The De­signer’s Desti­na­tion

Brinda Gill ex­plores the rich and vi­brant tex­tile and de­sign her­itage of Ahmed­abad.

Apparel - - Contents July 2018 -

Ex­plor­ing the rich tex­tile and de­sign her­itage of Ahmed­abad

Ahmed­abad, the largest city of the western In­dian state of Gu­jarat and its for­mer cap­i­tal, meshes the past, present and fu­ture in its cityscape. From in­tri­cately carved stone mon­u­ments and beau­ti­fully carved wooden struc­tures of cen­turies past to chim­neys of mills that speak of its ear­lier ep­i­thet of be­ing the ‘Manch­ester of the East’ for its pro­duc­tion of mill-made cloth, fa­mous ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tutes de­signed by em­i­nent ar­chi­tects, up­com­ing IT parks and malls, the Sabar­mati River­front prom­e­nade, the in­ter­na­tional air­port and more–the city’s spa­ces speak of its multi-faceted iden­tity.


Ahmed­abad is in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked with the pres­ence and spirit of Gand­hiji, as it was from Sabar­mati Ashram that he led the Dandi March. Gand­hiji also took up sev­eral causes as­so­ci­ated with the tex­tile in­dus­try, spe­cially the hand­spin­ning of yarn and weav­ing of cloth with this yarn to cre­ate khadi. Dur­ing In­dia’s free­dom strug­gle, khadi was closely iden­ti­fied with cloth wo­ven from hand-spun cot­ton yarn, and the spin­ning wheel, as­so­ci­ated with khadi, was the sym­bol of lib­er­a­tion, free­dom and non-vi­o­lent rev­o­lu­tion. The ashram re­calls Gand­hji’s ef­forts to pro­mote khadi, and stores like Chan­dan Khadi Bhan­dar near the ashram take pride in sell­ing a range of khadi ap­parel and linen, as do designers in the city.


“When it comes to un­der­stand­ing the present sce­nario re­gard­ing tex­tiles and gar­ments, one must un­der­stand the DNA of Ahmed­abad. It was once the ‘City of Mills’ with around 300 mills of vary­ing scales which were in­volved in the spin­ning of yarn and weav­ing of cloth. These mills were founded based on tech­nol­ogy from Europe,” says Vil­loo Mirza, For­mer Direc­tor, Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fash­ion Tech­nol­ogy, Gand­hi­na­gar.

“The na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mills was an­other chap­ter in their his­tory, and those mills that did not bring in new tech­nol­ogy col­lapsed. How­ever, mill work­ers had the knowl­edge of fab­ric con­struc­tion and dif­fer­ent as­pects re­lated to tex­tile pro­duc­tion, and this led to them be­ing em­ployed in dif­fer­ent units re­lated to tex­tile pro­duc­tion. Though sev­eral mills closed down, some con­tin­ued and those like Arvind Mills, Ashima, Asawara and Mod­ern–all the ones that brought in mod­ern tech­nol­ogy are do­ing very well,” states Mirza.


Gu­jarat has, since long, been re­garded as a cra­dle of hand­crafted tex­tiles. While Ahmed­abad had its own body of ar­ti­sans work­ing on dif­fer­ent tex­tile crafts, spe­cially em­broi­dery and block print­ing, the city’s prox­im­ity to Kutch and Saurash­tra also brought in hand­crafted tex­tiles, gar­ments as well as ar­ti­sans. Many mi­grants also ar­rived here from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try to work at the mills. “In the ear­lier days, the city’s land­scape was dot­ted with mills. Migrant labour­ers who were trav­el­ling to Ahmed­abad by train and could not read were sim­ply told that once they saw many chim­neys ap­pear­ing, they should dis­em­bark at the sta­tion!” says Asif Shaikh, mas­ter em­broi­derer and tex­tile de­signer who has a stu­dio in the city.

“In­ter­est­ingly, the wives of migrant labour­ers who ar­rived from dif­fer­ent parts of Gu­jarat were skilled in em­broi­dery, and could thus take up hand em­broi­dery,” says Vil­loo, who worked with Mri­nalini Sarab­hai, Chair­per­son of the Gu­jarat State Hand­i­crafts and Hand­loom Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion Ltd, who she cred­its with tak­ing its brand-store Gur­jari to a global level. By tap­ping into the im­mense tal­ent of tex­tile ar­ti­sans of Gu­jarat, the beauty of tra­di­tional em­broi­dery of Gu­jarat as well as other tex­tile tech­niques such as tie-dye and weav­ing, Gur­jari went on to make eth­nic chic. “We worked on em­broi­dered yokes and had them at­tached to kur­tas and kur­tis, which were worn with sal­wars, churi­dars as well as em­broi­dered bell bot­toms. These em­broi­dered kur­tas and kur­tis be­came a rage all over In­dia.

