrafts make up another major sector and with handlooms, the Indian hand-made sector provides employment to 11.2 million people. On top of this is the vast industrial textile sector, which includes the machine driven spinning and weaving mills, bleaching & dyeing industry and finally the tailoring / garment segment. Around 35 million people are directly employed by the textile industry.

But to feed the textile industry (hand or machine), the raw material required is cotton.

Cotton in India.

In 2013, India had the world’s largest area under cotton cultivation, 11 million hectares, which is nearly one-third of world’s total area growing cotton

India is also facing one of the most pressing human rights crises, with one farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes.

8. vidharbha farmer suicide

One of the greatest human rights and environmental issues we now face in the textile sector is the invasion of genetically modified (GM) cotton, which is further compounding the damage done by decades of pesticide based farming. Farmers are getting trapped in a vicious debt circle, borrowing money to buy GM seeds & pesticides. In a few years the pests become resistant to GM crops & then the farmers are forced to go back and buy expensive pesticides, again borrowing money. At the same time, their harvest is destroyed by the very same GM seeds and pesticides, leading to an endless debt cycle and then suicide comes as the end. Our research tells us that since 1995, 2.5 lakh Indian farmers have committed suicide, a majority of them being cotton farmers.

Some experts tell us that farmer suicides happen because they are unable to repay loans in the range of just 5,000 – 25,000.

A famous NYU study (http://www.chrgj.org/publications/docs/every30min.pdf) came to the conclusion, that in 2009, every 30 minutes, one Indian farmer committed suicide. Suicide often happens by drinking the very pesticide, since they cannot afford to buy anything else.

7. Tami canal

This is UNACCEPTABLE.

 

The Krya Sustainable Fabric Series

The difficulty in presenting this series on sustainable fabric is simply this: some of our issues and questions have no immediate answers. And it will take a great deal of will power and concerted effort to reach a holistic, sustainable solution. It will also involve a major overhaul of our consumption choices, developed over many years.

But as always, our effort at Krya is to recognise your individual effort. And tell you that every action and decision you make matters. And that your one person Satyagraha can make a difference.

Every time you decide to buy a handloom garment, or take that extra effort to buy an organic cotton t shirt or a khadi outfit, support a traditional textile craft or gift your dear one a hand block printed naturally dyed shirt, you are making a impact.

3. BT

All this month of August, we are going to be writing in greater detail and feature interviews of people in the vast field of sustainable textiles.

 

The sustainable Indian fabric primer:

Before we commence, a quick primer on how raw cotton is converted to final finished garment is crucial. Textiles have morphed from a local village industry to a global and complex value chain, with significant human and environmental costs attached to each step in the chain.

Cotton cultivation, which is nearly 8000 years old, needs plenty of sunshine, a long frost free period, moderate rainfall and heavy, nutrient rich soil. Cotton is not just white. Naturally coloured cotton also exists in shades of red, green and brown. These colours do not fade after washing but are rare today as they has been bred out in favour of the white cotton.

4. cotton picking in india

In earlier times, the entire process of spinning and weaving fabric was done by each  Individual household across the world. Many archeological excavations confirm that weaving was present even in Neolithic times.

4. neolithic loom

Spinning of cotton was done by hand , primarily by young girls and unmarried women, so much so that the term ‘spinster’ came to mean an unmarried woman who would be at home spinning cotton.

9. woman spinning detailing on oenoche

1. the spinner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first spinning wheel was constructed in china and then slowly spread through medieval Europe. Our very own Charkha is a version of this spinning wheel.

6.nepali charkha

 

2. spinning wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The invention of spinning machinery and the powerloom during the Industrial revolution slowly put an end to the local, independent nature of textile craft. It began to recede from homes and then started to become more and more centralised.

 

How is fabric made today:

The four key steps to convert a boll of white cotton from the farm to a coloured fabric are illustrated in the graphic below.

