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     Volume 4 Issue 68 | October 21, 2005 |

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Cover Story



A new trend has been seeping into the fashion scene. It is veering towards what is natural, comfortable and indigenous to a particular place. Gone are the synthetic days of flashy polyesters, nylons and fake leather. Even the most fanatically fashion conscious consumer who will wear the most uncomfortable outfit as long as it is vogue, has been lured by the powers of good quality, soft fabric next to the skin. This is why handloom fabrics have come in a big way taking considerable space in trendy stores all over the world. They carry buzzwords that get trend-seekers going -- 'eco-friendly', 'handmade' '100 percent cotton', 'ethnic' -- not to mention rather comfy too. From the designer's point of view, these materials are versatile and conform to minimalist styles that define contemporary fashion: simple yet funky, chic yet youthful.

The notion of indigenous fabrics being trendy has reached Bangladesh as well. A good number of fashion houses and small boutiques are using local fabrics to create designs that conform to contemporary styles. Designers are experimenting with a whole range of fabrics, blending different yarns to create original patterns, dyeing them to produce unusual colours and then creating their signature ensembles. SWM takes a look at some of the well-known fashion houses and their collections for Eid that are made up of clothes stitched with Bangladeshi weaves.

The industry's highly skilled labour, a long history of development, growing acceptance among consumers-- all indicate the huge potential of handloom products. "In the last few years, the market has grown enormously," says Khaled Mahmood, Director of fashion house Kay Kraft. "Purchasing power and the products' improvement in quality has gone up. Plus, consumers are very conscious about things like trends, designs, patterns, weaves, etc."

Thus it is crucial, he says, to make good use of the skills of the weavers and providing the products to the people. "The environment to accept something that is new and of good quality, has been created," says Khaled. In spite of many constraints such as a dearth of good designers, inefficient technology etc., the weavers of Bangladesh have over the years, continued to survive, putting in their talent and hard work to keep this tradition alive. Khaled says that it is encouraging that now a few fashion houses and design schools have been working closely with weavers to create good markets for their products. There have also been major improvements in quality, production capacity and changes in the methods of dyeing, finishing and weaving. To help weavers even further, small processing units in various service centres have been set up. Small and medium-sized enterprises are now specialising in these products. Khaled's latest endeavour has been a major exhibition on the handloom arts of Bangladesh, which showcased the various weaves from all over the country. Its aim was to promote the locally made fabrics as well as the skillful weavers behind the art.

Hand woven fabrics used by Aarong are quite popular for their soft feel and understated hues.

Kay Kraft has recently been experimenting with its fabrics to provide a new blend of materials for its clientele this Eid. One of their new blends is combining silk with khadi a cotton weave with a grainy texture. This gives a soft, smooth feel and a hard finish. Another popular mix is silk with endi. The smoothness of the silk combined with the coarseness of endi is rather a charming concoction. "The thread characteristics bring about a fine texture in the finished product." These combinations are currently being used on the product lines from Tangail and Sirajganj. Another interesting addition to this blend is the Rangamati khanni or scarf, which is traditional to the Adivasi. The style of the scarf is a bright contrast. "We took that extension and made it into an orna that is appealing to urbanities," continues Khaled. Kay Kraft is also applying contemporary spine stripes on their kameez and bold stripes on their shalwars. The weaves from the hilly areas have a rough texture which is not as attractive to city consumers says Khaled. So these fabrics are treated to attain greater smoothness while retaining the traditional patterns. There will also be designs on jackard and dobby materials, both of which are fine cotton fabrics. These fabrics are embellished with stripes and geometrical patterns. "We want to move on to the fabrics field now," says Khaled. "Hand woven textiles is much better than the general textiles because it is quite exclusive."

This Eid Probortana is introducing 185 patterns in its range of fabrics.

One of the biggest attractions of handloom products abroad is that they are eco-friendly and natural. Aranya, a well-established fashion house, specialises in using vegetable dye to colour and design their handloom fabrics. "Not only do we produce our own materials, we also extract the colour and dyes ourselves and also work on the designs," says Md. Ashraf Uddin, the Marketing Manager of Aranya. Aranya's specialty is that they collect materials from all around the country, including indigenous communities. "We have materials termed as tribal materials, which we bring in from the Garos in Mymensingh, Chakmas in Chittagong and also tribal areas of Sylhet and other places," he said. Aranya has taantis (weavers) making their own soft silk, balaka silk, toshor, crepe silk, endi silk, super endi, motka and various forms of cotton. They bring silk from Chapainawabganj in Rajshahi and the Tangail saris from Patrain in Tangail.

"The colours that we use here are literally extracted from nature," says Ashraf. "Simple elements like Henna, Eucalyptus, a tree bark, leaves, roots and other natural elements are used to extract the colour. The ultimate design is very authentic and definitely has a very deshi flavour," points out Ashraf.

