JONATHAN LOB­BAN

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - News -

“This is cou­ture… for the David Jones col­lec­tion,” Mishra says, ex­am­in­ing a beau­ti­fully em­broi­dered gar­ment made from 85 per cent wool and 15 per cent silk. “See, look here. Feel it. Ev­ery­thing is hand done.” The lighter-than-air fab­ric for many of Mishra’s gar­ments is called Chan­deri, which is from Chan­deri in cen­tral In­dia. Tra­di­tion­ally Chan­deris have been weav­ing a com­bi­na­tion of silk and cot­ton for about 2000 years. “What we have done here is we have re­placed cot­ton with Aus­tralian wool,” says Mishra. “The re­sult is a di­aphanous, trans­par­ent kind of gar­ment.”

Part of Mishra’s pitch to the Wool­mark judges was his con­vic­tion that he could make Aus­tralian Merino wool a spring-sum­mer fi­bre, par­tic­u­larly for use in the south­ern hemi­sphere. “The south­ern hemi­sphere doesn’t have strong win­ters,” Mishra ex­plains, “so how do you use wool there? I thought the best idea was to not make wool a trans-sea­sonal fi­bre but con­vert it to a sum­mer fi­bre. That is what we tried to do.”

Mishra says that his big idea is to cre­ate “cou­ture in vol­ume,” as in of­fer­ing cou­ture at a ready-to-wear price. “That is where our strength is go­ing to be when you com­pare us to those big, in­ter­na­tional brands. I think this is the strength that comes from be­ing in In­dia, from the vast knowl­edge of em­broi­dery here. I know that no­body has ever done this. And it is dif­fi­cult with this type of hand em­broi­dery to pro­duce the proper sizes and specs. But we know the trick and our team are masters of it now.”

Mishra’s “team” are the ar­ti­sans spread out across the coun­try, mostly work­ing from looms in their fam­ily homes, as they have for thou­sands of years. Almost a cen­tury ago Ma­hatma Gandhi drove In­dia’s na­tion­wide re­jec­tion of Bri­tish cot­ton, which was be­ing grown in In­dia, wo­ven in Bri­tain, then sold back to the In­di­ans for use in dho­tis, saris and scarves.

Gandhi con­vinced his com­pa­tri­ots to burn their Bri­tish-made cot­tons in sym­bolic fires all over In­dia in the early 1930s. It was the power-loom ban dur­ing the pe­riod that in part ex­plains how the now highly de­vel­oped hand-wo­ven, hand-knot­ted and hand­i­craft in­dus­tries con­tinue to thrive across In­dia.

“My peo­ple have amaz­ing skill sets,” says Mishra of his weavers. “I do not say they are work­ers; they are more like artists that are work­ing. They are peo­ple who don’t prac­tise craft just be­cause craft gives them em­ploy­ment. For em­ploy­ment they can do any­thing that will give them money. For them, craft is a form of artistry that en­ables them to get so­cial re­spect and re­spect from within. Craft is all about tra­di­tion; some­thing that has been around for thou­sands of years. This is where the big­gest chal­lenge lies for de­sign­ers – how can we cre­ate craft mod­ern enough to be able to sus­tain mul­ti­ple peo­ple? And not just for one sea­son, but for the next ten sea­sons so my peo­ple are paid ev­ery year. How can we keep work­ing with the same craft, but still look dif­fer­ent, ev­ery time?”

Mishra is of­ten quoted as say­ing that, “in the mod­ern world, fash­ion is the en­emy of craft.” His think­ing is rooted in the belief that fash­ion eats it­self from the inside out be­cause of its ob­ses­sion with “new­ness”. Ev­ery three months con­sumers want some­thing new.

“I’m sorry, peo­ple may try to force sus­tain­abil­ity and fash­ion to­gether,” says Mishra, “but log­i­cally there’s noth­ing sus­tain­able about it. Fash­ion is all about new­ness, hop­ping on from here and get­ting onto some­thing else.”

Mishra, how­ever, sees craft as the savour of fash­ion, due to the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic na­ture of hand­crafts­man­ship. “Our uni­verse is look­ing more uni­form than ever be­fore, which is not a great thing for cloth­ing,” he says. “Va­ri­ety is what makes us en­er­getic – va­ri­ety of lan­guage, hu­man be­hav­iour, of cul­ture... this is what hu­man­ity is known for. Craft gives you that back.”

It’s the morn­ing of the In­dia and Mid­dle East re­gional Wool­mark Prize. Peter Ack­royd, Wool­mark’s UK-based Global Strate­gic Ad­vi­sor, CEO of the Cam­paign for Wool and man in the ear of HRH Prince Charles, is tak­ing tea in his room at Mumbai’s Taj Ma­hal Palace.

“This rain should tip down soon,” he says, wan­der­ing out to the bal­cony that over­looks the Gate­way of In­dia, the colo­nial mon­u­ment built in 1911 to cel­e­brate the ar­rival of King George V and Queen Mary. The rain is in­ten­si­fy­ing, but from the bal­cony you can still see the har­bour where ships are fer­ry­ing cargo to Bom­bay Port. The vast majority of Aus­tralian greasy wool passes through here and heads an hour north to Thane, where weaver and man­u­fac­turer Ray­mond, the In­dian equiv­a­lent to Ermenegildo Zegna, has its tex­tile fac­to­ries.

Ray­mond will weave the majority of its Merino wool into worsted suit­ing cloth – it has the ca­pac­ity to pro­duce 38 mil­lion me­tres a year – then ex­port it to the UK, US and Europe for use by in­ter­na­tional menswear brands.

“We would love to do more here in In­dia,” muses Ack­royd. “The In­dian mar­ket is huge. And it’s a mar­ket that’s un­der ex­ploited, un­der de­vel­oped. There is a lot of cre­ativ­ity here. It’s a very sell­able na­tion.”

Ack­royd is a fourth-gen­er­a­tion tex­tile weaver from

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