Cotton - Farm to Fabric - 1

 

Cotton - Farm to Fabric - 2

 

Handloom textiles

This blog has attempted to chronicle India’s rich textile past by describing the detailed archaeological findings, and amphorae of roman coins that have been excavated in various port towns across India, including Arikamedu. The extensive commercial documentation of India’s trading with the world indicates a level of proficiency and sophistication in textiles that we used to possess that is unparalleled even today.

Indian fabrics were considered luxury fabrics and our weavers processed the skill to weave fabric that was fine enough to pass through a slim ring. All this sophistication came from an industry which was local, used indigenous plants and fabric, that conserved natural resources, and was extremely environmentally sustainable.

This ancient industry which once comprised of wealthy, creative weavers that were powerful members of society and considered stewards of public wealth has today degenerated and its members live in penury. Their wages are often lower than unskilled labour, they are caught in a debt trap and live lives of servitude, and they do not have the resources to improve their craft or tools of trade.

Anyone who has worn handlooms can attest to the difference the fabric makes on you. The hottest Indian summer is bearable when wearing a handloom garment as it is infinitely more breathable compared to a powerloom garment. The texture of a handloom garment is softer and more delicate as it is handled lovingly by human hands and not a machine. And every handloom garment is unique and no two saris woven using the same yarn by the same weaver ever look exactly the same.

10.handloom weaving

But the handloom industry is in a state of steady decline, as both the State and consumers like ourselves fail the handloom weavers.  By valuing the handloom garment less, by failing to understand how uniquely suited they are to our climate and culture,  and by continually choosing Western wear that cannot be easily integrated into the Indian system of handloom weaving, we are rapidly losing an important part of our sustainable fabric tradition.

 

Khadi

While Khadi is also a type of handloom, it is so important to our sense of what constitutes being Indian, it deserves a separate note in itself. Khadi refers to cloth that is both hand-spun and hand-woven. Khadi is primarily made of cotton. The hand spinning of raw cotton into yarn uses implements like the Charkha. The yarn is then woven into final fabric with a loom, when done by hand, this is called a handloom.

In India, Khadi is more than a fabric; it is the symbol of the freedom movement. The Indian Khadi movement promoted total self reliance, to free Indians from the high priced fabric that was being dumped in India by the British factories. The British made fabric depended on Indian cotton which would be bought at cheap prices, sent to the textile factories, woven and then sold back to India at high prices.

The freedom struggle revolved around the use of indigenous products like Khadi and boycotting the use of non Indian made products. Khadi is a magic fabric, keeping the wearer cool in summer and warm in winter.

Unfortunately, there are two other pieces to the Khadi process, which was earlier taken for granted, but today are presenting environmental and human crises. From antiquity till the freedom movement, the cotton for the khadi was only of an Indian variety, grown organically. Today more than 90% of cotton grown in India is genetically modified variety (GM) and grown with pesticides & fertilizers.

Secondly, dyeing of the Khadi fabric is today primarily done with chemical dyes and not natural dyes. In a previous article we have covered in great depth about the environmental and therefore human hazards of chemical dyeing.

Our 68th Independence day falls tomorrow

This primer on sustainable Indian fabric aimed to test the waters and introduce you to the important concepts and issues that assail the textile industry today.

Tomorrow is Independence day. Last year, in 2013, a collective of farmers presented an organic cotton flag to the Prime Minister and urged him to hoist that instead of a flag made with Bt-cotton. Since then our Prime minister has changed, but the flag has not changed into an organic, naturally dyed flag.

So what flag will you hoist this independence day?

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

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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From Arikamedu to Abercrombie – the sustainable fabric series

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m not sure if my fascination with fabric is more or less than my fascination for washing fabric. But I have always loved Indian fabric and traditional textile crafts.