An exhibition by Kay Kraft to expose the rich heritage of local textiles developed to suit contemporary tastes.

Ruby Ghuznavi, Managing Director of Aranya and also the ex-president of National Crafts Council Bangladesh, states that most of the designers in the country use chemical dyes on garments. "However, the demand is actually more in favour of natural and vegetable dyes," says Ghuznavi. "These chemical dyes are processed in such a way that they are later on claimed to be as natural vegetable dyes, which is absolutely wrong. Expense and time may be the main factors behind this," explains Ghuznavi further. "However, we prefer to use vegetable and natural dyes on our clothes. We use around 30 different natural dyes, all extracted from the many elements of nature," she says.

Aranya's Eid collection is highlighted by its exquisitely designed kantha saris with matching kantha shawls, in subtle natural dye shades, as well as classic colours of black and wine red. A special range of kantha kameez-dupatta-shalwar sets have been created in fresh colours for discerning customers. Super cotton Jamdani saris, in original designs of the past, complete the traditional range.

Natural dye printed garments -- saris, sets and panjabis -- are in abstract and linear patterns inspired by the Bahua's technique. As always, no two saris of Aranya are identical in design or colour.

For the first time, pure cotton Jamdani punjabis have been introduced to complement the fine chikan and appliqué embroidery.

Blue and green have been emphasised once again to promote natural indigo, which has been revived in Bangladesh after more than a hundred years.

For this Eid, Aranya, for the first time, has Jamdani panjabis for men. “Cotton-Jamdanis are always in demand by both men and women alike," says Ruby Ghuznavi. For women, Aranya has a wide collection of kantha saris. "The colours we are using for these creations are mostly vibrant and bright, keeping the season in mind," she adds. "We also have shalwar kameezes with colourful shawls, keeping the cold winter in mind.”

These designs are all being worked on with 100% vegetable dyes and natural colours. "We are a fair trade organisation," informs Ghuznavi. "Keeping the fair trade policy in mind, not only do we pay our weavers and workers a regular salary, but we also provide education for their children, get them connected with several NGOs who give out various forms of interest free loans and help their families out as much as possible. What interests me more is the fact that vegetable dyes enable us to offer employment to a large number of people."

This is the first Eid after Prabartana has opened its second outlet in Gulshan. Yet, Prabartana's Eid strategy has remained the same. Sale of yardage tops their agenda. "We largely cater to a middle-class consumers, so our new fabrics are of cotton varieties. Since silk is expensive we have shunned production of fabrics that are purely silk. We have produced silk in small quantities that too in mixed varieties. Mill-made cotton and hand-spun khadi are the main attractions Eid," says Shahid H Shamim, Director of Prabartana Ltd.

Although Shamim and his associates at Prabartana are pushing their hopes on the sale of fabric, their Eid collection for men and

women too have the potential to attract buyers. "'Simple cut' was the theme of our wares this year. You would not see any block-printed, embroidered men's or women's clothes in our collection. It is fabric on which we put the highest emphasis, so we did not embellish it with added designs," points out Shamim.

This season Prabartana is using buttons to add an extra aesthetic value. "We have come up with bronze, silver and seashell buttons for panjabis. It doesn't make the clothes expensive," says Shamim.

Since Prabartana planned to make the yardage fabric to be their central selling point, plans for new fabric and designs started as early as last December. New patterns have been designed with Eid sales in mind. "There are two textile designers who worked with the designs I proposed. In total, 185 patterns have been introduced this Eid. Our new line mostly consists of stripes," says Shamim.

Every new design has to be tested in the market. "At first 15 to 20 metres of cloth is spun and brought for sale. If the new design attracts buyers only then do we order for bulk, which is 250 to 300 yards," Shamim elucidates.

The fabrics, moreover, are colour fast, which is a major plus point to the customers of Prabartana. Pallabi, who considers Prabartana her favourite haunt, clarifies that it is the permanency of colour of Prabartana fabrics that turned her into a regular buyer. "With Prabartana fabrics I can be sure that the colour will not fade, you couldn't get that guarantee from most of the places selling indigenous cloth," she exclaims.

Jatra uses local fabrics and traditional motifs to create styles that are youthful and funky.

"This year, we have Indigo-blue, black, white and a whole array of beige shades for men, and yellow, purple, orange, magenta, maroon, green for women. We dictated the colours and stripes to the textile designers who are working at the factories," says Shamim.

Plain stripes and dobby stripe make up the entire collection. Dobby stripe is characterised by woven design that continues as stripes. In the new collection, dobby stripe is as varied as the simple stripe. With the plain fabric Shamim has stuck to two-toned varieties that are currently in vogue with the younger generation.

Pabartana's Eid resolve is to exceed last year's sales by 60 percent. "We have only achieved a 45 percent rise in sales compared to last year's sale," says Shamim.

