Closer to the Earth

Anurima Das pro­files Madhu Jain, Crafts Re­vival­ist and Tex­tiles Con­ser­va­tion­ist, who has been pioneer­ing the bam­boo-silk ikat for a sus­tain­able fu­ture for tex­tiles.

Apparel - - CONTENTS OCTOBER 2018 -

A pro­file of Madhu Jain, Crafts Re­vival­ist and Tex­tiles Con­ser­va­tion­ist

In 2007, she be­came an em­i­nent mem­ber for the Cul­ture Com­mit­tee, South Asia Foun­da­tion, which pro­motes bet­ter un­der­stand­ing be­tween SAARC na­tions through crafts and cul­ture. In 2011, she re­stored a rare khadi sari wo­ven in prison in 1941 by Pan­dit Jawa­har­lal Nehru. In 2018, she was awarded Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017, the ‘high­est civil­ian hon­our for women’, at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van by the Hon’ble Pres­i­dent of In­dia, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, for her out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tion to women’s em­pow­er­ment. She is none other than de­signer Madhu Jain. Bet­ter re­garded as a Crafts Re­vival­ist and Tex­tiles Con­ser­va­tion­ist, she is a role model and torch­bearer for the younger gen­er­a­tion and has been a cat­a­lyst of change for the so­ci­ety at large. She has much re­cently (2017) been awarded the Pe­hchan 8th Ra­jiv Gandhi Ex­cel­lence Award by Smt Sheila Dixit, the Gov­er­nor of Ker­ala. This award honours her pioneer­ing in­ven­tion of the eco-friendly tex­tile of the fu­ture, bam­boo-silk ikat. This is the first of its kind, and it took her al­most 15 years of R&D to un­veil her creations in its en­tirety to the world. At the mo­ment, she is busy tak­ing her in­no­va­tion be­yond bor­ders. But amidst her busy sched­ule, we caught her for a quick chat.

TAKE US BACK TO WHEN YOU STARTED IN THE IN­DUS­TRY DECADES BACK.

Three decades ago, when I for­mally joined the fash­ion world, there were just a hand­ful of de­sign­ers. Back then, fash­ion did not en­joy the cult fol­low­ing that it does to­day and it was not so pre­dic­tive of trends. We de­sign­ers were not re­ally cog­nisant of world fash­ion, and most of what we cre­ated had a strong In­dian ethos, aimed specif­i­cally at the do­mes­tic mar­ket. Be­cause it

was such a fledg­ling field, and the cur­rent cut­throat com­pe­ti­tion did not ex­ist, all of us went out of our way to sup­port each other. And even though each of us came from dif­fer­ent de­sign sen­si­bil­i­ties, we would bind to­gether as a sin­gle unit. The ca­ma­raderie be­tween us was some­thing I will cher­ish for­ever. Even to­day, those of us who started out to­gether con­tinue to watch out for each other. Back then, shows were few and far be­tween, and all shows were multi-de­signer, with the de­sign­ers brain­storm­ing with the or­gan­is­ers and all the peo­ple who went into pro­duc­ing a show! We car­ried a lot of the suc­cess of a show on our shoul­ders by be­ing equally in­volved in what hap­pened back­stage.

The En­sem­ble store in Mumbai quickly made its mark as the leader in fash­ion trends, and it was around that time that the fash­ion fra­ter­nity started see­ing it­self as be­ing in a pro­fes­sion that had huge po­ten­tial. It gives me great sat­is­fac­tion to see to­day’s stream­lined and thor­oughly so­phis­ti­cated fash­ion weeks. These are ex­tremely pro­fes­sional events that nur­ture and bring new de­sign­ers to the fore, and give the fra­ter­nity a com­mon plat­form through which to drive In­dia’s tex­tiles tra­di­tion for­ward.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR COL­LEC­TION? HOW WILL YOU DE­FINE THE CHANG­ING SHADES OF YOUR COL­LEC­TION OVER THE YEARS?

From the year dot, my work has been rooted in tra­di­tion, and I have strived to do my bit in furthering In­dia’s 2,000-year-old tex­tiles legacy. Be­ing a Crafts Re­vival­ist and Tex­tiles Con­ser­va­tion­ist, I have con­cen­trated on only nat­u­ral, or­ganic fi­bres, and to­day, I am hon­oured to say that I have been recog­nised for my work in de­vel­op­ing new hand-wo­ven tex­tiles, high on qual­ity and de­sign, in dis­tinc­tive com­bi­na­tions of two dif­fer­ent weav­ing tra­di­tions from two states or coun­tries. I have also been in­stru­men­tal in the re­vival of tra­di­tional craft forms, no­tably the Nak­shi Kan­tha stitch and the Dhaka muslin cloth, both of which had been lost to In­dia after par­ti­tion.