In school, I learned about the spice trade of India and how it helped many regions within India grow rich as they traded flavourful and hard to find nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which then found their way to kitchens across the world. Romila Thapar’s book on Early India, details this fascinating trade. Muziri located near Kodanganallur Village near Kochi was linked to the pepper, spices and beryl trade. A second century Ad Greek papyrus documents a contract between an Alexandrian merchant importer and a cargo financier of pepper and spices from Muziri, giving us an idea of the large volume of this trade.

6. Arikamedu

Excavations at Arikamedu tell us about a large settlement that used to be in trade contact with ships and merchants from the eastern Mediterranean. Apart from shipping locally available goods, Arikamedu has also been a place where certain kinds of textiles were manufactured locally to roman specifications and then shipped there.

5. Shakuntala

The Roman historian Pliny complained that trade with the East caused a serious drain on Roman income of which atleast 110 million sesterces went to India’s luxury goods. Roman records indicate that the Roman Senate actually banned the import of Indian Muslin for some time to stop the roman gold drain.

Apart from Rome, Indian textiles found their way to Egypt – scraps of Indigo dyed cotton Ikat textiles were found in a Pharaoh’s tomb. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro unearthed scraps of Rose madder cloth along with spindles.Herodotus, the ancient greek historian, described India’s cotton as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep”

Nothing symbolises the freedom and Swadeshi movement as much as the charkha does, and as does Khadi, the quintessentially Indian fabric.Khadi is not just a piece of fabric – it represents an ideology and the beginning of a movement that was founded on self reliance. This said that India could spin her own fabric and clothe herself, thus helping her own economy grow forward.

2. Gandhi spinning the Charkha

Khadi was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a fabric that would help promote rural self employment and self reliance, and made it an integral part of the freedom movement. But the Swadeshi movement then did not come cheap. Khadi was much more expensive compared to British made fabric. So when people started to complain to Gandhi about the cost of Khadi, he stopped wearing an upper garment and started wearing only a Khadi dhoti as a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle message: that it was better to wear as much or as little Khadi as possible instead of clothing yourself with something that was not made in India by an Indian.

 

Our choices today are multifold. We are a much more global economy, and we have free movement of products, and fabrics from different parts of the world into our country. Globalisation comes with its own unique sets of opportunities. And perhaps we have come back full circle to our days of yore, when enterprising merchants and financiers helped ensure the spread of Indian textiles.

 

With one key difference. The merchants of Arikamedu in ancient times, continued to grow, spin and wear their own cloth, and continued to hold onto their cultural and craft traditions. In fact they grew better and better at it until they had so much to offer, that they could not just make products for themselves but for everyone else as well. The textile crafts and traditions of India are fast disappearing today. They have morphed fast, have taken on several unwholesome aspects and are no longer bountiful or available in plenty.

3.sambalpuri ikat weaving loom
There are many reasons for this. And many hidden reasons when you start examining this. There are also several unhealthy consequences to this.

 

In this month when we celebrate the 67th year of our Independence, won by an extremely unique civil disobedience and non violent movement, we will focus on the equally unique Fabrics of India. This month, on the Krya blog, We will examine in great depth the history of Indian textiles while focussing on certain textile crafts. We will examine their environmental sustainability, explore how well they work for us in our tropical weather & speak to practitioners of the craft and designers who work with traditional fabrics.

1. Girl in pochampally

We will also explore Khadi in depth and study in detail the current issues we grapple with in textiles namely the spread of Bt cotton, the cotton farmer suicides, the environmental issues presented by the textile dyeing industry and the nascent but growing organic cotton industry. All along we will interview and present to you the works of young entrepreneurs and designers who have firmly waded into the fabric tradition of India and are working hard to provide us access again to our famed textile past rooted in the principle of being indigenous, local and environmentally sustainable.

 

Our previous series on reusable menstrual products was an eye opener to us and provided us with a lot of perspective and inspiration. We have no doubt this series on the fabrics of India will be even better. We look forward to bringing you lots of depth, fresh perspective and inspiring reasons to choose a more sustainable and earth friendly wardrobe. Keep reading this blog.

 

 

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