Sunday, December 26, 2010

These are some of the beautiful household products designed by Delhi Crafts Council in malkha. The work is done in traditional styles of kantha stitching and applique, by disadvantaged groups or traditional artisans guided and organized by NGOs.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

This is the invitation for 'Malkha & Crafts' show to be held in Pune from January 13-16 2011. This time the Malkha Marketing Trust is the organizer of the exhibition, rather than participating in one organized by others. Most of the time we have a stall in the Nature Bazaars organized by Dastkar, and in June this year we took part in Sampoorn's Bangalore show, so the Pune show will be a first for us.

As the invitation says, there will be 5 crafts groups besides Malkha, and on the net you can find more information about Neev soaps, Jugaad by Karm Marg, and Weavers Wheel. Parampara Jana Seva Sangh combine jute and leather, or cotton and leather to make bags that last and last, and use traditional techniques in cheaper metals to make affordable jewellery. Radha Chitrakar and her family from Bengal carry on the tradition of painting scrolls [patts]of Ramayana & Mahabharata stories as well as reciting the stories; We hope they'll get an enthusiastic hearing in Pune.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association's annual Hyderabad exhibition packed up yesterday. As usual it was full of wonderful fabrics from the Andhra co-operatives. In the picture are some favourites, two natural dyed sarees from Srikakulam woven with extraordinary and specialized weaving skills: The red saree has hand-set jamdani buttas and the indigo saree has a temple border with moga silk extra weft. In the jamdani technique the weaver weaves in by hand each motif line by line after each weft thread is beaten into place. For the temple border on the indigo saree a weaver [sometimes with a helper] uses 3 shuttles, the ones at each end carrying the weft of the borders. At each weft line the end shuttles have to be looped around the middle shuttle. Both these techniques need hand-sleying without the fly shuttle, so of course are much much slower to weave.

Awe-inspiring and humbling that such artistry is available to be worn today.

In the background a couple of dupattas from Chinnur which fly off the shelves because of their soft texture. Dastkar has re-inducted a new generation of weavers in the villages around Chinnur and the fabrics are among DAMA's hottest sellers.

DAMA's supplier co-operatives lost around 20 lakh rupees worth of production during the heavy rains this year, in spite of which DAMA's annual sale this year will be over 3 crores. DAMA has been self-sufficient for some time now, and is a model of a marketing enterprise serving rural production, supplying the vast Indian middle market at low cost with beautiful, good quality & reasonably priced fabrics.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We now get several inquiries from customers who have bought malkha at the various exhibitions, have enjoyed wearing it, and want to have access to regular outlets; particularly in Bangalore and Delhi, where we have now held several exhibitions and have built a loyal and devoted customer base. Our problem is that there is not enough production yet to justify the costs of opening a retail store in any of the metros - other than Hyderabad, of course, where our stock-room will double as retail outlet.

The solution is probably to have more 'home-sellers' like Sowmya Karthik in Chennai, who buys about 50 metres at a time and retails from her home. It would cut down our marketing costs substantially if we could sell in this way, making malkha regularly available to end-users, while we would continue selling larger quantities to retailers through e-mail orders.

So if any of the readers of this blog know people who would like to take this on, do let us know through e-mail []

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Looking in the archive I find we've been talking 'malkha film' since October 09, 13 months. Thanks to a long delay in release of the budget, filming began a year later with the shooting of the Melange event in Mumbai in October this year, followed by the Nature Bazar and interviews in Delhi later that month. This week the scene moved to Chirala.

As you can imagine, the appearance of a large film crew - 5 people in the lighting team accompanied by the huge generator van, 3 camera crew and 4 in the production team with a sound recordist and all their equipment generated much curiosity and excitement in Mohan Rao colony.

Top left [1]Sara sets up his camera with Ipshita and Mr Khan from her team looking on, next, [2]Ipshita arranges hanks of malkha yarn in Vani's back yard while Sara chats to Ipshita's assistant Nikhil and others and below [3]Vani keeps her cool winding malkha yarn while being filmed from a low angle.
(sorry blogger has jumbled the photos, number [2] is at the top)
Later that day the crew moved into the pre-spinning & spinning unit with all their lights and stuff, and Sara's magic camera work makes even that prosaic workspace beautiful.

