In a court of law, the dress code is sacrosanct. “Lady advocates”, as the Bar Council of India specifies, have a strict set of sartorial rules to follow, the patriarchal, colonial and archaic nature of which is still up for some debate.
Black, white and grey are the only colours permitted and stripes are the only pattern that is allowed. So how do you find joy and creative expression within these achromatic limitations? How do you make a uniform look like it’s not a uniform?
Rising to this precise challenge is an entirely unique collection of handloom saris for lawyers and anyone else who might appreciate their starkly minimalist aesthetic. Easy, light and breathable, there are 11 designs in luxurious hand woven cotton for those women on the move who are quietly and casually challenging and changing the world.
‘Vidhi’ by Save The Loom pays tribute to the formidable women from Kerala who form some of the country’s legal luminaries, including Justice Anna Chandy (India’s first female judge), Justice Fathima Beevi (India’s first female Supreme Court judge) and Justice KK Usha (the Kerala High Court’s first female malayali Chief Justice).
Textiles with stories
About 96 per cent of the weavers in the weaving town of Chendamangalam are women. Shyla NS, a 50-year-old weaver, says: “I learnt the craft from a master weaver near our house when I was young, but after marriage, I stopped weaving for nearly 12 years. Weaving in black and with the change in design is a little complicated, but I enjoyed the process. Knowing that this range is also a tribute to women lawyers filled my heart with pride.”
Pooja Menon, a 25-year-old advocate, adds, “These colours (or the lack thereof) mean something. The black is a submission to justice and the white speaks to purity and integrity. My profession calls for these qualities and our dresscode is symbolic. What Save The Loom offers is not just appropriate but also inspiring because these textiles come with stories – stories of a flood, of the effort to save the art of handloom weaving; stories of weavers finding their voices. It’s all quite poetic, really.”
Hanging by a thread
The Vidhi collection is particularly personal to Ramesh Menon, the founder of Save The Loom, because the late Justice Usha was also a patron and guiding force behind his craft-revival organisation. A journalist, fashion consultant and industry mentor, Menon travelled to his home state of Kerala in August 2018 after devastating floods took the lives of hundreds of people and left hundreds of thousands more people homeless.
He had gone to document the effects of the floods and is still there three years, another flood and two waves of a ruthless pandemic later, now preparing for a possible third wave and juggling dreams with the harshest of realities. The onslaught has been interminable, but Menon and his small team of Alpi Boylla (formerly of the Fashion Design Council of India) and photographer Dinesh Madhavan are untiring.
“After two decades at the front end of the business of fashion and having a bird’s-eye view of the grassroots, all my perceptions changed the day we walked into the weaving villages. I feel I was led by the hand of god to end up in Chendamangalam on the morning of 24 August, 2018,” Menon smiles.
The fear that India would lose these precious weavers if action wasn’t swift and efficient made Menon launch Save The Loom in early September, and within 100 days (with no financial aid from the government), they had managed to restore all the damaged looms, even adding 44 more when weavers who had abandoned the craft returned.
Menon strongly believes that craft is the future, and that the integration of the craft sector with digital and sustainable technology is paramount.
“We need to bring aspiration and spaces that create value and offer modern living standards to attract the next generation to weaving or craft. We need to find people to bet on businesses that are human-made, with minimal machinery and carbon footprint, yet showing them the huge potential and scale of business that is possible in craft,” he says.
From HT Brunch, July 25, 2021
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch