An Interview with Smita Paul of Indigo Handloom (Part One)

Tell us about yourself, some personal story and how you got involved in ethical and sustainable fashion.

Smita Paul of indigo Handloom

Smita Paul of indigo Handloom

Before Indigo Handloom, I was a journalist. I didn’t work in the fashion industry at all. I got an assignment to do a story about textiles in the silk weaving industry in India. Once I arrived there, I went to all these different places from the silk worm farms to the auction houses to the spinning-reeling factories to weaving-textile mills. I also went to a place where they made silk by hand.

I started asking questions about the people making the cloth. I discovered that the weavers were subsidized by the government and that this subsidy was soon going away. I wondered how they were going to feed their families and felt encouraged to help.

Inidigo Handloom Artisan

Inidigo Handloom Artisan

It was this social calling that led me to leave journalism. I thought I’d be more effective if I could help these weavers get work and live among their families rather than limit my contribution to a news story.

Although I didn’t start out with a goal to change the fashion industry, as I dug deeper I realized some changes needed to be put into place. Maybe, the old fashion way is a better way of doing things, which provides a better product that doesn’t exploit people. And that’s when I fell in love with handloom.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion to you?

The ethical and sustainable fashion movement is certainly important because the fashion world has so many unethical practices. For one, it is the second largest polluting industry after the oil industry.

People don’t really understand how it became this way. The whole industry has made a few people very rich and many others very poor because of the lack of transparency. When working with artisans, many large fashion houses won’t pay in advance – which is against fair trade policies. This creates a huge liability on small factories whose order could be cancelled over one phone call.

Since 2003 Indigo Handloom has worked with artisans in rural India to preserve traditional handloom and khadi techniques that maintain the livelihoods of many as well as bring a new appreciation for handmade textiles.

Since 2003 Indigo Handloom has worked with artisans in rural India to preserve traditional handloom and khadi techniques that maintain the livelihoods of many as well as bring a new appreciation for handmade textiles.

Bargaining and bidding wars are also prevalent allowing large companies to use their power to go country to country seeking the cheapest price. Completely unregulated, it is no longer ‘we’re in a business together’. There’s nobody watching this. Unless, of course, something like Rana Plaza happens.

Also, the fashion industry has access to thousands of chemicals and washes -some known carcinogens- and they are being sprayed onto our clothing. The chemical ridden water waste is then being dumped back into our riverways.

With very few watchdogs, there is simply no transparency. There are efforts. Some brands are making efforts to be transparent by checking out factories and compliances, and making sure the people that make their products are not in dangerous situations. As for an ultimate solution, I don’t know the precise answer, but I am glad that there are people taking up the cause to do things in a different way.

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