The evolution of the Indian handloom industry dates back to the Indus valley civilization which exemplifies the country's cultural diversity and highlights the craftsmanship of the nation's weavers. Weavers in India have initially had a strong bargaining position. Although in recent times, these handloom weavers grew economically backward as the industrial revolution eroded their bargaining power, and the notion of handlooms shifted from a cultural endeavor that provided high returns to a barely sustainable activity. Since independence, many government measures have attempted to revitalize the Indian handloom industry. Fashion Designer, Sujit Meher is one such person working diligently by taking the initiative of reblooming the Indian handloom industry.
Hailing from the weaver community of Dharamgarh in the Kalahandi district, Odisha, Sujit Meher gave handloom a new identity by branding it internationally. He has designed an intrinsic ethnic collection of sarees and dresses that narrate a story of the traditional fabric of Odisha. He grew up in a little village named Chichaiguda in Kalahandi, where the Habaspuri handloom first appeared, and he learned the trade while also witnessing its demise. These saris are now woven by a small number of households. He intends to make certain that the legacy continues and help through his endeavor to assist weavers in obtaining a better living for themselves.
Each design of his collection, “Story of Tradition” has narrated the story of Sambalpur fabrics, famous for its fine quality, tie and dye style, and motifs. These saris have ethnic motifs such as Kumbha, fish, turtle, flower, tribal wall art, and on the border of the saris, extra warp of temple motifs are positioned lengthwise, while the anchal has extra weft designs comprised of local motifs. While the introduction of power looms lessened the textile industry's reliance on handlooms, the latter remained important to India's rural people.
Sujit Meher preaches that unlike power looms, handlooms are ingrained in the social fabric of the country. He intends to generate thoughtful and sustainable production by working with natural raw materials and creating value for all hands and minds involved in the process. He keeps the framework of sustainability as the focal point when creating new designs and processes that support the same philosophy.
Talking about the association of the handloom industry with our country’s culture and tradition, Sujit Meher stated, “The Indian handloom business has a long history that dates back to ancient times. On the other hand, the sector faces numerous obstacles, including low productivity, globalization, insufficient working capital, rapid technological development, and so on. As a result, in the modern economy, the handloom sector will have to play to its various strengths. The handloom technique has a negligible influence on energy and the environment.
Because of the nature of the power loom industry, there is a lot of room for newcomers. It's also true that the artistic weaver's creativity, individuality, and craftsmanship will ensure the industry's survival and growth. My plan is to strike a balance between preserving the profession's cultural legacy and introducing current advanced technology weavers into the industry.”
Further discussing the reason behind his inclination towards the industry, he added, “I belong to the weaver community and have my blood and emotion connected to it. My passion for Indian handlooms is undeniable and by expressing its authentic Indian heritage, I pursue to bring out the beauty and elegance that it beholds. My label has always strived to combine rich traditional materials and patterns with contemporary cuts and forms, resulting in timeless and exquisite items. Furthermore, unlike many other industries, India's handloom business is innately environment-friendly and conscientious. It also offers craftspeople a long-term source of income in their communities. It is high time to bring traditional weaves back into the spotlight and give the handloom its due. I've had the privilege of working with skilled artisans belonging to remote regions of Odisha which has aided in the livelihood of many artisans and also led to the revival of the country’s wonderful creative forms.”
He has begun skill-upgrading training so that weavers can learn new weaving techniques and adapt them to worldwide trends. Sujit aspires to take the Habaspuri handloom on a different path and desires to stage a fashion show including new Habaspuri collections in order to reach a global audience. The journey that he began nine years ago is now reaching new milestones making him endure new challenges. Sujit Meher proudly coins himself as an Odia designer and is giving a new identity to Odisha handloom globally.