The Handloom Weavers of India

For centuries, India has been renowned for its textiles. Back in the day, the Europeans sailed all the way to the subcontinent for its regal apparels as much as for its spices.

The fabled weavers of Kancheepuram and Banaras created attires of such grandeur and magnificence, their work was deemed as magic.

Those were times when machines were still just ideas. Each and every piece of garment was crafted by hand, with a lot of dedication and effort. The weavers were held in very high regard by everyone in the courts of Kings.

But time is an unpredictable friend. You never know what lies for you in the future. For the handloom weavers it wasn’t all cheer and merriment. The industrial revolution came around and people started inventing machines for various purposes.

In reality, it wasn’t the advent of machines that hit the weavers, it was the wars. The traditional weavers did fare pretty well until the First World War or as it was called back then, the Great War.

Britain, who was a part of the Allied forces, exploited Indian resources to support the armed forces. Handloom weavers were not efficient enough to produce clothes to match the demand, hence new machines took their place. The machine spun clothes turned out to be a profitable trade for the colonial powers, especially England. With clothes being manufactured at home in Manchester and in India, the crown had a steady influx of coin.

This went on, until the freedom struggle gained real momentum. Under M.K.Gandhi’s leadership, many Indian’s gave up “western” clothes and started donning hand woven, khadi clothes instead.

Post freedom, the trend changed again. Poverty was at large and the population was steadily on the rise. Powerlooms seemed the most viable option as production rates were high and price of garments was relatively low. In the last 40 odd years, fast fashion has almost completely taken over the textile business, pushing the traditional artisans out of business and into hardship.

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Textile Minister Smriti Irani dons a hand woven silk saree from Bihar

Although the handloom industry is the second largest employer in India, over the years the number of hand loom weavers has dwindled drastically. The high cost of the yarn and decrease in demand meant that the weavers don’t make even minimum liveable wages through their trade. Many have given up their traditional business and resorted to doing other jobs to earn their daily bread. As per the Ministry of Textiles, there were 43 lakh handloom weavers in 2015, less than half of what it was ten years ago.
Research by The Indian Express showed that, as of 2015, powerlooms accounted for nearly 60% of the fabrics manufactured, with handloom making up just over a tenth of the total fabric production. But of late, many responsible entrepreneurs have started investing in the handloom business. Even though power looms produce apparels at much cheaper costs, they do not have the uniqueness the hand woven clothes possess. Each piece of garment is hand crafted intricately and to perfection. Not for nothing is it called slow fashion. Take saris for example. It may take anywhere between a few months to almost years to craft one, based on the design and material. The hard work and dedication that goes into making these saris can be clearly visualized when compared with those made by machines.

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Actress Vidya Balan graced a charity event in a simple yet graceful hand woven cotton saree

The government, NGOs, and certain national and international private organizations have now taken an interest in reviving the trade and improving the lives of the practitioners. The Make in India initiative is playing a major role in this process. It is an opportunity not only to create something which is gorgeous, but also to create more job opportunities, especially in the rural sector.

Reviving this trade is significant because it is a part of the Indian culture. Passed down for generations, this art and its traditional techniques cannot be allowed to fade away. Each piece of art, each square foot of garment has its own unique story which needs to be retold.

Solar Power: The Sooner We Switch, the Better

The rapid depletion of fossil fuels and increasing global pollution has forced economies to look for alternative sources of energy.

Although there are many sustainable options, they need certain climatic conditions and technical specifications to work.

Among the lot, it is solar energy which seems to be the most viable alternative. Available in abundance, harnessing solar power has been the greatest challenge.

For decades, scientists have been developing technologies that can capture and store the energy for long periods. Even though we are a long way from achieving complete success in this endeavor, the available technologies do allow us to use the sun’s energy for various applications. The most commonly used device for this purpose is the solar cell or photovoltaic (PV) cell.

Primarily PV cells are used to convert solar energy into electrical energy. Almost all of us have used photovoltaic cells in our lives. Most calculators contain a single solar cell which keeps the calculator operational in case the battery runs out.

Over the years, as the price of the cells dropped, their application and usage drastically increased. Previously used in remote and individual houses, solar power is now being used in large scale, both for domestic and in industrial applications.

