Sustainable fashion has found a new friend in bamboo silk ikat. The brain behind the textile innovation, fashion designer Madhu Jain, talks about its benefits and versatility
After working extensively in the organic handloom space for the past three decades, coming to understand bamboo has been a blessing. The material, I strongly believe, has the potential to bring about a revolution in the world of sustainable fashion. It has a low ecological footprint, is UV-protective and possesses antibacterial properties too. The process of extracting the yarn from the bamboo plant is a long one, involving plenty of research and experimentation, and 15 years of working with the fibre has led me to bamboo silk ikat. It has just been a few months since the launch of this new material, and it is extremely heartening to see the fashion and textile fraternity acknowledge its importance.
I formally introduced bamboo-based textiles for the first time in India at the 7th World Bamboo Congress in New Delhi, in 2004. Since then, I have been using this eco-friendly fibre frequently, and in myriad ways. For instance, at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, I used it in the Fabric of India segment. The textile and craft installation showcased the versatility of bamboo in a 115-foot-long frame!
I specialise in developing new weaves by amalgamating weaving traditions. When I started working with bamboo, I did not envision creating bamboo silk ikat. Bamboo fabric is rough, and through experiments, I realised that weaving another fabric with it could yield excellent results. My trials with bamboo have resulted in a line of textiles where the fabric is incorporated with cotton, khadi, chanderi and wool.
Bamboo silk ikat is a sublimely soft textile, with the richness and luminosity of both bamboo and silk. Developing it has been challenging, however. We had to ensure durability and the right percentage of the silk blend. Then, weaving the ikat motif in the warp and weft had to be perfect, or else it wouldn’t work!
From the basics
I create every textile from scratch. For bamboo silk ikat, I begin by procuring the raw, rough bamboo, which in itself is no easy task. There is no consistency among the batches that we source and the quality differs greatly. A lot of research and effort is put into softening the yarn, and I work closely with master weavers to familiarise them with a yarn that is unlike anything they have ever worked with!
Working with bamboo
My work involves developing the right textile blends, the correct tensile strength and the appropriate thread count. Once weavers have given the desired shape to my designs, they move on to the production process, which is carried out entirely by hand. I followed the same process while developing bamboo silk ikat, though the research and development wasn’t easy in its case, as we were developing not just a textile, but a new way of looking at sustainable fashion. I never source materials for my collections– each outfit is made from textiles that are produced under the Madhu Jain label.
Bamboo silk ikat is as versatile as any other handloom product. From Indo-Western to traditional wear, this textile can be used to design any kind of garment. As of now, I have built a collection of about 40 bamboo silk ikat pieces ranging from short and long tunics to achkans, shirts, trousers, loose pyjamas and balloon pants. This particular collection is a stepping stone for future innovations with this textile.
Providing a boost to craftsmen
India’s 2,000-year-old textile legacy is an endangered one. Factory productions have penetrated into the handloom sector too. For our traditional natural textile industry to survive, it is essential to bring in new design interventions that will usher in a resurgence of pride in a time-honoured craft that has been passed on through generations. Every innovation in this sector benefits weaver communities, and I am confident that this textile shall boost employment for these master craftsmen.
The author is a textile conservationist and the views expressed in this article are her own