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Khadi Luxury

Why a limited edition line of
hand-spun khadi saris
stands out in a bling-driven market.
Fashion may be defined as an essential expression of freedom but it is still a slavish pursuit in modern India. It is held captive by bling and brands. They determine the politics of consumption as they unambiguously spell wealth. Wearing wealth is, after all, the biggest trend. It needs no social analyst to deduce why Swarovski and Louis Vuitton are the most successful global entrants in our fashion market. One sparkles, the other screams with its logo.
This equation ripples out in many ways. It pushes up the value of blingy, designer-made bridal wear and pushes down hand-woven textiles, which neither shine nor are designers interested in draping them over Bollywood divas for magazine covers. That's why it was surprising to see hand-spun khadi saris, including slightly coarse ones in natural hues like almond and white, sell at a recent sari exhibition in Delhi organised by the Crafts Council of India. They weren't cheap either, each cost around or upwards of Rs 10,000. Their simplicity was arresting and when I traced some of them back to noted textile researcher and sari expert Rta Kapur Chishti's studio, a modest basement workspace, a story unfurled.
Chishti, with a small team of assistants, has been trying to popularise her version of sustainable luxury— "hand-woven, non-embroidered, unstitched" textiles. What started with a book, Saris: Tradition and Beyond, perhaps the most exhaustive tome on draping and weaving, led to the Sari School two years ago. She organises three-hour sari workshops in various cities, with audiovisual presentations and draping lessons, which run alongside an exhibition of hand-woven textiles — low twill silk and hand-spun cotton. Now sold under the name of Taanbaan, they include stoles and dupattas too. Her most recent presentations have been at the Artisans Gallery in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, and at Bandhej, Ahmedabad. In Delhi, the workshops are held at her studio on weekends. "I teach at least four sari styles, one each from the north, south, east and west, to explain essential differences in sari traditions," she says.
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