Your website quotes ancient texts. What were the modern interventions that you adopted?
Earlier investigators used chemical principles to make improvements to natural dyeing processes. Natural dyes are biochemical entities. Hence, I approached the problem from a biochemical perspective to understand the ancient methods and accordingly make improvements. I thus succeeded in speeding up the process and getting colours which are fast on the different substrates.
Tell us about the different fabrics, specially the fabrics from Nagaland. How did you come to work with them? How long does it take to create the green fabrics in Nagaland?
Naga weavers use the loin loom (back strap loom) to weave fabrics for their use and such a loom was commonly used by all tribes in Northeast India. While the tribes in the other states have, by and large, switched over to using flying shuttle frame looms, the Nagas, proud of their tradition, continue to use the loin loom. The production is slow; however, the designs obtainable on a loin loom cannot be normally woven on a shuttle loom.
I am now associated with Nila House (Lady Bamford Foundation), and with them continuing working with farmers and the loin loom weavers. I also enable the villagers to grow their indigenous perennial cotton trees, and to develop tools to convert it into yarn which they can then use to weave their loin-loom fabrics. This will take time since the cultivation of the plants has to be integrated with their traditional jhum practices, and appropriate small machines need to be developed to gin the seed cotton and convert it into rovings. The villagers also need to be trained in their use.
At present the Nagas use acrylic to weave their products. I am working with groups to reintroduce cotton spinning, dyeing and loin loom weaving. It will take a few years to have sufficient amounts of tree cotton and natural dye plants to ensure the production of a 100% green fabric. This project is now being implemented by the North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), a Tata Trusts supported nonprofit, and funded by Lady Bamford Foundation.
How much time does it take to dye, say 100 metres?
It depends on the gsm of the fabric and shade. We can dye approximately 300 – 500 kg a month.
Which are the companies, designers, brands who use your products/fabrics?
We are a low volume, high value business. Unlike other natural dyers who offer certain fixed colours, we can give a colour the designer desires. In this way the creativity of the designer is not constrained. We work with a few clients such as Industry of All Nations, USA; Seek Collective, USA; Bailey Renee, USA; Maiwa, Canada, Botanica Tinctoria, Canada; Oyyo, Sweden; Kardo, New Delhi, Nila House, Jaipur, Khatkata Weavers, Maheshwar; Kumbaya, MP; Amba, Mumbai. The Indian clients export finished goods to foreign buyers.
Why and how did you pick the site for your company? How many people work with you from the gathering of the herbs and branches to the processing to get the dyes and fabrics? Has working for your company changed their lives in any way?
We set up our dye-house in Sawantwadi because in an UNDP-funded project we had identified over 100 dye-yielding plants present in the area. We were then following the old paradigm that you needed different plants to obtain different colours. However, when we learned to blend natural dyes to obtain the desired shade we found we needed only a few plants for our palette of colours. These shrubs are grown by our workers on their property.
They collect the leaves, dry them and bring them over. Setting up an industry in a rural area is difficult. Power failures and internet shutdowns are very frequent. We need to go to the town to buy our inputs, collect and dispatch shipments. Absenteeism is common. All this adds to the expense of doing business. A steady job in the rural setting definitely has made a positive contribution to the lives of our workers. For example, the wives of our workers do not have to collect firewood; they can afford to cook on gas and the workers come to work on their own vehicles.