As per the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, only 55% of rural households had access to electricity in 2015. Many villages in the country are not on the national power grid. This implies, entire villages still lead comparatively primitive lives. The growth of the solar power industry is gradually changing the rural scenario.

Apart from the government, responsible private industries, NGOs and individuals have, over the past few years,  worked with many remote villages lying outside the national grid and helped bring sustainable solar power to their villages and homes.

A developing country, India is currently the forerunner in the clean energy development sector. In 2015, they launched a Global Solar Alliance with 120 countries at the Paris Climate Summit. This is aimed at providing cleaner energy and withdrawing from non-renewables at the earliest. In January 2016, as a part of their clean energy strategy, the state government of Maharashtra made solar water heaters compulsory for all upcoming buildings.

Germany is another major promoter of clean energy. Back in May 2016, due to their high renewable energy production, the price for electricity went negative and consumers were paid to use electricity. This goes to show that not only is renewable energy good for the environment, it would be beneficial for the economy as well.

The need for clean energy has become bigger than ever. Twenty eight high net worth investors from 10 different nationalities have joined forces to form the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. Headed by Bill Gates, this venture is focused on funding clean energy companies across the globe. Members include Reliance’s Mukesh Ambani, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos among others.

Elon Musk is another major advocate of clean energy. SolarCity Corporation, a subsidiary of Musk’s Tesla, provides the largest solar energy services in the United States. The company is one of the founding members of The Alliance for Solar Choice – a rooftop solar power advocacy effort across the United States.

Governments, along with the rich and famous, are working on various clean energy projects, keeping in mind both its citizens and the environment. We, as the common people, should do our part by saving as much energy as possible. Those of us who can afford to install solar power systems should switch from regular power usage at the earliest. The cost of installation might appear expensive but in the long run, it is worth the money spent. The need of the hour is sustainability and it can only be achieved if everyone works together.

Natural Cosmetics: Beauty and Health do go Hand in Hand

The cosmetic industry is a very old one. The usage of beauty products can be traced back to the Egyptians in 4000BC. One of the more famous personalities from that era, who is associated with beauty and cosmetics is Queen Cleopatra herself.

Back in those days they derived oils and scents from exotic plants and used kohl to line their eyes. The industry over the centuries has seen drastic changes.

As more and more chemical substitutes were discovered, the cosmetics industry started growing leaps and bounds. Today, the industry is worth a whopping $425 billion dollars. With major companies bringing in famous celebrities to endorse their brands, millions of people spend huge sums of money on their products without actually researching about them.

Although synthetic cosmetics provide short-term beauty solutions, they have a lot of drawbacks. Artificial cosmetics are a complex combination of various chemicals which have adverse effects on the skin. Most, if not all, synthetic cosmetics contain parabens. These are parahydroxybenzoates, used as preservatives in the synthetic cosmetic products. Reseach conducted by the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that parabens, depending on the type and sensitivity of the skin, can cause irritation, breast cancer, skin ageing and DNA damage to name a few. They have also been known to disrupt oestrogen production.

People tend to forget that it is important to let the skin ‘breathe’. Synthetic cosmetics clog the pores in the skin. This hinders precipitation and the skin becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. This is a major cause of pimples and acne.

Over the past decade, due to increasing awareness about the harmful effects of artificial cosmetic products, the demand for natural cosmetics has gradually increased. Organic and natural cosmetics are made from completely natural ingredients. They are synthetic chemical free and are equally effective.

One of the most important things about natural cosmetics is that they don’t contain any parabens. Since there are no artificially synthesized chemicals involved, they rarely cause any irritation to the skin and don’t really have any side effects. Another advantage of using natural cosmetics is that they contain only natural scents that are rather mild. Hence users get a soothing aroma instead of the heavy, usually annoying tang.

People should be aware of the fact that the skin assimilates more than 60% of the products applied on it. So people should be cautious about the cosmetics they use. Using products that contain only natural raw materials and natural derivatives, nourishes the skin, giving it a youthful and radiant look.

With people slowly shifting towards more natural options, Grand View Research has estimated that the organic beauty industry would be worth around $15.98 billion by the year 2020.

Even today, people all over the world use contemporary, lab synthesized, artificial and potentially harmful cosmetics. It is high time they switched to natural alternatives for a better health.

