Blog post by Samantha Kirsch ’18.
Back in January, sixteen FSAD students had the opportunity to visit India to look at the apparel supply chain. We visited both large factories and small scale production facilities, and I was personally drawn to the stories of those working to revitalize traditional craft and textile production. The revival of the handloom textile industry is considered socially responsible because it empowers villagers by providing them with a livelihood. Furthermore, handloom textiles are generally considered more environmentally friendly.
On our fourth full day in India, we met Indian fashion designer Shravan Kummar at his studio in Hyderabad. He shared with us the history of Indian textiles, including explanations of printed and painted textiles, resist dyeing techniques, and woven textiles. A few of the methods Kummar explained were familiar to us, such as bandhani (shibori), ikat, kalamkari, and batik, but many were brand new to us. He supplemented his lesson with examples in the form of saris, dressing each of us up so we could experience the beauty of each technique fully.
I was the lucky one chosen to wear a full bridal ensemble. I felt like I was on Say Yes to the Dress getting “jacked up” with all the bridal jewelry, tikka and nose ring included. Finally, to demonstrate Kummar’s wedding line in action, I was paired with one of his models dressed in groomswear. We all had a good laugh and took lots of pictures.
After visiting his studio, we were shown the tambour embroidery studio that executes Kummar’s designs. It was fascinating to see how fast the embroidery was done and how it was applied to pre-stenciled pattern pieces. This method is more efficient than embroidering yardage and having to place pattern pieces over, trying to match designs and such.
Kummar has the philosophy, “Wear a handloom and save a weaver.” In 2015, he established Aalayam Society, a non-profit organization that employs and educates over twenty widowed women and artisans in order to sustain the rich weaving and handcrafted tradition of India. His work as a designer is directly tied to handloom industry and his goal is to bring traditional Indian textiles to the larger fashion market and keep traditional arts and crafts alive and relevant. Kummar’s fashion shows are used as a platform to share his philosophy and raise support for handloom textiles and traditional craft. As he says, “Handlooms and handicrafts have a heart, hands, and a mouth to feed.” Kummar has made it his life’s work to build a global reputation for Indian handloom, weaves, and weavers.
We were disappointed we had to leave Hyderabad only a few days after meeting Kummar as he invited us to a party he was hosting for Sankranti, Hyderabad’s Kite Festival. His kindness and hospitality meant so much to us. My classmates and I learned a great deal from Kummar that we have been eager to invite him back to campus ever since. Professor Green and Professor Kozen introduced Kummar’s work to the department and they decided to invite him as part of the distinguished Nixon guest lecturer series. Shravan Kummar will be sharing his knowledge and designs with Cornell students during a fashion show on May 1st from 5-6 PM in the Human Ecology Commons, with a pre-show reception at 4:30. He will also be available for a lunch with students on May 2nd. We hope you’ll join us for these special events!