This was pos­si­ble be­cause of the in­her­ent craft skills of the peo­ple of Gu­jarat, es­pe­cially in Ahmed­abad. The strength of Ahmed­abad con­tin­ues to be its ar­ti­sans who cre­ate sur­face or­na­men­ta­tion us­ing tra­di­tional eth­nic skills.”


The es­tab­lish­ment of NID at Ahmed­abad in 1961 as a cen­tre for de­sign ed­u­ca­tion, prac­tice and re­search, based on the phi­los­o­phy of learn­ing by do­ing, played a very im­por­tant role in nur­tur­ing tal­ent and creative minds over the past half-cen­tury. To­day, the in­sti­tute, de­clared as an ‘In­sti­tu­tion of Na­tional Im­por­tance’, of­fers a spec­trum of pro­fes­sional ed­u­ca­tion grad­u­ate and post-grad­u­ate pro­grammes as well as a PhD pro­gramme, foun­da­tion pro­gramme work­shops, in­ter­na­tional ex­change pro­grammes, col­lab­o­ra­tions, and more that have cre­ated designers in var­ied fields, many of whom have con­tributed to and cre­ated the city’s vi­brant de­sign ethos.


Na­tional In­sti­tute of Fash­ion Tech­nol­ogy is a group of fash­ion col­leges, es­tab­lished in 1986 un­der the aegis of the Min­istry of Tex­tiles, Govern­ment of In­dia. It is an in­sti­tu­tion of de­sign, man­age­ment and tech­nol­ogy for in­ter­na­tional fash­ion busi­ness and of­fers un­der­grad­u­ate and post-grad­u­ate cour­ses and pro­grammes in de­sign, man­age­ment and tech­nol­ogy. Over the years, NIFT cam­puses have been es­tab­lished at dif­fer­ent cities in In­dia. The es­tab­lish­ment of NIFT at Gand­hi­na­gar, the cap­i­tal of Gu­jarat, about 23 kilo­me­tres north of Ahmed­abad, in 1995, added an­other di­men­sion to the tex­tile and fash­ion in­dus­try of Ahmed­abad. Trained fash­ion designers from NIFT could now con­nect and col­lab­o­rate with ar­ti­sans in Ahmed­abad and Gu­jarat to cre­ate ap­parel la­bels and their train­ing in fash­ion and mar­ket­ing skills in­creased the fash­ion busi­ness in the area.


Over the decades, an en­tire spec­trum of or­gan­i­sa­tions and designers emerged in the land­scape of Ahmed­abad, craft­ing gar­ments of dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions from SEWA, an or­gan­i­sa­tion of self-em­ployed women who are in­volved in dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing hand­crafted gar­ments to stand­alone de­signer stu­dios cre­at­ing one-of-akind gar­ments.

“Mem­bers of mill fam­i­lies con­tributed greatly to de­vel­op­ing Ahmed­abad as a de­sign cen­tre. Many prom­i­nent mill fam­i­lies in­vited ar­chi­tects and designers to Ahmed­abad. Asha Sarab­hai launched Raag and was in­vited by Ja­pa­nese de­signer Issey Miyake to launch Asha, her own la­bel un­der the Miyake De­sign Stu­dio in Tokyo. Well-known designers from abroad have also come to the city to col­lab­o­rate with lo­cal designers and ar­ti­sans. Among them is Christina Kim,” says Vil­loo.

Many designers who stud­ied at NID or NIFT stayed on in Ahmed­abad or went on to pur­sue fur­ther cour­ses abroad and then re­turned to Ahmed­abad to es­tab­lish their stores or stu­dios with their own gar­ment col­lec­tions. Vil­loo cred­its Ar­chana Shah for es­tab­lish­ing Band­hej (1985), de­scrib­ing the store as the first stand­alone desti­na­tion for gar­ments that blended tra­di­tional craft and style, and suc­cess­fully con­tin­u­ing with its ethos over the past three decades of hand­made fash­ion ap­parel. An­other NID grad­u­ate

is Ara­trik Dev Var­man Founder and De­signer, Tilla, who de­signs sim­ple, stylish con­tem­po­rary at­tire rooted in hand­work. More re­cently, some designers have es­tab­lished multi-de­signer stores where they present dif­fer­ent in­ter­na­tional luxury gar­ment brands.