 

Global Warming: A Conversation that Should be Taken Seriously

Global warming as we all know is a major cause for concern. But it was not until fairly recently that I became aware of the fact that there are people who think it is a myth! Now I can imagine many of you reading this, shaking your head and smirking. I am with you in thinking, “Who on earth are these simpletons?” How well-educated people doubt an actual global crisis is beyond me.

I was very curious to find out why these people thought global warming is not fact but fiction. My research led me to Ronald Reagan. The whole topic of climate change and global warming became a political issue during his presidency and the republicans have since maintained their notion that global warming is not real.

It was not until 1997 when certain scientists joined the nay-say bandwagon for the first time. Research by Greenpeace and The Guardian showed that major fuel and energy companies were funding these scientists and their group.

One of the main “evidence” given by these deniers is that they had neither seen nor felt any major difference climate in their lifetime.

At 23, I am pretty young. But in this short space of time, I myself have seen drastic climatic changes. I hail from a humble town called Ooty, which lies all the way up in the Nilgiri hills in India. While I was growing up as a school child, the months of June and July always saw heavy rains, December to January was when the frost set in, and March to May was when the sun was up and shining. But over the years things have changed. For a few years, the rains were delayed and then they completely disappeared, the summers have been hotter and winters are not what they were 15 years ago. When someone like me can see the changes, I do not understand how people in their mid-50s say they can’t.

At this point, many of you will no doubt mock people for not believing in global warming and will question their scientific temper. But should we really when the so called educated people of our country wouldn’t care less about the issue? At least most westerners have an opinion on the matter while we are outright ignorant about it. Education or rather the lack of it seems to be the problem.

Lack of education doesn’t mean illiteracy, it means the way we are taught isn’t right. Children are taught about the global pollution problem not as something that we should be worried about but rather as a topic which can help them score marks during examinations.

What is the point of teaching children about the different layers of the atmosphere, about the ozone layer, about greenhouse gases and global warming, if we are unable to instil in them the moral obligation to save the earth?

Now that I am living in a metropolitan, I see too much population, with a lot of vehicles, causing too much pollution. The so called educated class is doing things which are contrary to that title. For instance, as a person who has lived here for over a year and a half, it makes me question the use of personal vehicles by almost everyone for commuting when actually the need of the hour is fewer vehicles on roads. With many companies sharing work spaces, isn’t it common sense to carpool? Why take five different cars when five people, all from the same area or on the same route to the office, can use one car and split the cost of fuel?

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution claims 7 million lives worldwide every year and a major contributor to this are the fossil fuel driven automobiles. This shows that people have to become more responsible and should resort to more sustainable methods of travel.

 

Ocean Pollution: Plastic in the Waters

The invention of synthetic polymers was initially lauded by everyone. It could be moulded into any shape and size, and it was highly affordable. As long as it was produced in limited quantities, reused over prolonged periods and disposed of responsibly, plastic was a useful commodity.

But over the years, the amount of plastic produced has been gradually increasing without any sustainable mode of disposal. Nature enthusiasts have constantly voiced their concern over the excessive use of plastic and its ill effects on the environment.

One of the primary modes of plastic disposal has been dumping it in the oceans. The World Wildlife Fund has documented the adverse effects this has on marine life. Aquatic animals mistake the plastic for fish and consume it. This has led to the death of millions of fish and other ocean species. But the problem doesn’t stop there. Even birds of prey, mistake plastic for fish and die when they consume it.

As the production and usage of plastic continuously increase, so does the amount of non-biodegradable plastic waste that goes into the oceans. This in turn increases the number of deaths of both birds and fish. A 2006 survey by The United Nations Environment Program estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. The survey also showed that plastic caused the death of over a million sea birds and 100,000 marine animals. The numbers have drastically increased over the past decade.

Research by the National Geographic Society shows a gigantic accumulation of plastic debris, spanning from the Western shores of North America to Japan. Called the Great Pacific Garbage patch or the pacific trash vortex, it comprises of Western Garbage Patch which is located near Japan and the Eastern Garbage Patch which is located near the US. The patch does not exactly look like a giant island, but rather comprises of tiny bits of plastic called ‘microplastics’. Almost 70% of the debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

Steps need to be taken to clear such debris and curb any addition to it. Governments have done their part by prohibiting sailors from dumping plastic waste overboard. But this is something the government cannot control once the ships are in the waters.

