7 Indian designers who have reinvented the handwoven sari
Saving the sari, one weave at a time
India has always been synonymous with the handloom. According to Handcrafts India, traces of handloom fabric were unearthed in excavations in Egypt, after which finely woven and dyed cotton fabrics were discovered in Mohenjo Daro, in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Jump forward to the British Raj, when Gandhi popularised the use of khadi, which became an integral part of the Swadeshi movement.
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared August 7 (the day the Swadeshi movement was launched in 1905) as National Handloom Day in an attempt to revive the handloom industry. According to data released by the government, the textile industry is the second largest provider of employment after agriculture, with handloom weaving providing direct and indirect employment to more than 43 lakh weavers. Almost 70% of those weavers are women from rural villages. Further to that, 95% of handwoven fabrics in the world are made in India. Known for its diversity, almost every state in India has its own weave, whether it is Uttar Pradesh’s Banarasi weave, Bihar’s Bhagalpur silk, Gujarat’s Bandhani, Madhya Pradesh’s Chanderi and Maheshwari or Tamil Nadu’s Kanjeevaram.
In honour of National Handloom Day, we look at 7 Indian designers who have become synonymous with the handwoven sari.
7 Indian designers who have reinvented the handloom sari
Sabyasachi Mukherjee is recognised for his handwoven cotton, Khadi and Banarasi weaves used for his saris amongst other fabrics. He launched the ‘Save the Sari’ campaign where he supports over 50 weavers in Andhra Pradesh and Bengal by commissioning them with constant work.
David Abraham & Rakesh Thakore have been a part of the handloom resurrection even before they launched their design label. You'll spot fabrics like the Mangalgiri weave, Jamdani and Banaras brocade in their collections, though their signature style has to be the black and white Ikat design.
Anita Dongre works with various NGOs like the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre and collaborates with independent groups of artisans to revive and sustain age-old crafts. Though her signature style is the hand embroidered gota patti, which you'll find on her saris, she is also recognised for her Banarasi brocade saris.
Madhu Jain’s work is synonymous with Ikat and Kalamkari which scores high in her design aesthetic. Her forte lies in creating textiles that are a combination of two different weaving traditions—like her Uzbeck-inspired ikat. She is also aiming to give impetus to bamboo as a textile. Interestingly, Madhu revived a handspun Khadi sari that was woven by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1941 for Maneka Gandhi, who wore it for her son Varun’s wedding in 2012.
Over the past twenty years, Neeru Kumar has consistently experimented with traditional weaving techniques. Her first breakthrough was the creation of the black and tussar weave called First Design, which won her international acclaim. Her sari collection makes the most of handwoven fabrics from Chanderi silks and Jamdani cottons to cotton silk Maheshwar.
If there's one name that has become synonymous with the younger generation's revived interest in handloom, it's Raw Mando by Sanjay Garg. The designer has found a way to interpret India's traditional handwoven techniques with bright colours and new motifs, while making the fabrics themselves lighter and more wearer-friendly. He employs 450 craftspeople who help in weaving those intricate Chanderi and Banarasi brocade saris that are seen sashaying down the ramp.
As one of the pioneering forces behind the revival of the handloom industry in India, Ritu Kumar’s work is synonymous with handblock printing, Matka silk and handwoven Bagalpur fabrics that are seen in her saris. Her ‘Banaras Revival Project’ aimed to look at the endangered art of silk and cotton weaving in the handloom sector of the city and initiate a reinvention. It took the project all of two years to create a collection of saris and garments.