Did you know that it takes 2,700 litres of water to make a T-shirt? It takes at least 40 years for the same tee to decompose when disposed after being worn for few years. With the world facing severe water shortage across nations, the need to find alternative clothing to the common synthetic textiles has been growing. Chennai-based weaver C. Sekar, who realised that fabrics don’t have to be harming the environment, found ways to extract fibres from unusual ingredients like banana, pineapple, aloe vera, vetiver roots, bamboo, sorrel leaves, and hemp among others.
“With the growing environmental concerns in the world today, we wanted to create fabrics that are eco-friendly as well as good for one’s body. So, we have been creating clothing out of banana stem, aloe vera and bamboo, as they are not only cooling, but also good for the Earth, as their making does not involve any chemical dyes,” says 55-year-old Sekar, who heads the Jute Weavers’ Association at Anakaputhur, which is home to a community of weavers about 20km south of Chennai.
Sekar, who has been a weaver for over three decades now, decided to turn to natural fibres in order to create more awareness about eco-friendly fabrics.
“Clothing made out of natural fibres is of light weight, can absorb water and sweat so much better than even cotton, and also smell great if made from materials like vetiver,” he stresses. Along with a group of 90 members, majority of which are women, Sekar works to extract these natural fibres and weave them into sarees and even jeans. His work won him an entry into the Limca Book of Records, for using 25 different natural fabrics to create a saree.
“Clothing made of natural fibres have medicinal properties. For instance, a saree from pineapple fibre, is rich in Vitamin-C, which helps the skin. Bamboo clothing is highly water absorbent and is good for those living in hot weather,” he points out.
With a lot of time going into extraction of these natural fibres, Sekar says technology could come in as a great aid to make the process of making eco-friendly clothing easier. “A lot of youngsters in the current day are keen on doing engineering, but very few of them look at applying the field to areas like textiles. Innovation in textiles can not only take India ahead, but also save the livelihoods of thousands of handloom weavers,” Sekar asserts.
“Our country has the availability of a great variety of materials that can make it a pioneer in eco-friendly fabrics. But due to non-availability of governmental support, several handloom weavers are leading difficult lives. My son is now studying textile engineering. We are hoping that he can help us make use of technology in what we do,” says Sekar, whose wife also takes part in the fabric-making process.
The number of weavers in Anakaputhur, which once was in thousands, fell down sharply to just few hundreds now, with many leaving the profession suffering losses. “I want to support as many as possible in the handloom community and ensure they receive support to lead their lives with dignity,” he adds.