Sustainability is not just a buzzword

Sustainability is not just a buzzword

It's a cold foggy winter morning at Karomi in Kolkata. There’s a usual hustle and bustle as artisans filter in, wrapped up in their colorful kanthas, hand-sewn by patching together, old sarees and hand-me-down clothes. Our pattern master (fondly referred to as Masterji) wearing his eighteen-year-old sweater lovingly knitted by his wife, recounts his rather amusing journey in a ferryboat through the river Ganges. Akhil da (our sample weaver) clad in his distinctive handwoven scarf, joins in with hysterical anecdotes from his train ride to work. A group of embroidery didis (women) set themselves up in a corner, laying down a mat that they knotted from strips of scrap fabric… their own little DIY project.

After much anticipation walks in the “chaiwala” (tea person) carrying his typical 'jhola' (a much-abused muslin bag that has definitely seen better days) and pours out his sweetest, milkiest chai in 'bhars' (earthen pots) ….and everybody breathes a sigh of relief.

Intertwined seamlessly with the culture of Bengal, this is how a typical morning at Karomi begins…with hot tea, some fun tales and a lot of naturally organic practices.

Exploited more as a buzzword, the term 'sustainability' is loosely used in the fashion industry today, with even the fast fashion giants claiming to be sustainable. To lay waste their marketing gimmicks, mindful effort is required to understand and associate with genuinely sustainable brands that live and breathe "slow fashion".

At Karomi, we know no other way of making our pieces but ethically and sustainably. Intrinsically sustainable, Karomi works with and innovates in traditional crafts celebrating handmade and local skills to produce a wide range of fabrics, mostly wearable textiles. Naturally organic, we embrace the imperfections quintessential to handmade and natural materials. We rejoice in the telling of tales that bring character to each yarn, each metre of fabric and each product that is offered to you.

Wherever possible, we work with locally available materials consciously reducing our carbon footprint. Our yarns are hand-dyed in the village under the shade of a carefully constructed shed where the dyer works meticulously with his team. The watchful eyes of a grandfather-like mango tree bear witness to his hard work as he brings to life our beautiful shades of natural blues, blacks, reds, yellows and greens. Naturally dyed, no two shades are quite the same…and yet, no effort is spared to get the depth and intensity right.

Our team of designers works in close conjunction with skilled Jamdani weavers and natural fibres such as hand-spun cottons, soft linens and lustrous silks get handwoven into beautiful fabrics… each design more striking than the next. Not just design, fabrics are infused with the joyous rhythm of the pit loom, the skilful coordination of hands and feet, the melodious movement of the shuttle the warp interlaces unceasingly with the weft.

From dyeing to reeling to weaving, all our processes are hand done. The only energy used to weave a metre of fabric is human energy; the only electrical energy used is that of a bulb hanging over the loom.

Apart from weaving, we also work with hand block printing and kantha embroidery. Our block printing workshop is located close to our studio; an airy apartment where our printer, Ganesh, dexterously matches hand carved blocks to handwoven fabrics all the while listening to music blaring from radio FM. Our kantha embroidery is an organic evolution of a need to upcycle our cast-off prints. Today, providing employment opportunities to many, we work with over 8 kantha clusters spread across the length and breadth of Bengal.

Preservation and progression of traditional crafts is a priority at Karomi. Jamdani and Kantha are both native to Bengal and hold together the history of Bengali craft. The fact that Jamdani weave was once patronised by royalty, gives the craft that much more character. The intricate play of colourful textures in Karomi Kanthas, the characteristic contemporary Karomi Jamdanis and the artistic Karomi block prints preserve and promote the pride of Bengal's 'haath shilpo' (handicrafts).

Behind each piece, there’s a depth of emotions, there is history and heritage as also newness and innovation. To think of the hundreds of people, different clusters scattered over multiple villages involved in the making of a single product… how special is that? …From fibre to fabric, everything is human effort…how special is that??? Unless one understands the dedication and intensity that goes into the making of each Karomi product, it’s difficult to understand how honest our fashion is.

Karomi is economically sustainable, culturally sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

At the end of a typical day at Karomi, didis wrap up their mat, masterji leaves to catch the last ferry and Akhil his train. The chaiwala re-enters with his jhola and earthen 'bhars'. Tea tastes sweeter and milkier after a whole day of hard work.

Everybody heads back home satisfied to have played their parts in producing work that is both beautiful and consciously natural… imbued with skill and labour, sweat and scruples. There's peace in knowing that we are fulfilling our responsibilities... not just to ourselves, but towards our people, our culture and our planet.