Un­sur­pris­ingly and in­evitably, I found my­self grow­ing in­creas­ingly con­scious of global warm­ing and other en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. My R&D nee­dle swung more and more to­wards dis­cov­er­ing how my tex­tiles could leave the small­est car­bon foot­print, right from sourc­ing to pro­duc­tion. This is when I dis­cov­ered bam­boo yarn, around early 2000, and in­tro­duced it in In­dia in 2004 at the 7th World Bam­boo Congress held in Delhi. For the last 18 years or so, I have been re­fin­ing and per­fect­ing this 100 per cent biodegrad­able yarn and in­cor­po­rat­ing bam­boo into the pro­duc­tion of my own tex­tiles.

TELL US THE STORY OF YOUR LOVE AF­FAIR WITH IN­DIAN TEX­TILES. LET’S THREAD YOUR JOUR­NEY FROM WEAVERS TO THE FI­NAL PROD­UCT IN BRIEF THROUGH YOUR TIME­LESS COL­LEC­TIONS.

My per­sonal style and sen­si­bil­ity is swadeshi. I learnt to re­spect the charkha-wo­ven khadi early on, thanks to my free­dom fighter grand­fa­ther. When I wanted to pro­fes­sion­alise my in­ter­est in fash­ion de­sign, I very nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to work­ing with nat­u­ral fi­bres in the hand­looms space. I have worked with mas­ter weavers across In­dia and the sub­con­ti­nent. I have learnt that weavers are the big­gest math­e­ma­ti­cians of all be­cause of the in­cred­i­ble math­e­mat­i­cal pre­ci­sion and de­tail­ing re­quired in weav­ing.

FROM THE YEAR DOT, MY WORK HAS BEEN ROOTED IN TRA­DI­TION, AND I HAVE STRIVED TO DO MY BIT IN FURTHERING IN­DIA’S 2,000-YEAROLD TEX­TILES LEGACY.

Since I de­velop my own tex­tiles, I work closely with weaver com­mu­ni­ties. The process in­volves in­ces­sant re­search from my end, and then, with the help of my weavers, trans­lat­ing my ideas into re­al­ity. It takes us ab­so­lutely ages to get the cor­rect prod­uct blend and to weave in mo­tifs and threads in fresh pat­terns. For in­stance, when I first ex­per­i­mented with de­vel­op­ing my Uzbekin­spired col­lec­tion, I drew from both the Adrasa and At­las forms of Uzbek weaves. I con­cen­trated on the for­mer weave as it in­cor­po­rates both a cot­ton weft and a silk warp, whereas the At­las weave uses only silk. Also, a huge chal­lenge was that the fab­ric width of Uzbek ikat is barely 10-12 inches wide. It took us months of metic­u­lous re­search and weav­ing to get the con­ver­gence just right! My Uzbek col­lec­tion was a first in In­dia, and I con­tinue to in­no­vate, adding In­dian el­e­ments to it.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR BREATHTAKING IN­NO­VA­TION—THE WORLD’S FIRST ‘BAM­BOO-SILK IKAT’.

When I dis­cov­ered bam­boo, I also learnt that In­dia is the sec­ond-largest bam­boo pro­duc­ing coun­try in the world. With such a mas­sive bam­boo base, I was ex­cited at the prospect of work­ing on this fibre, as I re­alised that In­dia could be po­si­tioned to seize global as­cen­dancy in bam­boo yarn pro­duc­tion. Imag­ine the fil­lip this would give In­dia’s bam­boo farm­ers! So I worked sin­gle-mind­edly on re­fin­ing this yarn and test­ing it against and with other nat­u­ral fi­bres. In 2017, after 15 years of per­sis­tent R&D (and many a heartache!), I un­veiled my sem­i­nal bam­boo-silk ikat tex­tile, the first such tex­tile of its kind in the world. My tex­tile ticks all the right eco­log­i­cal boxes, even in its pro­duc­tion process. It is 100 per cent biodegrad­able, leaves a neg­li­gi­ble car­bon foot­print, and is anti-bac­te­rial and UVpro­tec­tive to boot. Pre­cisely be­cause of these ex­cep­tional qual­i­ties, it is truly a tex­tile of the fu­ture—a sus­tain­able fu­ture.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE BAM­BOO FAB­RIC SHAP­ING THE IN­DIAN TEX­TILE AND FASH­ION SPHERES IN THE TIME TO COME?

Very few peo­ple know that the fash­ion in­dus­try is the sec­ond largest pol­luter in the world, after, would you be­lieve it, oil. That re­ally shook me. This is when I re­alised that the tex­tiles I in­no­vate need to be mind­ful of the kind of en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age we are do­ing to Mother Earth. Thus be­gan my quest for a vi­able green op­tion in cloth­ing. My ex­per­i­ments in al­ter­na­tive tex­tiles lead me to dis­cov­er­ing a new yarn in bam­boo. And, be­cause In­dia is the world’s sec­ond largest bam­boo pro­duc­ing na­tion, the full sig­nif­i­cance of what I was about to em­bark upon hit me. We have such an enor­mous and cap­tive bam­boo base. Just imag­ine how these tex­tiles can trans­form the lives of bam­boo farm­ers!

