Working alongside the weavers has helped the designer couple Bappaditya and Rumi Biswas to completely understand the complexities of the weaving process. The Kolkata-based designers, who founded the brand Bailou, took the rural route in 2003 to work with the traditional weavers across India.
In the city, to introduce their signature indigo sarees, we caught up with the duo to talk about how saris have emerged in urban India, handloom weaving experiments by designers and what’s in store for the six-yard loving women in the city.
“We started with two handlooms with a vision to reinvent tradition. And today, nearly twelve hundred handlooms across Bengal run fulfilling this dream of keeping alive the tradition of weaving. We have been creating modern contemporary textiles using traditional techniques and infusing them with a new colour palette and texture. Our vision is to keep the skills alive and to create new markets for the traditional skills. The textiles have gone through a lot of change in order to suit the taste of the modern women and her environment,” Bappaditya says.
Talking about the exhibition in the city, he says, “We have brought out a special collection of handwoven sarees and scarves in natural indigo. There is also a collection bailou jamdanis. We specialise in Bengal weaves and the state has a huge history with natural indigo, which dates back to India’s freedom struggle.
The first mutiny happened with the indigo farmers and they revolted against the British. Indigo is a dye that changed the world. I was always fascinated by the history of indigo, how it influenced the cultural and political fabric of the world.
To me, the colour indigo is a colour of liberation — from the infinite depths of space, the mass appraisal against the British of the blue mutiny, to the Krishna Consciousness, the colour blue is everywhere.”
The duo also makes yarn out of sequins and weaves them into the fabric to get an embroidered look. That particular experiment, first tried for woven shawls, won them the Unesco Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts (now called the Unesco Award of Excellence for Handicrafts). The duo is happy that many designers have joined the cause of reviving handloom.
“Handloom is not just for a particular section of people in the society. The industry cannot survive if people only wear it for a particular occasion. It should be used on a daily basis. There are different categories of weavers and we need to keep traditional weaving skills alive with an eye on design innovation. To make handlooms self-sustaining, we need to empower weavers and make them entrepreneurs and take Indian cotton to the international market while keeping our cultural quotient alive,” he remarks.
The designer believes that the government and bodies like Crafts Council of India should come forward to promoting the use of handlooms on a larger scale.