Age-old Banarasi weaves from Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, are poised for a facelift, courtesy a string of high-end Indian designers who are hoping to put their forces behind improving the livelihood of skilled workers and forging the global popularity of the fabric as a Make In India product.
A meeting, led by designer-politician Shaina NC and FDCI (Fashion Design Council of India) president Sunil Sethi, held earlier this week in the presence of union Minister of State for Textiles Santosh Gangwar and noted names from the fashion fraternity, steered efforts towards revival of handloom from Varanasi under Modi’s Make in India campaign.
Pioneering designer Ritu Kumar said that “in today’s textile world, Banaras handlooms hold a special place” and deserves to be showcased at international platforms – whether this is via ramps or musuems.
“They are the only gold and silver patterned fabric reaching out to the Indian subcontinent in its sari and brocaded production. It is one of the textiles which is India’s USPs,” Kumar, who felt a dire need to bring Banarasi weaves into limelight, told IANS.
“Handlooms are largely used in India on high glamourised occasions such as weddings, both for grooms and brides. It also has a significant place in Indian formal wear. (But) there is definitely a need to also design the fabrics in a way that they can fit into the ready to wear seg. But the absence of Banaras brocades internationally is due to the fact that they do not have the correct image or exposure,” she added.
The attempt via the government’s effort is reportedly also to improve the infrastructure for textile work in Varanasi; to provide support to designers looking to work for the project; to provide yarn at subsidised rates; to set up dyeing centres and to facilitate smooth buyer-seller meets to boost the commercial aspect.
This dream can turn into reality for other handlooms too if the government and designers work in tandem, David Abraham of designer label Abraham & Thakore pointed out.
“Banaras has a very diverse weaving tradition and has a wide variety of techniques and structures suitable for many types of apparel. A successful outcome with Banaras handweaving will lead the way for similar action in other handloom centres,” Abraham told IANS.
However, he stressed that “while global recognition is important, we need to focus on the threat that cheap imports and other machine-made textiles pose in India itself”.
According to a 2008 report by IANS, some 300,000 such weavers in Varanasi, along with their families, were struggling to make ends meet as the handloom industry fights for survival. The result? Expert handloom and embroidery artisans have either migrated to cities like Bengaluru, Surat, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi or shifted to unskilled work.
It was just a few months ago that Modi brought in respite and cheer to the weavers of his constituency, when he announced a financial aid to boost the textile industry – an over Rs.2,000 crore ($315) package for 16 sick cooperative banks to make loans easily available for the region’s weavers.
Back then, Modi had said how a Banarasi sari needs “no marketing” as every mother has a dream to gift at least one such six-yard wonder to her daughter on her marriage.
The latest initiative of the government and designers is perhaps going to cheer the weavers further. Also, within a fortnight, a group of designers and Gangwar are planning a meeting in Varanasi for an “introductory session with master weavers”.
As designer Anju Modi said: “The real precious heritage of our country is getting lost day-by-day and everybody is forgetting their skills. As designers, we feel that this (heritage) is something that we should cherish, preserve and improvise on.”