Although yardage is still their main selling point there has been a shift in focus. Last year there was an array of fabric for home furnishing, this year's yields are to be used only for making clothes. However, the variety and the volume is immense, and, fortunately, there is no dearth of fabric hunters.

Andes uses Khadi for men's kurtas to create a rugged look that is also trendy.
Photo: David Barikdar

Andes is a fashion house that has experimented with various blends of deshi fabrics to create contemporary looks characterised by a fusion of east and west. The clothes are stylish, modern yet give a hint of ancient cultures of the East. The use of calligraphy -- Egyptian, Chinese or Bangla -- are very much part of Andes' creator Aneela Haque's signature style. These characters are liberally used in materials that are hundred percent Bangladeshi.

Along with khadi, jute-silk and jute-cotton are also being used for stylish fotuas, short kameez outfits, shirts, kurtas and so on. Khadi, however, remains the favourite material for Aneela's creations. So much so that in her recent collection for Bridal Asia in Delhi in which she represented Bangladesh, she used khadi to create elaborate saris and kurtas for men. "It gives that rugged look for men that is both sophisticated and trendy," says Aneela. For women, Aneela uses a thinner khadi that gives a feminine look. "The cut has to be slim and simple to achieve the same blend of chic and originality as in the men's collection," says Aneela.

like to create trendy outfits, but at the same time, prefer to have the deshi essence lingering on," says Maheen Khan, designer and owner of Mayasir.

A weaver at Kay Kraft's exhibition on handloom art of Bangladesh.

Clothes in vibrant combinations of red, white, yellow and blue, most of Maheen's designs are covered in sequins. She works on khadi, silk, crepe silk, cotton voile and endi silk. "I have tailors in parts of Narshingdi, Comilla and Rajshahi, who make these materials according to the instructions sent to them," she says. "For Eid, I have designed three piece shalwar suits, kurtis, kurtas for men and little blouses for children. I have also made ethnic dresses and flared skirts, since the style is very in at the moment," she adds. All of these designs have been made on Bangladeshi materials, and most of them are hand woven in seasonal and pastel colours.

Popular for being trendy yet with a traditional touch to its outfits and accessories, Kumudini also makes it's own materials and fabrics. They use pure Rajshahi silk, cotton, half-silk which is a combination of silk and cotton, khadi and Grameen check. Kumudini also has collections designed on batik, blocks, brush paint and Jamdani, which their own weavers make in Narayanganj.

Said to be the pioneer in traditional garments, products and accessories, Aarong still has a large number of customers coming in every day. With an assortment of products, Aarong has its own weavers in Narshingdi, Rajshahi and Comilla making khadi, cotton, and a variety of silk for the designs. "The Taaga section of Aarong is probably the only section where imported garments like, jeans and shirts are brought in to justify the designs," says Monoara Begum, the manager of the Gulshan branch. "However, every other garment and accessory are hand woven and are 100% Bangladeshi. The designs from Bibi's Collection (Bibi Russell) that we have displayed in our shop, are designed on Bangladeshi handloom fabrics."

Hundred percent Bangladeshi Aranya uses vegetable dyes on their locally woven fabrics.

A special fabric that Aarong produces for themselves, is a mixture of soft silk and cotton, which they have named Jayasree silk. "It's soft to touch and very comfortable in the summer," says Begum.

A relatively new kid on the block of trendy boutiques selling deshi handicrafts and clothes is Jatra, located on Kemal Ataturk Avenue. According to Ishrat Jahan, a fashion designer, the only material that Jatra uses is taant (handloom cotton). "Cotton does vary from region to region as each region has its own unique characteristics," says Ishrat. "We get our taant from Narshingdi, while khoddor and khadi are brought about from Comilla." Jatras designs are very famous especially amongst youngsters for their vibrant colours and authentic designs. "All of our colours are vegetable dyes extracted naturally," says Ishrat. Especially popular are short kameez, kurtas, panjabis, skirts, trousers and accessories, which are made from 100% Bangladeshi fabrics. "I make a simple sketch of the design that I want and lay out the colour combinations for the taanti," explains Ishrat. "I also mention the kind of fabric we would like for the design. Say, if I want a blue and green combination on red khadi, the taanti would make a sample of the design and send it over for approval."

There are around five hundred thousand handlooms in Bangladesh and about a million weavers. The high numbers indicate the growing popularity of handloom fabrics both at home and abroad. With better designs and improvements in quality, export of handloom products have gone up. The local market too is expanding. This is an encouraging trend as it translates into the revival of a traditional industry, more jobs for weavers, more foreign exchange earnings for the country and a renewed patriotism among consumers to wear local designs made with indigenous fabrics. It is an admirable effort of designers in this country, to make these fabrics fashionable again.

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