It is a good sign for the sec­tor (and not my­self alone) that I have won recog­ni­tion for my tex­tiles, in­clud­ing be­ing awarded the pres­ti­gious Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017, the ‘high­est civil­ian hon­our for women’, by the Hon’ble Pres­i­dent of In­dia, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, at Rash­tra­p­ati Bha­van where they have also recog­nised me as a role model and torch­bearer for the younger gen­er­a­tion and as a cat­a­lyst of change in the lives of women and the so­ci­ety at large. I sin­cerely hope that my in­no­va­tions in pro­duc­ing bam­boo tex­tiles will soar be­cause the need of the hour is sus­tain­able fash­ion. Call me an eco-war­rior if you will, but I am con­vinced that eco­log­i­cally pro­duced and man­u­fac­tured tex­tiles are the way for­ward.

WHAT ARE YOUR DE­SIGN CLAS­SICS THAT HAVE TRANSCENDED BOUND­ARIES OF TIME AND PLACE?

Be­cause my tex­tiles are so rooted in tra­di­tion, they are im­per­vi­ous to ‘trends’ that have a ten­dency to come and go. While I have ex­per­i­mented with many weaves over my ca­reer, some that are dear­est to my heart are the Dhaka

muslin, which I helped to re­vive. Then there is my Royal Venkata­giri col­lec­tion from Andhra Pradesh wo­ven in the in­tri­cate flat-weave Jam­dani tra­di­tion. An­other favourite is a cot­ton col­lec­tion in which I paid homage to the fres­coes and mu­rals of the tem­ple paint­ings of the Gu­ru­vayur tem­ple com­plex. I have de­picted Pu­ranic themes with a wealth of de­tail that is al­most im­pos­si­ble to repli­cate to­day un­less one is steeped in the nu­ances of the craft. Then, of course, is my favourite child, ikat! I have ex­per­i­mented with ikat in com­bi­na­tions of fi­bres and weaves, from In­done­sia and Uzbek­istan to Thai­land and In­dia.

DO YOU THINK ‘SLOW FASH­ION’ HAS A BRIGHT FU­TURE?

I am among the pioneers in sus­tain­able fash­ion, what is also called ‘slow fash­ion’ to­day. By de­vel­op­ing the world’s first bam­boo-silk ikat tex­tile, I have hope­fully cre­ated a path for oth­ers to em­u­late. In In­dia, and glob­ally too, the fast­grow­ing bam­boo is cul­ti­vated pes­ti­cide-free, and hence, wholly or­ganic. More­over, bam­boo re­quires min­i­mal wa­ter, un­like cot­ton and other fi­bres, so it doesn’t put a load on earth’s fi­nite re­sources. And fi­nally, the bam­boo tex­tile is hand­wo­ven, un­like the so-called bam­boo tex­tile found in shops, which is ma­chine-made and is ac­tu­ally a form of rayon. As you can see, my tex­tile is sus­tain­able right from pro­cure­ment to pro­duc­tion.

Since sus­tain­abil­ity is in­deed the way for­ward, I am keep­ing my fin­gers crossed that more and more de­sign­ers and fash­ion pro­duc­tion houses will take up this ini­tia­tive. In my role as Mem­ber of the All In­dia Hand­loom Board, an ad­vi­sory body of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia’s Min­istry of Tex­tiles which is tasked with for­mu­lat­ing pol­icy de­ci­sions on the hand­looms sec­tor for the coun­try, I hope to push this agenda for­ward.

YOU HAVE DE­SIGNED FOR MANY POWER WOMEN OF IN­DIA, IN­CLUD­ING LEAD­ING AC­TRESSES AND STALWART POLITI­CIANS. GIVE US A GLIMPSE INTO YOUR EX­PE­RI­ENCE.

All of the ‘power women’ (as you call them) who have worn my clothes know ex­actly what they want. Each has an in­di­vid­ual style that re­flects their per­son­al­ity. It is no co­in­ci­dence that they opt for a Madhu Jain out­fit, as my clothes glory in the mag­nif­i­cence of In­dia’s tex­tiles tra­di­tion and these bold women of sub­stance wear their pride in be­ing In­dian on their shoul­ders.

YOU HAVE WON MANY HEARTS BY MAK­ING YOUR COL­LEC­TION BOTH ‘RAMP READY’ AND ‘EV­ERY­DAY READY’. ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU HAVE WON INNUMERABLE PRES­TI­GIOUS AWARDS AND ACCOLADES. HOW DO YOU SUM UP YOUR JOUR­NEY?

I will be de­vel­op­ing more cloth­ing lines made from bam­boo tex­tiles. Ba­si­cally, I will fo­cus my en­er­gies on deep­en­ing my tryst with bam­boo in the time to come! Also, I am grate­ful to God and the uni­verse for con­spir­ing to turn me into an eco­log­i­cally con­scious per­son. I am also grate­ful that I have, in my own small way, con­trib­uted to as­sur­ing the liveli­hoods of In­dia’s crafts­peo­ple.

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