Designers like Wendell Rodricks, Divya Ahluwalia and Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama and even renowned UK label Mother of Pearl were one of the first to accept the versatility of Ahimsa silk and use it in their collections. Often referred to as Vegan silk, Ahimsa silk has also found its way into collections of M&S, Organic Avenue and US-based environmentally-conscious fashion designers like Deborah Lindquist and Linda Loudermilk amongst others.
Yet, this unique silk version has not got its true recognition. “The reception of Ahimsa silk is quite slow in comparison to other silks. The buyers are more inclined towards shiny silk fabric or low cost, semi-silk or synthetic options. But the good news is there are still buyers in the market who will go for less shiny, easy-to-drape and less lustrous silk, as they connect and are drawn to the philosophy. It could have been in better demand if the costing and overheads of the production and transportation were low,” mentioned Avni Aggarwal, Founder, Sundarii Handmade.
What’s in this silk?
What started way back in the 1990s as an experiment by the renowned scientist Kusuma Rajaiah has now become a cause that the fashion fraternity the world over accepts and embraces to save the silkworm species. A Technocraft in Handloom Technology having over 40 years of practical experience in this industry, Kusuma Rajaiah was approached by the wife of former President R. Venkatraman, who asked him if it was possible to make a silk saree without killing any silkworms. Hailing from a weaver’s family, the thought unsettled Kusuma and he started to experiment ways in which he could create silk without killing silkworms.
“Initially, I was successful in making a saree without causing any harm to the silkworms. However, I needed to see the merit of the manufacturing process, and thereby, continued my experiment. In the year 2000 after one year of rigorous research, I discovered that the process of manufacturing Ahimsa silk was commercially viable. This opened the path to bulk manufacturing of non-violent silk,” said Kusuma Rajaiah.
As Kusuma Rajaiah pointed out, the price of Ahimsa silk garments is double the price of other silk products. However, the fashion world is fast embracing non-violent silk and Kusuma further highlighted, “I have made awareness about Ahimsa for the world through fabric, and many people in the world are diverting into non-violence and vegetarianism to a great extent today. I have visited so many countries in Europe and the US and given speeches regarding the factor of non-violence in fashion, which has actually helped in increasing awareness in the developed countries. Incidentally, followed by the discovery in 2000, the conscious citizen population in these countries increased from 1 to 7 per cent by 2006. Moreover, a BBC survey has revealed that by 2050, the entire population of conscious world citizens will rise to 8 million per year.”
Why using it makes all the difference?
“Ahimsa silk is absolutely a designer’s favourite fabric; it falls great, has a subtle sheen, and most of all, it’s an all-weather fabric. This is going to stay, and looks like the demand will increase too, as customers are gradually getting attracted towards it. I don’t think it will replace the normal silk. But, yes it has great potential to stay side by side along with many other silk varieties,” Avni added.
Sundarii Handmade strives to create sustainable products while using the fabric in sync with nature. In market, most Ahimsa silk sarees you see are the plain hand-woven ones, but Avni and her team chalked out a plan to make it more interesting by creating vivid colours in natural dyes and using Ajrakh block printing techniques on the handwoven eri silk fabric.
When asked about the high cost, she mentioned that the prices are high because the production takes time; the yarn comes from Assam and Nagaland to Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Telangana and Odisha. The overall time taken to make this fabric adds to the cost.
What does the future look like?
The cost and the time-taking extraction process of the yarn make many retailers and designers uneasy with Ahimsa silk. A new brand on the block, r.loom by Zo has decided to follow through with Ahimsa silk. “There hasn’t been an overwhelming buzz around town towards this silk. One factor that hinders or slows down the acceptance towards the fibre would be limited awareness and predominantly due to the influx of mill-made acrylic yarns. Acrylic yarns woven by the unparalleled skills of our local weavers come almost indistinguishable to that of a mill-made product.”
“Hence, Puan woven with acrylic yarns has conditioned consumers into believing that even handwoven products have to be flawless and almost ‘ready-made’ like. The decision to take Ahimsa silk as the primary source for the collection was devoid of any market research. It was basically the drive to introduce sustainable yarns to weavers in Mizoram and Manipur regions that have pushed the brand to take a leap of faith. Throughout the design process, I also had to put my ‘critique hat’ on and perceive the products from the consumers’ point of view. But it was that moment when I first saw a finished product that doubts started looming over me because the surfaces were a little irregular, the selvedges were a little wobbly and so on. But as a textile designer, I was quickly drawn into the duality and complexity of the textile. I could never guess that a fabric that looks so raw and artisanal could be so soft and versatile. I believe these are the same reasons why some buyers have come to appreciate the textiles and significantly enthralled them to come back for the silk,” Zo added.
“The value of Ahimsa silk is best understood when felt by hand. As a fabric, it works well for products that are more laid back, but you can’t really confine it to only one genre of style. There are so many creatives and innovative individuals out there who can hone this raw material and give it a new face altogether,” Zo further mentioned.
Kusuma informed that Ahimsa silk fabric today has reached to the Pope, the Duchess of Cornwall, Megawati Sukarnoputri (the former President of Indonesia), Sri Ravi Shankar, H.H. Bhagawan Puttaparthi Saibaba, Suzi Amis (wife of James Cameron), Directors of Avatar, Courtney Cox (the famous Hollywood actress) and many other dignitaries in the world. This Indian origin fabric is now the talk of the town in the US, the UK, European Countries, Australia, Malaysia and many other countries across the globe.
With many awards and accolades to his credit and the patent for non-violent Mulberry Silk, Kusuma Rajaiah is enthusiastic about the Ahimsa silk market and is sure that there will be many converts in the times to come.