Dedicated to the unsung artisans......
In one of the most ancient cities in Uttar Pradesh, India, dripping in colour, spirituality and artisanal talents, you’ll find some of the greatest and unique weaving techniques and talented weavers in the world. Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited and religious cities of the world, is home to over 60,000 handloom weavers. The art of traditional weaving has been passed down for generations since pre-Mogul times in India. Varanasi silk, also known as Benaras silk, showcases a socio-economic and religious piece to the traditional culture and heritage of Benaras people, and continues to be an important piece of contemporary Indian history.
The weaving community represents a historically controversial, yet beautiful mix of Hindu-Muslim culture, with Muslims constituting around 80% of the weavers. Weaving is their livelihood. From dyeing to drying, to the delicate setup of a handloom; these extremely lengthy tasks are done with much care to ensure each weaved product, from sarees, a zero waste garment, to salwars, are crafted with original Banarasi weaving techniques.
Alike many North and South American based arts and culture traditions, the weaving community of Varanasi is slowly vanishing. Living on odd jobs with no regular customer base, weavers are left struggling to keep their traditions alive as youth no longer want to learn the ways of their craft. As young people move on to work in more modern industries in the big cities across India, Varanasi is losing one of its most treasured and ancient art forms.
Patterns handwoven by weavers of Varanasi weavers & Artisans society
These world-renowned weaving techniques found their way into the AGAATI story while Co-founder and designer, Saloni Shrestha, traveled her way across the country in search of ethical materials and partners to help her bring AGAATI to life. On the search for artisans and transparency in supply chain methods, Saloni found herself in the ancient city, with high hopes of securing sustainable fabrics, excited to put her trust into working with a community of experienced and talented weavers. Saloni went right to work, with the help of non -profit organization, AIACA (All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association) that focusses on developing, incubating and accelerating craft based enterprises for generating sustainable livelihoods in rural India.
AIACA further connected Saloni with local non-profit centre, Varanasi Weavers & Artisans Society for co-ordination and project management while working back and forth from her home in Palo Alto, California. VWAS team were very efficient in helping every step of the way. But working with rural weaving communities comes with its own set of challenges and this story doesn’t end with just one hurdle. Working with silk yarns produced in China with unclear trails to follow, is always a difficult path to take, and sometimes beyond the control of a designer or weaver. Most weavers use silk yarns from China due to the smoother texture. Although Indian silk is easily accessible, but in Varanasi the weavers still rely on China silk.
The sketch for weavers to envision the final design
Without affirmation of the true tale of the Chinese silk product purchased for the first AGAATI collection, Connection, weaving commenced only to later identify that the weaved textile had some polyester fiber mixed in the process. Standing strong on the brand's commitment to eco friendly fibre, Saloni had no choice but to scrap the entire production line, starting over with new, ethically sourced silk. Transparency was the only option to move forward.
Non-profit organizations such as AIACA and Varanasi Weavers & Artisans Society supported AGAATI to begin the process again with weavers, Kamuruddin and Srinath, maintaining transparent standards once again on fair trade, sustainable raw materials, work policies and procedures.
The challenge presented itself with an educational component for the AGAATI team, learning of exactly who stands where in the production line. The process starts with sending fabric swatches to the technical team representing the weavers, which mobilizes the production team to start planning on their end. The weavers are introduced initially when the design is discussed and then later when it’s time for the handloom to be assembled. Before this can happen, sourcing the fibre, color matching, and dyeing with azo-free dyes are priorities. Once the fabric has made its way through this process, then can the weavers begin to work their magic by setting their handloom. It can often take over a week depending on the complexity of the textile pattern provided.
Enabling the continuity of Varanasi tradition is a major theme in our narrative with the Connection collection. The legacy of art and craftsman skills around the world could slowly vanish under the charms of modern technologies, faster production processes and consumer behavior favoring the imitation of trends and over craftsmanship & quality. It is easy to see how the fashion industry building the empire of "wants" for the consumers can be polluting, both environmentally and culturally. When we, whether a supplier, designer or consumer, start asking the right questions, and learn to dig deep into the tale of our clothes, we will see the future of the fashion industry lean heavily towards ethical production and consumption.
So we ask you this: how will you weave your consumer story? How can you empower others to believe in the potential of being a global citizen, supporting the detailed technique and culture found within traditional weaves and artisanal skills?
Beauty can still flourish from madness in a fast paced world. It’s time for us to slow down and begin to restructure the story of our clothing. If money is power, it’s time to vote with your dollar. And with every item purchased, empathize with the narrative it tells.
Final look: AGAATI SS17 titled Connection
See the conclusion of our first collection: Connection.
For any handloom textile weaving projects in Varanasi visit
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