From here the crew moves to Punukula where they will shoot the hand spinners, the Punukula production unit with the later edition of machines and the nearby cotton fields, the last bit of shooting before Ipshita gets to work on the editing, hoping to wind up in a couple of months.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hiroko Iwatate's beautiful book on Indian textiles is titled 'Textiles, the soul of India'.. this seems to me to be an adequate response to the question I'm constantly asked: "How did you come to be involved in handlooms?" [I was asked again a few days ago]. People seem to have forgotten, or perhaps the younger generation never knew, that cotton textile making was by far the largest industry in India from about 3000 BCE, and continues today in the 21st century to be the largest in terms of employment after agriculture. I've said it in earlier posts but it bears repeating that while cotton textiles were a luxury in other regions of the world, in India they were worn by both rich and poor. They were affordable because cotton cloth production was so closely meshed with society. Cotton cloth making embodied the particular genius of the Indian civilization: the professional co-operation between very different social groups who did not otherwise socialize. Much of the silver that came into India during its millennia of export surplus was payment for the cotton cloth that India supplied the world -silver that seems to have left India during the colonial period at the rate of almost a shipfull a day for perhaps over 100 years... can an economic historian please enlighten us on this point?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What is keeping us fully occupied these days is the preparation for the new cluster we're planning to set up. Upto now, we've set up one production unit at a time, consisting of one set of pre-spinning machinery with either a 280 spindle ring-frame to do the spinning, or [in one place only out of the 4 in Andhra], motorized domestic 12 spindle charkhas. In the planned cluster we hope to have 4 units with a common facilities centre in which we hope to eventually do our own ginning, dyeing and finishing. Finishing is a critical post-loom process that we don't do yet and consists of washing with soap and an organic softener. Sanjay Gulati of Modelama has been kindly finishing malkha for Tarun Tahiliani's orders.

It should take us about a year to set up the first unit, with each of the next ones coming up at intervals of a few months.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dastkar's biggest annual event, the Delhi Nature Bazar ends today and not only has the malkha stall has done very well, achieving substantially more than its target sale, but Malkha household made-ups at the stall next door seem to have done well too, and I hope to post some photographs soon of the beautiful things Delhi Crafts Council has made from malkha. We hope they will continue to retail the products from their shop Kamala, and design more stuff too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Now that malkha has created a name and a demand for itself in the market, we in the Decentralized Cotton Yarn Trust and the Malkha Marketing Trust with our technical collaborators Fractal Foundation have to put all our energies into streamlining production. This is not easy, as some of the earlier blogs have discussed, because the pre-spinning activity is entirely new to villages... or can be considered new since it has not been done at this level [and certainly not in this way] for at least half a century except in the extraordinary villages of Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh, where they still use traditional technology. Certainly the Gramaspinner pre-spinning machinery with its micro-processor controls is new to rural settings.

The entire production process has to work smoothly, employing people who have never before worked in such an enterprise that combines a traditional artisan activity such as hand-weaving with the running of state-of-the-art pre-spinning machinery, and which includes either mechanized spinning or domestic motorized yarn spinning. Each stage has a different speed and rate of production, and of course each stage is dependent on the one before, so all the producers must collaborate and co-operate for the whole operation to work.

Though that is a huge problem an even bigger drawback is the lack of electricity, with swingeing power cuts reducing working times: this is the biggest drawback to productivity that we face today. In the long term we hope with the help of Fractal to address this problem by trying out alternative energy sources, but in the short term this is a serious handicap. However, we cannot wait for solutions to the power problem before we go ahead with setting up more malkha centres. We hope that while we go ahead and commission more malkha production that the various experiments currently going on - in the country and throughout the world - in generating energy through sun, wind or bio-mass will come up with a viable solution for small-scale, dispersed, low-energy, village based production.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The malkha stall at the Nature Bazar has done well, reaching its target sales figure in four and a half of the 10 days of the Bazar. For the first time there is a malkha garment, a plain, well tailored unisex tunic at a reasonable price in 4 sizes. Prints and natural dyed fabrics have been selling particularly well. Much of the sale, as is usual in Delhi but not in Bangalore, has been of large quantities to retailers. In Bangalore on the other hand 90% of our sales are direct to customers.