Rather than looking to the government for help, we the citizens should do our part in reducing the production of plastic. As long as there is a demand for it, the plastic industry is going to keep producing more and more.

The first step towards curbing plastic is by educating people. We should stop buying new plastic products and instead recycle and upcycle since it can be reused any number of times in many different forms.

By being a little imaginative and creative, all of us can play a big part in saving our oceans, the marine life and birds.

 

Ahimsa Silk: All Lives Matter

Taken from Sanskrit, the word ‘Ahimsa’ means peace or non-violence. It was Mahatma Gandhi and his followers’ ideology during the Indian freedom struggle.

Silk is a one of the more luxurious fibres chosen especially to make clothes of grandeur. Although many different species of insects produce silk, it is the larvae of the moth caterpillars that is chosen for textile manufacturing.

Although this fine fibre is loved by many, the story of how it is manufactured is a sad one. Traditionally, silk farmers breed the moths, which lay their eggs on specially prepared paper. Once they hatch, the caterpillars are fed mulberry leaves until they are heavy and ready to start spinning its cocoon. Once it reaches its pupae stage, it is immersed in boiling water to kill it and then the fibre is removed.

Over the years, many have tried to find alternatives means of procuring the silk, without killing the insects. It was Mr Kusuma Rajaiah form Andhra Pradesh, who was finally able to patent a sustainable method of extracting the silk in 2002.

He called the silk Ahimsa silk or peace silk. The process is very different from regular silk. In case of Ahimsa silk, either the pupae is allowed to hatch and the left over cocoon is used or the pupae is cut open, without hurting the larvae inside. This method also protects the
silk from contamination through moth urine.

The ahimsa silk is kept away from all forms of chemical fertilizers. Even the larvae is fed wild mulberry leaves, which are not polluted by chemicals.

Although slightly more expensive than regular silk, the material comes with a conscience. The rising demand for Ahimsa silk is a testament to the amount of hard work put in to save the lives of the insects.

 

Greenstitched Film Festival: Bengaluru’s first ever screening of Sustainable Fashion Documentaries

Bangalore’s first ever film festival around sustainable fashion will be held on the 18th of February, 2017. At the GFF, they will be screening a series of documentaries on the importance of responsible and sustainable fashion. The event is organized by sustainable apparel blogging portal, GreenStitched in collaboration with EcoFolk and NIFT Bangalore.

The objective of the event is to create awareness about the textile industry. Today, the textile industry is a major contributor to the rising environmental pollution, second only to the oil industry. Even with ongoing research for sustainable fuel alternatives, the textile industry already has viable options in the form of organic clothes. We as consumers need to embrace it and give up fast fashion.

Sustainable fashion isn’t just about tackling pollution. It also involves creating job opportunities to traditional weavers on handlooms and designing clothes that are cruelty-free, i.e., where no animals are harmed during the procurement of the fibre, mainly wool, silk and leather.

The films, apart from the environmental issues, will also talk about the issues faced by the handloom weavers and the upsides of using organic fibres.

The event will bring together students, professionals and anyone who is curious about sustainable fashion. The films that will be screened include Weaves of Maheshwar, Unravel and Frontline Fashion among others. Some of the critically acclaimed movies are being screened in India for the first time.

 

When Waste Went Up the Wall rather than Out the Window!

Art comes in various forms. It means different to different people. It is not something you can put in a nutshell. Over the years creativity has slowly started combining with sustainability to give us responsible art – art which not only has an aesthetic value but also has a deeper meaning in terms of doing something good.

Responsible art covers traditional crafting methods that use age old techniques and natural materials rather than machines that are used for mass production.

One of the main aims of responsible art is to empower the local, tribal artisans who practice these old traditions which have been passed down through generations. This creates a liveable source of income for these artisans who belong to the lower echelons of society.

The most recent buzzword related to responsible art is upcycling. Upcycling is the process of converting non-biodegradable materials into products that look very attractive and have high utilitarian value. Upcycling not only reduces the amount of toxic waste that goes to the landfills but drastically reduces the production of new non-ecofriendly products.

Upcycling is a fairly new concept. It is much better than recycling since minimal or no energy is required to convert the waste into a beautiful piece of art.

One of the most commonly upcycled materials are the vintage vinyl records. These outdated records are made from a special type of plastic which would take forever to decompose if dumped in the landfills. Instead, many upcycling companies convert them into products like wall hangings and key chains which are surprisingly quite spectacular to look at.

