The ancient Indian science of Ayurveda is being utilised to formulate one of the healthiest fashion choices – that of ayurvastra, discovers Ishita Goel
From our toothpaste and food to medicines and even cosmetics, organic is the way forward for most of us. However, when it comes to clothes that stay in continuous contact with our skin, most of us choose aesthetics over wellness. But what if grooming could go hand in hand with health?
Ayurvastra, a new line of medicinal textile, promises to do just that. It draws inspiration from Ayurveda or the traditional Hindu system of medicine that can be traced back to 5,000 years. Ayurveda-inspired clothing is made from organic fabrics that are dyed naturally with an infusion of such medicinal plants as tulsi, neem, pomegranate and turmeric. These are said to bring relief to the wearer from aliments like skin infections, eczema, hypertension and asthma. Though the concept of ayurvastra or Ayurvedic clothing with healing properties has been mentioned in the ancient Vedic texts, it is seeing a resurgence only now as the world veers towards clean living.
“I have been working with eco-friendly, Ayurvedic textiles for over three decades now, and I believe that it is a step up in the sustainability ladder. They have the potential to become the textiles of tomorrow. Our government is determinedly pushing us towards the sustainable use of natural resources, and Ayurveda plays a huge role in this,” says Madhu Jain, designer and a textile conservationist, better known as the lady who introduced bamboo silk ikat.
Healing the body
There are several premium brands working with this kind of fabric, Lecoanet Hemant being one of them. The designer duo is refining the concept of ayurvastra under the label Ayurganic. “Ayurvedic fabric is macerated in a mix of medicinal herbs from the Agastya forest [in Kerala] and is permeated with special oils and aloe water to increase its benefit to one’s mind, body and soul,” says Hemant Sagar, co-founder of Lecoanet Hemant. “Wearing ayurvastra is like letting your skin breathe in fresh oxygen,” he explains.
Agrees Jain, explaining, “ayurvastra textiles are said to deliver the medicinal benefits of natural ingredients to wearers through the skin; somewhat like osmosis.” For Auroville-based clothing label Upasana, sustainable choices led it to work with ayurvastra. It uses tulsi as an antiseptic for the skin, red sandalwood is incorporated in the garments to boost immunity and neem is used as a detoxifying agent. Uma Prajapati, founder of the label, says, “Sustainability is the glass we wear while working in Upasana. We use organic cotton, preferably khadi, natural dyes and handloom fabrics.”
The production of such fabric includes four vital stages. At Lecoanet Hemant, most of the raw materials for dyeing are garnered from the herbs collected by the tribal communities of the Agastya forest. Sagar explains, “The fabric is rinsed in aloe water and dyed in a special mix of herbs before being rinsed in the fresh water of the Neyyar river. Later, it is dried in a dark room to preserve the properties of the herbs. The final stage produces the perfect fabric that emits wellness and health and has in itself, the power to heal the body when worn on a regular basis.” While its obvious healing benefits cannot be denied, it is said that the colours of ayurvastra fabrics fade quickly. “If maintained well and not washed in chemical detergent, these clothes and their colours can last for years,” counters Sagar.
At Upasana, natural dyeing ingredients are chosen according to their colour palette and longevity. Several of the base colours used in the label’s collections are drawn from unbleached cotton and pure indigo, which are said to possess healing properties.
Back to earth
As concerns are raised across the world about the use of chemicals in treating and dyeing of fabrics, the focus on naturally-processed textiles is rising. Ayurvastra not only cuts down byproducts and waste in the process but also gives back to the environment.
“These fabrics, having induced with medicinal herbs, are definitely different from others that are chemically treated. And the effects can be seen from the production stage itself. For example, when our herb-infused fabrics are dipped in the Neyyar river, they emit those good properties to the water, which has resulted in an increased number of fish in the waterbody. In this way, and more, these fabrics give back to nature,” Sagar elaborates.
While textile and environmental crusaders push to popularise ayurvastra, the hurdles are many. “Handloom and organic fabrics tend to come with high price tags, while factory-produced fabrics that are treated with chemicals are much cheaper. People need to weigh one against the other and decide for themselves what they choose. The larger the market, the easier these clothes will become on the pocket. It’s also time that we consciously start generating awareness around eco-friendly clothes,” sums up Jain.