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E030 Fabrics of Culture with Aditi Jain – Part 2

In this episode, we speak to Textile Designer Aditi Jain.

Listen here:

Aditi shares about her experience of working with textile producer groups remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic and marvels at the resilience of Indian craft.

She shares her thoughts on the merits of unconventional fibers and manmade textiles, and also the issue of over-consumption.

We talk about some applications of technology in textiles and Aditi tells us what excites her the most about textile design.

She gives us a 101 on collaborating with skilled craftspeople and the need for rapport.

We conclude this episode with Aditi’s list of inspiring textile artists and designers.

References:

Sushi mentions Everlane, an American brand that sells ethically made clothes which apparently don’t go out of style. https://www.everlane.com

Watch this space for a list of Indian textile brands with interesting takes on the same philosophy.

Aditi currently works at Gandhigram.

Aditi mentions these fascinating “tech”tile projects

Google Jacqard https://atap.google.com/jacquard/

https://www.fastcompany.com/1661890/biocouture-high-fashion-grown-from-microbes

Aditi’s list of inspiring textile artists and designers:

Studio Medium does resist dyeing inspired by Shibori

Kambli uses textile scraps to create really well-finished products

Button Masala makes entire garments using button joinery.

Susie Taylor’s Instagram page Weaving Origami

Warp and Weft Magazine

Inspiring organizations:

Khamir, Kala Raksha and Handloom School.

Transcript

Angie: Hi this is Design Lota

Sushi: The podcast about life as Indian Designers

Angie: I’m Angie

Sushi: And I’m Sushi

Angie: We’re back with part 2 of our conversation with textile designer Aditi Jain. In part 1 we spoke about colonisation of textiles and crafts, fast fashion and the maintenance ecosystem needed to give the power back to indigenous textiles.

Sushi: In part 2, we talk a little more about the decisions made on either side of this equation – makers and consumers.

Angie: I think transparency definitely helps – like when the consumer can know more about how and where the product was made – for example fair trade certification, seeing the factory…all this along with clear maintenance instructions 

Sushi: We are also seeing brands that appeal to the aspirational minimalist or specific lifestyle choices.

The philosophy behind Everlane’s uniform clothing line can be seen in a lot of Indian brands – but tailored to Indian tastes, colours and fits.

Angie: It’s been interesting to see how this minimal style plays together with our indian crafts and results in something that isn’t trying so hard to be boring. 

Sushi: On that note, Let’s pass the mic to Aditi, because she has a lot to say about the evolution and resilience of Indian Crafts. 

————– Interview ————–

Sushi: How has the lockdown been? Do you want to share how you have been working remotely with the artisans?

Aditi: I was actually really worried – given how verbal knowledge is how they work – how we would manage with this whole lockdown and work from home, because its really difficult to do this over video. But anyway, we had to, and I’m really surprised that all of them have been more than accommodating. I have been making spec sheets and design artworks on Adobe Illustrator so the office has been in the middle coordinating it. They have any doubts, they call me and we’re discussing it. But they’ve all accepted this new format as well. So I guess when people say that our craftsmen and crafts are resilient, this has been my first hand experience of it, that they don’t back down. Now that they know they have to make do with this situation, they are more than happy to accommodate whatever comes their way.

Sushi: Also one of the things I’ve noticed coming out of this situation is that Ive seen a lot of artisanal clusters and small businesses also making Covid 19 Protective masks using traditional fabrics, and I think some of them are beautiful.  It seems like a good way to – if your income has been affected by the pandemic – figure this out as an alternate income stream where you’re not waiting around for people to buy your traditional products but instead you’re using this as an opportunity to innovate and say I’m here with these solutions for this problem. 

Aditi: Yeah!

Sushi: So I think that’s a really great development. 

Aditi: Also, crafts have evolved over the last few centuries. Its never been static. So this pandemic is a reality that we’re all living in. So a craftsman’s response to it, is to make products that are suitable to this pandemic, right? So going back to the whole resilience of craft – they’re able to adapt their products to suit what is needed now. Even if people are buying the masks to support, it is also something they can use. For them, its two things in one. So I do think its really great that some of them have really managed to catch on to this. It also shows entrepreneurial skills. 