Under Responsible art, we also have socially conscious artists who create cartoons and graffiti that promote sustainable and natural living.

In many places in India, selfless companies and NGOs take it upon themselves to beautifully paint public walls that have been vandalised. Their art actually acts as a protection for these walls.

 

Upcycling: How my room went from boring to awesome!

I moved to Bangalore two years ago and since then I have shifted rooms thrice. Getting back from work, to a dull looking room was depressing. I thought changing residences would help. But it was after moving for the third time that I understood that the problem was not with the room but rather what I did with it. When the room was empty except for a bed and a couple of bags, of course it looked gloomy.

So I decided to do something about it. I browsed online for wall hangings, rugs and what not. This is when I came across the term ‘upcycle’. I would have moved on without a second glance, but a couple of  products under that title caught my eyes and I decided to have a look.

All the products that were hosted looked extremely funky and cool. I was surprised to see old liquor bottles converted to beautiful candle holders and chandeliers. Being the curious person I am, I decided to research more about ‘upcycle’. Turns out it is more about reusing waste products than actually manufacturing new ones. I personally felt it was way better than recycling.

Now, as much as I am curious, I am also lazy and not particularly skilled at making crafts and that sort of thing. So I decided that I’d start buying upcycled products from the many vendors out there and so far it has turned out to be good. I bought wall hangings, a clock, a key-chain holder, chair and table, posters and other awesome stuff, and boy doesn’t my room look lively. The products are made from either reclaimed wood, old vinyl records or some or the other kind of non-biodegradable plastic, which would otherwise go to landfills.

I’m not a hippie or a party animal or that sort of a person, but back in the room, with a low light setting, and all these awesome stuff on the wall and some pretty darn good rock music, it kind of does make me feel cool. And the best part, I actually do feel I am doing some good by keeping waste from the landfills.

I realised that if people start doing what I am doing, we can easily put an end to the production of harmful goods and put to good use the things that we already have. I do hope others join me in this. Taking a leaf of out of Donald Trump’s campaign, “Let’s make the World great again.”

Did you find it interesting? Check out other interesting and responsible stuff on www.happystry.com

Tourism meets Sustainability: Travel like Never Before!

Travelling is an inevitable part of a person’s life. Even the most lethargic person would have to travel at some point in his life, either voluntarily our out of necessity. ‘Civilization’ itself depends on people travelling.

Tourism is an activity that would become non-existent if people stopped travelling. People should travel more, tour the whole wide world and experience all the different lifestyles and activities they never thought existed.

Although travelling is important, a person’s main focus should be on doing it sustainably. Over the years, technological advancements and human greed have been contaminating the earth, both literally and otherwise. We have been irresponsible in almost everything we have done and sadly tourism also falls into that bracket.

We started felling trees, littering the precious land with garbage, particularly with polyethene covers and other such non-recyclable materials. We have been ignorant and disrespectful to the various diverse communities and life forms that exist on this earth.

But time heals everything if we take the right steps. Like the responsible fashion industry, the concept of responsible tourism kick started in the 80’s. But unlike the former, this was no fad. It was rather a step taken by concerned environmentalists in order to ensure that the groundwork is laid for future generations to understand the importance of responsible conservation.

Responsible tourism is one where travellers have a positive impact on the environment and the society. The positive impact involves using resources judiciously and refraining from using harmful materials, chiefly plastic. While touring responsibly, people try to adopt sustainable alternatives be it for travelling, cooking or resting. This type of tourism also focuses on helping people who live in the lower echelons of society, promoting local and regional arts and crafts. Travellers get to experience the lifestyle of the indigenous tribal people, interact with them and live life like they do during their stay with them.

Responsible tourism involves travelling to rural destinations, heritage sites and wildlife sanctuaries, all done in a sustainable manner. You get to stay in homes that are made from mud and brick by hand. They are decorated using recycled and upcycled products.

Sustainable tourism is also a development strategy by which third world countries can profit. Responsible tourists prefer handmade, local crafts rather than mass produced products. The touring companies too, source most of the materials from the locals, providing them with a liveable source of income. This industry helps the underserved not through charity but rather through business and employment. In many heritage sites, the locals are trained to perform various tasks. Outsiders are rarely hired. This helps the local population lead a more dignified life.