We have also managed to offend a customer who wanted fabric that had already been sold but not yet packed, but have assured her that we will produce and deliver the fabric later.

The Malkha Project, an initiative of 3 designers Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Peter D'Ascoli and Aneeth Arora was launched at Melange boutique in Mumbai on October 18. The designers now plan to hold more such events in other cities. Malkha also figures in Tarun Tahiliani's grand finale show at Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in a few days. Ipshita Maitra's film team has already filmed the Mumbai event and will be shooting Tarun's show. They will also shoot at the Nature Bazar and at malkha production centres.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A malkha culture is being built, based on on mutual respect among producers, marketers and customers. In this way of doing things, producers learn to do quality work, marketers learn to charge fair prices from customers and to share returns with producers... and customers too are changing. In the old way all three tried to extract more from the process for themselves at the cost of the others. Producers were the weakest of all and got the least share of the value. The customer was king and he, she or they often abused the privilege of power. Intermediary marketing agents approriated value from both customer and producer.

But when the protocols of market exchange do not evolve in tune with prevailing socio-political norms and conditions individuals at the weakest end of the production chain refuse to accept unfair roles. This is what is happening in the handloom industry of India today: weavers are leaving the profession in droves, as much because of the lack of respect they get from market agents and customers as because of their low earnings.

In the malkha process democratic traditions are slowly taking hold. Malkha Marketing Trust introduces weavers and pre-spinning machine operators directly to customers at exhibitions, and they see that their products are valued and in demand. This promotes trust and transparency and makes producers proud of their work and therefore interested in quality aspects. Customers appreciate not only the qualities of the cloth but also the story behind it. It is rare that a customer questions the price. And MMT hopes to become a model for commercial marketing agencies that treat both customer and producer fairly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

This is one of the new prints, designed by Vaishali Bahel for malkha, that will be ready in time for the Nature Bazar in October. The blocks were made at Gangadhar & Narsaiah's workshop. We have tried to retain the characteristic creeper format of traditional kalamkari, but would like to introduce local plants which would be familiar to the block makers and printers, rather than the stylized tulips and carnations that have been the basis of kalamkari for perhaps 400 years. Ideally, we would like to involve the block carvers and printers too in the design process, but this hasn't happened yet. We cautiously asked Gangadhar's opinion of Vaishali's designs [this one of course is the peepul, the other is the gulmohar]. "Baag unnaii kaani kalamkari ledu" he said ["Very nice but not kalamkari"].

Its a continuous source of wonder how different colours change the character of the design.Would love to get comments and suggestions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The malkha film

The film crew who is shooting the malkha film includes Saravanakumar of Ecotone who has shot the beautiful pictures on our website. His usual field of action is wild life photography: he is one of the tiny group of Indian wild life photographers. He edited the highly acclaimed 'Wild Dog Diaries' and his work is often featured in National Geographic magazine. The film will be directed by Ipshita Maitra, a theatre and film director, and produced by Anand Ramachandran, who describes himself thus: 'Humorist. Game designer. Gaming columnist. Comics creator. Gamer dad'.

The team will be shooting at the Malkha stall at Dastkar's Nature Bazar, IGNCA, Janpath, Delhi on the evening of October 23 and the next morning, so all of you who want to speak your piece about malkha please use the opportunity to broadcast your views.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Harry Rivett-Carnac was sent to India by the colonial government in 1867 as 'Cotton Commissioner for the Central Provinces and the Berars'. At that time this area stretching eastwards from Nagpur was one of the most productive cotton textile regions of the country. Originally ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad, it was wrested from him by Curzon [the Nizam was compensated by an empty British title 'Grand Commander of the Bath'..."Gave Curzon Berar" was his bitter comment].

