Musings on summer fabrics

Yes, there is such a thing called as, a summer fabric.

Summer in this part of the world has always been vibrant. Harvest celebrations, the festival of color and kite flying events synonym with South Indian summers. Regardless of the size of the city, people of all means, prioritize apparel shopping.

Shopping for festive or summer clothes turns south India into a market of cotton clothing. Cities get more colorful by dressing giant hoardings with cotton fabrics in a rainbow of colors. Small shops and boutiques join in the bandwagon and offer seasonal discounts on a melange of ethnic clothes.

Most fashion houses pick promising handwoven fabrics from textile stores and some  brands claim to house new designs too. The “originality” of these branded clothes is far from being original or new. Fashion labels gather their raw material from lackluster textile houses in south India. Since textile stores lack sophisticated advertising they become a misnomer for wholesale shops to bigger brands.

The world inside these fabric stores is of raw cloth, natural dyes and handmade prints. Walk into one of these fabric stores in south India and dealers show the standard three meters of cloth swaddled into thick rolls. But these handwoven fabrics in varying shades do a better job at greeting customers than their uninspired sales people.  

Even unassuming south Indians, will shop for handcrafted clothes, in well-to-do stores. Little do the know, the original fabric and the print on it, is available in their local fabric store. If they dig a little deeper, buyers will realize the profligacy, in the cost of the fabrics. But people continue to buy from such places and argue that highly priced and ‘branded’ handwoven clothes are unique for their silhouettes or designs.

Others claim that skilled independent tailors can sew raw fabrics into the same design for a lesser price.

Floral in blue
Floral in blue: South Indian Pochampally cotton

Handcrafted fabrics which are either made from cotton or silk, are biodegradable. These fabrics are hard to come by in other countries; even in exemplary nations rooting for sustainability. Closer to home, in south India, fabrics ranging from Pochampally cotton to Kanjeevaram silk; represent culture and are unique to the south Indian identity.

On the lines of selling cultural apparel, some fashion brands, take identity too seriously. They amass poly-cotton blends to mimic cotton or linen fabrics. This is a cheaper alternative to mass produce clothes that still “look” south Indian. Wearing poly-cotton, polyester and other polymer fabrics is similar to using plastic.

It’s  a given that such hidden plastic in clothing pollutes the environment too. And, like any other factory grade commodity, polyester annihilates the purpose of handcrafted products. However, there are alternatives to fulfill shopping needs with fabrics that are environment-friendly and conducive to the handicraft world.

For example, some people explore handwoven south Indian fabrics in their natural state; like fabrics dipped in organic dyes and embellished with handcrafted motifs. By stitching their own choice of handwoven fabrics, they also support independent tailors, rural women and so many other people in the menagerie of the hand-loom trade in south India.

These people who wear hand-stitched and handwoven ensembles do so to overcome the south Indian heat. They are unaware that their little effort to be independent in their fashion choice makes south India a plastic free and a sustainable place to be.

Patterns in Red South Indian frabric
Patterns in red south Indian cotton
Highs and lows of moisture cotton fabric with Ikat prints
Highs and lows of moisture cotton with Ikat prin

 

Hand-dyed with floral prints
Hand-dyed fabric with floral prints

 

Contrasting colors of handcrafted fabric
Contrasting colors of handcrafted fabric

This summer, will you give these beautiful fabrics a chance to help you be sustainable? Sustainable; maybe in a small way, but more importantly, wont it make you independent in big way?

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