With its unique her­itage and his­tory, in July 2017, the old, his­toric walled city of Ahmed­abad was de­clared as In­dia’s first UNESCO World Her­itage City in July 2017. The city’s rich past and cul­ture has nur­tured creative minds who were sur­rounded by its ethos. Asif re­calls grow­ing up see­ing nat­u­ral-dyed hand-block printed tex­tiles dry­ing by the Sabar­mati River bank and tex­tile ar­ti­sans at work and en­joy­ing the ex­pres­sion of em­i­nent mod­ern ar­chi­tects such as Louis Kahn, Le Cor­bus­ier, BV Doshi and oth­ers in the city.

The cul­ture around him, his in­ter­est in em­broi­dery, led him to es­tab­lish his em­broi­dery stu­dio where he de­signs and cre­ates col­lec­tions of em­broi­dered art­works and unique scarves, shawls and saris of very fine and minia­ture em­broi­dery, pri­mar­ily ari and zardozi, on hand­wo­ven tex­tiles that have been sourced from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. He says that while the city has un­der­gone a huge change, one can still come across skilled ar­ti­sans who can be trained to learn tech­niques and fine­ness of work that is the hall­mark of his epony­mous la­bel.


His­tor­i­cal, rare and an­tique In­dian tex­tiles are a great re­source for designers and stu­dents as they tell of au­then­tic tech­niques of craft­ing them; the sheer skill, cre­ativ­ity and ef­fort of ar­ti­sans in cre­at­ing them; tra­di­tional mo­tifs, pat­terns and colours; and other de­tails. While cen­turies-old tex­tiles are hard to come by due to their fragility, The Cal­ico Mu­seum of Tex­tiles man­aged by the Sarab­hai Foun­da­tion brings seek­ers a unique and fan­tas­tic col­lec­tion of some of the finest and rarest In­dian tex­tiles. The ex­hibits cover tex­tiles and ap­parel crafted by dif­fer­ent tex­tile tech­niques, from weav­ing to re­sist-dye­ing, em­broi­dery, print­ing, and paint­ing, and dif­fer­ent styles of these tech­niques. A guided tour is or­gan­ised which takes vis­i­tors through the dif­fer­ent gal­leries. There is a counter with dis­plays of pub­li­ca­tions brought out by the foun­da­tion, which in­cludes fold­ers and books re­lated to In­dian tex­tile tech­niques and tex­tiles.

Ahmed­abad could eas­ily be called City of Mu­se­ums for the many mu­se­ums in the city that are sure to in­spire designers. Among these is Vechaar, a mu­seum dis­play­ing over 4000 arte­facts, mostly kitchen uten­sils. This is re­garded as the only mu­seum of its kind (fit­tingly lo­cated in the Vishalla com­plex that has a ru­ral am­bi­ence and serves lo­cal cui­sine!).

LD Mu­seum also has a wealth of In­dian sculp­tures, manuscripts, paint­ings and other arte­facts. The Kas­turb­hai Lalb­hai Mu­seum has a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional and mod­ern art dis­played in a re­stored her­itage home. Other note­wor­thy guardians of her­itage in­clude the Kite Mu­seum, the Shreyas Mu­seum that has a mu­seum of folk arts and also houses toys and other ob­jects from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, the Kano­ria Cen­tre for Arts that has a won­der­ful gallery, sev­eral stu­dios, and holds pro­grammes and work­shops, and the Leila & Pu­rushot­tam Hutheesing Vis­ual Art Cen­tre that pro­motes art and cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties. The House of MG, a charm­ing her­itage ho­tel also has a tex­tile mu­seum and books on tex­tiles speak­ing of the rich tra­di­tional tex­tiles of the re­gion and how they find space in the homes and hearts of the city’s res­i­dents!

With such a rich ta­pes­try of tex­tile trad­tions, de­sign spa­ces and creative minds, Ahmed­abad is truly a de­signer’s dream come true.

@Asif Shaikh


@Asif Shaikh

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