Sushi: It does, yeah. 

Aditi: Of course as long as they maintain the parameters that a mask is supposed to have, its great. 

Sushi: Being a technical product in a way, it also has to meet certain norms, right? Like how many layers, and the thread count. Those are important. 

Aditi: Correct.

Sushi: We also have seen a lot of innovative textiles being used in these masks – things like bamboo fiber which is said to be antimicrobial, and you also have things like pineapple silk. Even for your regular fabrics, the past 5 years have seen a lot of unconventional fibers such as pineapple leather, tencel and even things like recycled nylon. Do you think these materials have the potential to be “materials of the future” and what is your take on these manmade textiles? 

Aditi: I believe each material has its own place. While I personally prefer natural fibers, we need different materials for different purposes. I’ve been a vegan for the past couple of years. So I’m always excited for new materials that could serves as an alternative to silk, which are also nature friendly. There is definitely immense potential for these to become the future, but my skepticism starts where we come to the issue of over consumption and unethical practices. 

For example, BT (genetically engineered) Cotton, in an attempt to address the demand for cotton has really done more harm that n good. So I’m often wondering if BT Cotton is really vegan-friendly. Can I actually wear something made of BT Cotton and say that I’m being conscious, given that we’re using pesticides and chemicals, and even farmers lives have come into question because of it. Likewise, I feel that any material new or old does have the potential to become exploitive, which is  where problem is. So when we talk about the future of textile, immediately it only means is it scalable? And when we talk about scalability, then it is consumption and over consumption. 

Sushi: What I’m gathering from what you’re saying is that maybe the parameters by which we judge a textile, about whether its going to be a futuristic material of not, should not be focused only on scalability and mass production, because that in turn leads to consumerism and unsustainable practices. 

Aditi: You’ve ironed out my thoughts for me!

Sushi: You know, even speaking of ironing, I just had a thought on our iron boxes which maybe the actual technology behind has evolved over the many years but if you look at the labels on it they’re still the same old that were there, maybe 50 years ago – silk, cotton, wool, linen – but when we’re talking about these so-called smart textiles and textiles of the future, I think that sometimes it’s irrelevant because most of clothes today are not pure cotton or pure linen anymore. they’re blends. 

So, in terms of also preserving the longevity of your fabrics, it’s important to know at what temperature to wash your fabrics, at what temperature to iron them…what do you think of creating a different system for labelling clothing on how to increase the lifespan of clothing. Are there are some initiatives like that.  Do you think we need some initiatives like that? 

Aditi: The thing is, each material requires different kind of handling. One of the things we can do (as textile designers), is try not to mix too many different materials together so that its easy to maintain. If you have, say an outfit that has cotton panel and a silk panel, then by default you will have to dry-clean it because of the silk. So if its just cotton, it makes it easier to maintain – yo can just do a wash at home. Even silk can be washed at home, but I guess we’re all really paranoid. 

It is a challenge. So thats why its very important for brands to give the proper wash care labels. There are the standard icons for understanding how to take care of the fabrics, but beyond that, you’ll need a glossary to understand it (laughs), because many times its really complex. So I’m not really too sure of how that issue can be addressed.   

Sushi: maybe its an interesting design problem for our listeners. 

Aditi: Yeah, actually. 

Sushi: Pretty recently I bought this kurta which said it was made from “100% manmade fiber”. I first ironed it at the silk temperature and it was not getting ironed. So then I ironed it at the cotton temperature and the fibers dissolved!

Aditi: What?!

Sushi: Yeah. I had only worn this once!

Aditi: That I did not expect! I guess it depends on what man made fiber. It’s strange to just say “manmade fiber”. Why wouldn’t they say what fiber?

Sushi: Exactly. Which is why I thought of this question, and brought it up in whatever crude way. But I think its definitely a design problem, whether the solution is in terms of educating the customer, or just having a better labelling system. 

Aditi: Or just making clothes simple, you know! Why complicate the washing and ironing of a garment so much? Even to reduce the number of clothes that go into the washing machine, I often just air them out and wear them again on alternate days. 

Sushi: Even washing something too many times reduces the lifespan. I also read that washing on a lower temperature also helps in most cases. 

