Some of India’s contributions to the fashion scenes remain evergreen, like the ever evolving Madras checks. Our country’s fashion trends take root in its history, culture and traditions. Where lehenga choli resonate with crop tops and skirts, I am sure anarkalis and gowns must have met somewhere in the pages of the bygone era. While such contributions prepare our fashion designers for the global platform, they also pave the way for the revival of fabric, designs and styles that have lost to the dominance of what’s ‘in’. Kara Weaves, an organisation based in Ernakulam, Kerala, has made the iconic and humble “Thorthu” (which means towel in Malayalam) design international for this very reason.
Started in 2007, this social venture is reimagining the “Thorthu” in stylish multi-purpose garments.
Kara’s journey began after Indu Menon, a researcher in IIM-Ahmedabad, retired from her job and returned to her home state, Kerala. During her time at IIM-A, she had co-authored a book called “Women Weavers” for which she had spoken to the local weavers in Ernakulam.
“Once I retired and came to settle in Kerala I revisited the weaving unit whose women I had interviewed and I discovered that they had dwindled to a very bad condition. This led me to think on the lines as to how I can do something to revive this unit which made the wonderful traditional towel called thorthu,” Indu shares with The Better India.
With the financial condition of the weavers of this traditional cloth and design worsening day by day, Indu realised that persuading people to buy more towels would be a futile effort. So, she approached her daughter Chitra Gopalakrishnan to come up with more stylish designs.
Chitra, a graphic designer, decided to take up the aesthetics department of Kara Weaves, and started devising ways to revamp the Thortu and bring it back into demand. Indu, on the other hand, was working relentlessly to bring together weaving co-operatives.
Incidentally, Kara is the border that the Thortu towel is famous for and the name of the brand suggests how the towel is an integral part of their collective.
Explains Indu, “Thorthu is a very durable, versatile and integral part of every Malayalee household. When we looked at its multiple uses in our day to day lives, we felt that it can be reimagined into contemporary products. We took this simple timeless fabric to the global customers as small cocktail napkins to large beach towels and various other value additions such as aprons, bathrobes, resort wear, beach cover-ups, scarves and baby blankets. This is a first-of-its-kind attempt in Kerala to convert conventional bath towel fabric into contemporary products.”
The dream team today has helped over 80 tailors, 400 trim manufacturers and 500 weavers get back on their feet and earn a decent and consistent livelihood.
“A Thorthu weaver has always been at the bottom of the weaving hierarchy in terms of skill and utility thus our endeavour helped them earn a premium price by the high-end products that they made for us,” she adds. Their inspiration might be indigenous but Kara Weaves is anything but limited to Kerala. They have made a mark across India, the USA and Europe.
In fact, the Thortu also made an appearance on the Berlin Fashion Week ramp in 2016! The minimalist design is back in vogue and Kara is ensuring they are there to cater to that demand.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)