There is a pressing need and rising popularity for sustainable practices in agricultural production. India has an edge over other competitors in the handloom sector thanks to its traditional methods of cotton cultivation and handloom weaving.
Cotton has been a popular fabric across India for ages. India is one of the leading producers of natural fibre that is versatile and skin-friendly. Indian weavers have been supplying cotton to the world market since at least the first century of the Common Era. Before the Industrial Revolution, India offered a variety of cotton fabrics, ranging from bafta, mulmul, mashru, jamdani, moree, and percale to nainsukh, chintz, Dhaka muslin, and so on. Before becoming a British colony, the yarn for handloom weaving was spun by hand. When spinning machinery was invented in Britain, it marked the beginning of the import of machine-spun cotton yarn and the decline of the handloom weaving sector in India.
While diversity in cotton had been in great demand earlier, with the advent of machines, uniformity began to be emphasised. The textile machinery needed longer and stronger staples, leading to declining demand for Indian varieties.
Native Indian varieties were no longer cultivated as much as they had been in the past. Even India began producing American varieties and other hybrid varieties of the plant. This led to cotton farming being transformed from sustainable, family-owned, small-scale agriculture to intensive commercial cotton production, causing further damage to the ecosystem. The hybrid varieties forced farmers to buy seeds from multinational companies. The foreign variants needed more irrigation, leading to an increase in humidity, which in turn caused an increase in pests. Chemical pesticides had to be used generously to tackle the pests. Such mass production of cotton ruined the livelihood of Indian cotton farmers.
With increasing awareness about sustainable methods of agriculture and production, things are looking up for native Indian varieties of cotton. This is good news for the small-scale farmer, who depends on cotton for a living. The Malkha process of spinning is the need of the hour. In addition to being a small-scale process that allows the yarn to retain its natural absorbency, bounce, and lustre, Malkha also opts for natural dyes, making it more sustainable.
Malkha refers to pure cotton cloth that is made by using the raw cotton available in the vicinity. The Malkha process represents a decentralised, sustainable, field-to-fabric cotton textile chain that is collectively owned and managed by the primary producers. The stakeholders in the Malkha process include farmers, ginners, spinners, dyers, and weavers. Small-scale spinning units operate near the cotton-growing regions, thus saving money and energy on transportation. The Malkha process is not only ecologically sound but does the least damage to the properties of cotton as well. All wasteful and unnecessary practices are eliminated during the evolution from plant to cloth. The Malkha process generates vast employment opportunities for both men and women as well.
Moreover, people prefer unique pieces of fabric to mass-produced, uniform cotton fabric. As the Malkha process produces small batches of hand-woven fabric, there will be greater demand for stylish cotton that leaves a low carbon footprint.
Designers and consumers across the world show a marked preference for India’s own cotton, giving a much-needed boost to the handloom sector. Cotton cultivation in India will soon find increased global appeal.