Rivett-Carnac zealously set about his task of emptying the region of cotton through improved rail and telegraph. The result is chronicled in Laxman D Satya's Cotton and Famine in Berar: 1850-1900. In the course of his duties Rivett-Carnac as is the wont of the 19th century European official, meticulously recorded his observations which are available in his Report on the Operations of the Cotton Department for the Year 1867. In the Report he quotes from another Report, this one on the Assessment of the Land Revenue of the Chimmoor Pergunnah in the Chanda District, December 1864:

"An important article of trade in Chimmoor which finds its way to the weekly fair, and which, strange to say, has not been much affected by the great rise in the price of the raw material, is the manufacture of coarse cloth, which is entirely in the hands of the Dhers, who spin the thread and work the looms. The cloth is coarse and strong, and is in great favour among the Kunbees of Berar, hard-working practical men, whom the comparatively flimsy, but smart looking English-made cloth does not suit..."

The author goes on to detail the number of stalls at the Jamoorghotta weekly market; of which 572 of the 1424 deal in cloth, yarn and cotton. Of these 572, by far the largest segment is the 350 Dhers selling 'coarse cloth of their own manufacture'. The market itself he says ' must be remembered is but one of the many places to which the peasantry flock for the cloth made by the Dhers...' He reckons the 'annual consumption of cotton in these Provinces to be not less than 60,000 bales'

Dhers, of course, were not weavers by caste. Caste weavers would not make their own yarn whereas the Dhers seem to have ginned and carded the cotton themselves and woven the cloth too. I wonder if they figure at all in our estimates of the scale of the Indian cotton textile industry of that time. If there are 350 sellers of the coarse stuff at one of the many weekly markets of the area, besides 110 'Rungarees, dyers, selling stamped and dyed cloth, native, 25 shops selling expensive turbans, dhotees, shawls &c of native manufacture, 5 Koshtees, weavers of finer native cloth, and 5 Salewurs selling coloured cloth for women besides 25 wholesale traders of cotton and 25 sellers of cotton thread' what would have been the total annual local production of cloth? [There are also 5 'shops selling English cloth &c']. And how many families would have been employed in the spinning, dyeing, printing, weaving, transport and trade? And what would have been the value of the local textile industry?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Your cotton has been amongst the most comfortable I have ever worn" writes Prabha Patodia from Mumbai, having bought "almost all your prints that you had with you" at the Kala Ghoda show in February of this year, and asking when we were going to be in Mumbai again. Indeed the prints designed by Sutanu continue to be a huge hit at all our public appearances. Particularly the black butterflies, which are now teamed with black malkha fabric-dyed in Kutch.
Since we will not be in Mumbai till the next Kala Ghoda festival in February 2011, we'll send Prabha pictures of the new prints expected soon, and supply her through courier. Though much of our business is through wholesale to retailers we enjoy the direct contact with users at exhibitions or through the mail.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

October is going to be a busy month for malkha. Melange, Mumbai, is to hold a fashion show of garments made of malkha designed by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Peter D'Ascoli and others of the Afterhours group. At the same time the Nature Bazar in Delhi will be on, first for the Commonwealth Games and later for the general public. In this there will be two malkha stalls, one for garments & fabric and the other for household goods designed and sold by the Crafts Council of Delhi.

At the malkha stall we will hesitantly introduce indigo prints on malkha, hesitantly because while we are confident of the fastness of indigo yarn dyeing, we don't know how fast printing with indigo will be. But the prints are certainly beautiful. We have also tried out Ajrakh prints on malkha, which are also lovely. Unfortunately the Kutch printers are still using synthetic indigo which doesn't have the brilliance of the real thing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stories from Chinnur: 2

Kunasamudram steel.. the legendary material is said to have made chisels for stonemasons of the Great Pyramid. Damascene swords were made from it in the middle ages and the wootz technique copied in Europe. As we walk from village to village around Chinnur 20 years ago we see the blackened places that define slagheaps on the banks of the local cheruvu, where steel was smelted till the early years of the 20th century. Not only the steel itself was a technological marvel, it was smelted in small earthen crucibles that were able to withstand the temperatures that melted the iron ore out of the metal-bearing rock.

It was the Mannevarlu who had been steelmakers for centuries. The current generation had seen it in their childhoods, but had never practiced it themselves. It was done at night, they said, on moonless nights so that you could see the molten steel flow. Iron-bearing rock was scattered on the ground around the stream-beds. Small earthen furnaces were loaded with charcoal made from local hard woods. Hide bellows, foot-pumped, raised the furnace temperature. And there you had it, the highest quality steel ever made, no mining scars, no displacement, independent professionals, a highly skilled artisan technique.