Aditi: That is, you don’t need to heat up water while washing clothes. 

Sushi: So altogether its a win-win for sustainability. 

We just talked about how the technology can improve a lot but not actually become more sustainable or have a positive impact unless you rethink the parameters. Do you have any thoughts on how textiles can get “smarter”, what that would mean and if textiles can solve problems which are related to technology. 

Aditi: I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Google Jacquard project. What they did was, they wove conductive yarn into fabric. And they have this tag that they attach to that material so you can do gesture functions over the tag and it controls the garment in certain ways. 

Sushi: Wow

Aditi: Or you can use the garment to give instructions to your phone. So if you double tap on your sleeve, it takes a picture on your phone. I guess its still in a very nascent stage, but it does have a lot of potential to become quite fantastic. Ive even read somewhere – I’m not exactly sure what the material is – its sort of biomimicry where according to the temperature, the material opens and closes. And its not a mechanical thing. In the google example they had used conductive wires, but this is not that. This is some bacteria that they’ve used, something complex. 

There’s also something called bio-couture. They make textiles out of algae and fungus. So you can even grow the textile into the pattern that you want. If you have a stencil of arts, you can grow it in that form. Basically, saving on cutting waste.   

Sushi: I guess that would kind of cost a lot, having a little algae factory of algae workers so to speak, that’s producing something for you. 

Aditi: (laughs)

Sushi: When we think of that in terms of scalability, or why on earth would I want to wear a garment made of algae, maybe it doesn’t make sense, but I think the use cases sort of arise out of the problems we might face. It’s interesting how these experiments lead to some of the most innovative products, especially in a time when the lines are sort of blurred between technology and living.

Aditi: Absolutely. 

Sushi: It’s also a little scary, I’ve got to admit. 

Aditi: yeah it is, especially with privacy concerns now. Imagine if you’re actually wearing something that’s tracking you at all times. 

Sushi: Your algae knows what you were doing last night (laughs)! 

Aditi: (laughs) which could be pretty boring to the algae, honestly.

Sushi: So what is it about textiles that excites you the most?

Aditi: The technicalities of it. The whole concept of weaving itself just amazes me, because its so mathematical. I’m often wondering how somebody thought os this. Who is the first person whoever though okay, lets stretch yarn like this and make this? Of course there must have been an evolution to it. It didn’t just come about, but its just really fantastic that within a simple thing like weaving which is just an up-and-down motion, there are so many permutations and combinations that one can experiment with to create different weaves and textures and what not. So thats really crazy, I think. Also when you look at Ikat, there is Ikat in different parts of the world and in different forms, and each is more intricate than the other. Its complex! How does one tie and dye yarn and place it accurately enough to get a final image on a sari?

Sushi: I’ve always wondered how on earth does have the skill to calculate that and make it. Its crazy!

Aditi: Right? And even when you look at embroidery, its a mark making technique. but in different parts, there are different styles. And there are so many versions to these styles. All of these versions of a single technique are because of the different stories and contexts they.have come out of, which is really intriguing. So to me, inspiration is more about the people and the stories that they come with and how we can work with that to make it worthwhile. For example, even in Kutch, there are 4-5 different styles. Some are freehand, some are counted. So the idea is to work with those instead of trying to force-fit something there. As designers we tend to do that. We have a certain idea and we want that to be replicated but it needs to be more collaborative where we’re able to just work with what they give us. That process is really  exciting to me, because you don’t really know what you’re going to end up with, but that journey and process is really fun.

We’re actually doing some work with a Lambadi embroidery group in Tamil Nadu. So I’ve been connected to them over this lockdown. We’ve started with some sampling, and our whole conversation has been over WhatsApp. I sent them some fabric and a basic artwork and said this is kind of what I’m looking for, but if you guys feel its not going to work, or if you have any other ideas, you are free to experiment. So the guy has been sending pictures back and forth, and he’s also been doing some sketching, and showing me the yarn. So I can confidently say that the designs have evolved as a collaborative effort and its not just me dumping my ideas on them. I’m really hoping that they have enjoyed it as much as I have. These are the things that really excite me while working. 

