A Journey Towards Slow Fashion : The Koraput Weavers of Odisha

In a world enveloped by fast, machine-produced fabrics, slow and handcrafted fashion is our way forward. For decades together, the fast fashion industry has been depleting the environment with products made of several toxins and chemicals, excessive use of water and natural resources, large waste generation and contributing massively to global carbon emissions. The nature of fast fashion is that of fast production and fast sales. As a result, with new trends coming up every season, numerous fabrics that don’t sell are just tossed out of the product cycle, increasing the waste that is repeatedly generated. This waste often ends up in landfills where it takes years if not decades to decompose. The speed at which this system functions, therefore, is detrimental to our environment and it is our responsibility as consumers to start investing in slow fashion – sustainable fashion.

Unlike fast fashion, slow fashion advocates for respecting the environment, the people and the processes that go into producing a garment. It encompasses an awareness that considers all factors before the garment reaches the buyer. This includes the use of natural chemicals and dyes, slower production cycles, re-using and re-purposing old fabric and material, ethical working conditions for the workers and so much more. With slow fashion, the priority shifts from time and efficiency in producing a garment to the product’s quality and durability. If a product lasts longer, as a consumer you will be purchasing less frequently and therefore, generating lesser waste that may otherwise end up in a landfill.

Slow fashion often involves artisans who handcraft their products using locally available raw materials, making the product eco-friendly and unique to where they originated from. This also helps us keep craft heritage alive while protecting the environment and providing value to the consumer. When you shop from a local artisan, your purchase supports their craft, work, and families. This is the way forward to more sustainable and mindful commerce, one that does not exploit natural resources, generate tremendous waste and increase the global carbon footprint. The Mirgan community of Odisha is an example of one such local artisanal community that produces the Koraput fabric, a sustainable slow textile, origins of which date back to the 3rd century. Locally known as ‘pata’, this fabric plays an important role in the region’s micro-economy. The Koraput weavers use an ancient dyeing technique of deriving colour from the Aal root ( Indian Madder) which gives these fabrics their unique red colour. Depending upon the amount of dye used and the way that it has been treated, the colours often range from light shades of reds and maroons to deep browns. Once the dye is collected from nature, it is treated with dung, wood ash and castor oil before the yarn can be made ready for weaving.

A unique feature of the production of these textiles is that the loom is only set for one piece of handloom and is reset every time, making each textile one of a kind. Since these fabrics are made and treated with locally available natural materials, they are non-toxic, making them friendlier to your skin, eco-friendly and generate less waste. Women within the community play a huge role in the production of the Koraput fabric and many of the motifs and designs that are created on the textile often mark significant moments in one’s life like the birth of a child, rites of passage, marriage, etc. Traditionally woven into sarees, the Korupat fabric has recently been reappropriated into stoles, dupattas and dresses to accommodate the urban buyer. Here at Shop Chaupal, you can shop the works of Pankaja Sethi, a textile designer, artist and researcher working closely with Adivasi women and weavers of Odisha. Inspired by indigenous weaving traditions, she reimagines traditional forms and creates hand-woven contemporary textiles.

By investing in a slow fashion textile like the Koraput, you will be supporting the livelihood of an Adivasi community in Odisha, helping the environment, and keeping the Indian craft heritage alive. So the next time you shop for a new outfit, ask yourself whether you want to continue to feed the pockets of multinational fashion brands that advocate for fast fashion or whether you want to support a craft, an artisan, a family and subsequently, the environment.

Author: Namrata Menon

3rd-year undergraduate student at the Jindal School of Art and Architecture and a summer intern at The Kala Chaupal Trust.

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