The Mannevarlu now eke out a living as agricultural labour, their cynical employers giving them part wages in liquor they distill from raw sugar. Some are employed by the Silk Board to mate the tassar moths, something only the Mannevarlu seem to be able to accomplish.

Srinivas and I walk through the forest with Sarpanch of Kusnepally, on our way to try out, yet again, steel-smelting with the Mannevarlu. The Sarpanch is of the Devangula jati, a tassar weaver. He scans the trees as we walk, and darts off now and then to pick a wild tassar cocoon. The stronger ones among the wild tassar moths, he tells us, were able to force their way out of the cocoon without biting through the silk, so you got the thread all in one length. Today the cultivated insects have lost this ability. The cocoons have to be boiled to kill the grubs before they bite their way out, cutting the silk to bits.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Nature Bazar is still on in Bangalore till the 15th. This year there have been better arrangements, particularly for rain, with galleries protecting most of the stalls, and boards underfoot over most of the puddles. And a good thing too, as we've had some really heavy downpours, which Bangaloreans say are unusual. Then there have been some really charming performances by the girl acrobat-dancers of Orissa and the Lambada women of Sandur, Bellary. The Rajasthani puppeteers too not only sell puppets but do little shows now and then.

Most of the stalls, including ours, have done well this year. Our great satisfaction has been to have customers who have bought malkha before, loved wearing it and have come back for more. There are also people who like the cloth but bemoan the lack of good tailors in Bangalore. And one unfortunate experience: a customer who said he was given short length last year. This must have been cut by our helpers from the units, since the Malkha staff are trained to cut an inch or so extra. Of course we offered to take it back.

All Bazar pictures look alike, but I'm putting up a 28 second video anyway. Fellini its not, but you get a sense of what its like selling malkha at a bazar - showing the fabric, measuring, cutting, billing, packing, taking the money & returning change, all at top speeds and in a cramped space.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stories from Chinnur: 1

Chinnur used to be an important market town until the mid-20th century. Much earlier, the Mannevarlu jati in the surrounding villages smelted steel in earthen crucibles, the famous Konasamudram steel that was exported to Damascus to make Damascene swords. When we first came to Chinnur, in 1989, and began our visits to the villages on foot [there were no buses then] we could see the ancient slag-heaps near the local cheruvu as we approached.

It had been a heavily forested area, but by then most of the forest had gone except for the odd majestic beheda standing solitary in a field, though you could see the tendu forest in Maharashtra across the Pranahita river. Our Padmashali weaver friends, husbands & wives, used to abandon their looms in the tendu leaf picking season. They would set out in the mornings with a gourd flask of fermented jonna ambali for their midday meal and return in the evenings. It was frustrating for us, but they earned more at this unskilled task than with their hereditary skills.

It was the traders among the Padmashali community who had introduced cheap powerloom cloth to the local market. As Odelu said "We made an axe from the branch of a tree and used it to cut down the tree": with the introduction of cheaper cloth local handloom weaving gradually disappeared. There was still a demand for the things that powerloom did not weave - the thick, heavy dupattlu that, doubled, served as blankets in winter. When word spread that under our project some looms had started again, people came to weaver homes asking for headcloths, lungis, and the traditional designs of sarees worn by the Golla women. This was before television came to Chinnur, when local traditions were still strong.

These were also the days before the Mineral Exploration Corporation began its ultimately successful search for coal just outside Chinnur along the 2 km stretch of highway we regularly walked between Chinnur and the weavers 'colony'. The trees lining the road would at night be lit by clouds of fireflies. There were little bloodstains on the tarmac surface, from the unshod hooves of the bullocks pulling carts. The axles of these carts had long ago been made of Kunasamudram steel.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Krista Uppal and her father Tony of Pee Empro, Faridabad, have done malkha a huge favour. This year's Nature Bazar held in Delhi by Dastkar will specifically target the Commonwealth Games, and we were wondering how to make malkha garments for this, as we have absolutely no experience or contacts in the field of garments. Krista has designed and sampled a lovely simple unisex malkha tunic while Tony is getting 300 of them tailored for us at his facility. They have done the kind of finishing of the fabric that malkha needs in order to bring out its natural softness, and also got the malkha labels woven for us. We are just overwhelmed.