Sushi: That’s really interesting, because I was about to ask you how designers – whether textile designers, product designers, or even UX designers – can work more effectively with traditional crafts people while respecting the tremendous experience that they bring, while being confident enough to say this something that I think you should try

Aditi: I’m still quite new to this, honestly. From my experience, each cluster, each group of people is different. You need to be open to a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of surprises. The important thing, I think, is to understand what their goals are, what they want at the end of this, and what their motivation is. Because then, you know what language to speak to them in also. I guess building a rapport is key. I don’t think that without building a relationship, any work can get done. Once there is a relationship and a rapport, even they will enjoy working with you and that just grows and expands into something bigger. 

Sushi: Thank you for that very insightful answer! Who are some of the inspiring textile designers or organizations to follow in 2020. I think we have a lot of time on our hands now (laughs) to be following these people and learning something worthwhile!

Aditi: I don’t know about 2020 in particular, but there are a lot of wonderful artists and designers – I’m just going to stick to the textile related ones. My friend Riddhi runs a brand called Studio Medium. She does really fantastic resist dying work inspired by Shibori. Even with weaving she’s taken really taken Jamdani on a different tangent. She’s also using the remnant colored yarn from the bandhini dyeing to make something new. Theres a Chennai based brand called Kambli run by Kamala. She uses textile scraps to create really well-finished products. In fact I’ve been working with her to epicycle some saris for Sarangi. There’s Anuj Sharma who runs Button Masala where he makes garments just by joining buttons. then there are organizations like Khamir, Kala Raksha and Handloom School. They’re all working directly with communities in craft education, They’re teaching youngsters weaving, design, so they can become independent, and they don’t necessarily have to be from a textile family or background. And Shrujan does fantastic embroidery. 

Outside of India, there is Susie Taylor who runs Weaving Origami and she makes these woven pieces with 3d elements to it inspired by origami – its insane, you need to see it to really be blown away. There is also this Instagram page called Warp and Weft magazine, where they’ve put some of these textile books up for free during this lockdown. Of course, I went all out and downloaded all of them. They’re all these old textile reference books or technical books. I don’t understand them, but its nice to have them. Perhaps someday when I’m able to decode them all make sense. So yeah, lots of interesting things are going on!

Sushi: Innovation can be found in the most unexpected places! I think the traditional textile industry in India really exemplifies that concept. 

Aditi: Yes, absolutely!

Sushi: It’s been really great talking to you and really understanding textiles – on the surface – and getting a better understanding of how it is to work with craftspeople when it comes to creating something innovative together. Where can our listeners find more of your work and get in touch with you?

Aditi: I have a website/blog thing. I really wish I was a little more regular with posting on it. So the website is aditijain.com – simple – and of course there’s instagram – @a.dit.i

Sushi: We will put that up as a link.

Aditi: Cool! Thank you so much for this. Its been a lot of fun. I must tell you that the questions also are so well researched, so its made it all the more interesting for me too. 

Sushi: This has been really useful and I think I can now engage in these discussions in a more educated way in the future. I’ll say “you better agree with me, because that’s what Aditi said! Listen to this episode to find out!” (laughs)

—————

Angie: Wow!  To learn about the technological innovation in textile design and manufacturing has been so fascinating to me, especially from Aditi who’s on the frontlines. 

Sushi: We’ve certainly come a long way, even in the past decade. I remember there were few attempts back in college, where people were putting circuit boards in tshirts to display custom messages.

Angie: That’s so cool. It’s thinking about clothing in a new way – like I remember seeing these expandable kids clothes that grow with the child and last upto 4 years.

Sushi: The design philosophy of fast fashion doesn’t even allow for longevity of fabrics, which makes the system broken. Which is why I feel that innovative textile design needs to be complemented with circular system designs. 

Angie: There are some great resources that can help designers learn about fast fashion, and also why and how sustainability of textiles matters. We will be listing a few in our blog post for this episode on our blog designlota.com, along with the transcript.

Sushi: Hey listeners, what does innovation in textiles mean to you? Are there any specific examples that you loved? Spread the word by tweeting to us, or send us a dm.

Angie: We’re on Instagram, facebook and also Linkedin – so talk to us, we’re listening too!

Sushi: Stay tuned for more conversations on life in design and design in life.

Angie: Until then, bye 

Sushi: Bye

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