This will be the first garment to be sold under the Malkha brand name.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It rained all night here in Hyderabad last night, a slow soft gentle rain that seeped into the soil and the roots of plants and trees, unlike the heavy downpours that carry away topsoil into rivers and the sea. The little bit of land around my house has become a green jungle as it always does at monsoon time.

Sometimes slow gentle processes are more fruitful than fast and forceful ones.
Following Shoba's article we've had a flood of enquiries [well about 14 to be precise] about where malkha is available in Mumbai, Delhi & Bangalore. This tells us that either Mint is more widely read there than in other Indian metros, or that people in these three cities are more interested in khadi type cloth, or both. Curiously enough it is in these 3 besides Pune, that malkha plans to hold exhibitions in the next 6 months, followed perhaps by one in Kolkatha.

Of course we would like to make malkha available everywhere at all times, but that day is yet to come: our production at present is only about 2500 metres a month, hardly enough to supply our regular customers and still have enough stock for 3-4 exhibitions a year. But as Shoba mentioned in her article, we have large ambitions. We hope to increase output gradually by setting up more and more malkha production centres in villages, particularly those where there is little opportunity for regular employment.

Meanwhile, we expect to reach the 4000 metres a month mark very soon from our 4 existing centres.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shoba Narayan has written a lovely piece on malkha in yesterday's Mint. She stumbled onto malkha on a chance visit to the Sampoorn exhibition in Bangalore last month, and took the trouble to call and interview several people associated with it. In the article Shoba has wrestled with a description of the various stages of cotton textile production, something most people can't be bothered with. The point is that unless one knows something about how damaging the mainstream processes are, one cannot appreciate the vast difference in the way the malkha process using Gramaspinner machinery treats the delicate cotton fibre. At the malkha stall at various exhibitions we have a chart showing the stages of both the mainstream and the malkha process, but most customers are attracted just to the look and feel of the fabric itself.

For all the Bangaloreans who missed the Sampoorn show, the good news is that malkha is going to be in Bangalore again next month, this time at Dastkar's Nature Bazar.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The goal of the malkha initiative is to put all aspects of production, including management, in the hands of the producers, the people who do the actual work. In other words, to achieve true democracy in production. Unlike the corporate model, where almost the entire cadre of top executives is drawn from the elite sectors of society, the malkha model can be run and managed by people who do not have access to expensive education, or who do not come from a privileged or business background.

Now here is the problem: Any business venture involving new technology needs a long period of support before it becomes self-supporting. In the conventional business world, this support is provided by venture capitalists, who look for eventual financial returns on their investments. But what malkha needs is social investment, from investors who look for social rather than financial returns, who are prepared to invest their money in developing a just and equitable society...and that is what the malkha enterprise is searching for. The Gramaspinner technology is at the take-off stage: Only those familiar with the spinning process can appreciate the magnitude of the achievement. Now malkha is waiting for a social investor who will see its potential and share its vision.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The original malkha production unit was registered in late 2008 as a micro enterprise, the Kranti Nulu Vastrautpathi Vikraya Kendram which translates roughly as Revolutionary Yarn & Fabric Production & Sale Centre. It has fitted itself smoothly into the local handloom culture of Chirala, using the existing skills of sizing, warping and of course the actual weaving. KNVVK is managed by the six machine operators [one more has been recently inducted] who buy the lint, turn it into yarn, send the yarn to the dye-houses, get the dyed yarn wound and sized into warps, and distribute warps and weft yarn to weavers. Weavers deliver the fabric to KNVVK who send it to Malkha Marketing Trust by transport each month. KNVVK also handles all its own financial dealings, accounting and documentation, in fact all the business aspects of the enterprise. The greatest disadvantage which KNVVK and all the other malkha production centres face is the lack of reliable electrical power. Not only are there long stretches of the day with no power, but there is no time-table for the power cuts, so that it is impossbile to plan production.

MMT has helped them learn financial management, and is committed to buy all their production, at least upto 2000 metres per month - the unit breaks even at 1400 metres. MMT also helps out with advance payments to tide over gaps in production. Quality is KNVVK's responsibility.

It is a remarkable achievement that this group which began with none of the advantages of educational qualifications has turned itself from employees to management, and that too of a complex production process.

Sales at the recent event in Bangalore were satisfactory, and we were able to introduce malkha to new customers who had missed the malkha stall at last year's Nature Bazaar. The new variations of prints were popular, and we hope to have matching plains in fabric-dyed colours from Kutch for the first time in August.

Monday, June 21, 2010

At the Sampoorn exhibition which is now running at Chitra Kala Parishat, Bangalore, Malkha has a stall [no 59] outdoors, between Weavers' Wheel and Tribal Health Initiative, as Chandra of WW had requested, though the other fabric stalls are indoors. This is the first exposure to customers for Chandraiah, [right, back, in the picture below], the unit manager from Mahbubnagar, and he finds it rather daunting!

Malkha prints are popular as usual, but one drawback is that our solid colours don't match the colours of the prints. Though both are vegetable colours, they come out differently in yarn dyeing and in printing. We're hoping to get plain fabric to match the prints for future exhibitions by getting the fabric dyed in Kutch.
We constantly re-discover that the whole process of cloth making is unfamiliar to the general public, so the difference in the technology of malkha vis-a-vis the conventional process does not really matter to them. We have a chart that shows the difference which we show customers, but obviously it cannot tell the whole story... Production processes and their ecological impact are really hidden from view. A good introduction is 'The Story of Stuff', a video available on the net. Someone should do a similar one specifically for cotton cloth.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Above is the exciting new white-on-white malkha stripe developed by our textile designer Satish.

Next to it are the two butterfly prints that we saw being hand-blocked in the printers' workshop .... [for some reason one of the pictures has disappeared]

And here is the bright red on red that we get only in the really strong sunshine at this time of year before the monsoon

All ready for the Bangalore show this week.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Its extremely cheering to open the e-mail and find not one but two letters of appreciation from malkha customers. Aditi, a Delhi based designer writes "I had bought a lot of malkha at the [Nature]Bazaar and made shirts for all my friends and they loved it and want more".
Mr N R Prakash writes to ask if we have any outlets in Bangalore. "I had purchased your malkha fabric last year in your stall at Bangalore. I intend to purchase some more..." Of course we sent him our invite for the coming show.

We have some new fabrics in the Bangalore show: self-stripe kora, thicker than the plain kora. The prints have come out really bright this time. There is always variation because of different seasons, with duller colours when there is less sunshine, and these have been printed in the height of summer. Will post some pics soon.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bangalore again

We'll be in Bangalore this month and hope to see familiar faces and new customers of malkha:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The malkha journey seems to be picking up its own momentum independently of the originators. Lakshmi Bhatia introduced malkha to two of the largest garment exporters in Delhi. [Just to give you an idea of the difference in scale between their production and malkha's, the daily fabric turnover of one is twice malkha's current annual production!]. Obviously, the exporters are not going to use malkha for their regular production, but will help with finishing and testing, and perhaps also promotion, sample cutting and training of tailors. The important thing is that they both thought the fabric had great potential as part of the movement towards greener technologies which customers are beginning to look for even in mainstream stores in the US and Europe.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The butterfly block used for red and black printing. On the right, alum mordant [with a temporary red colour added] is being printed, after which the cloth will be boiled in an alizarin solution, then washed. Only the alum-printed areas will retain the alizarin red.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gangadhar and Narsaiah are not only fine technical craftsmen, they also have a strong code of ethics: they will not knowingly copy a block belonging to one customer, for someone else. They have had unscrupulous people coming to them with such requests and have refused the job. This is important for malkha, since we use designs commissioned from artists and designers and we depend on block makers and printers to keep our designs exclusive to malkha.

Here Gangadhar [right] discusses a design with one of his master draftsmen.

Printing on malkha is done by handblock printing, using vegetable and non-toxic dyes. The blocks used in printing are made from seasoned teak. One of the finest block maker workshops in the South is that of Gangadhar and his brother Narsaiah, National Award winners.

Early morning in the workshop 4 masters are already at work in their separate space. The apprentices trickle in and begin work by filling drinking water and setting up the tables. By 8.30 the workshop is in full swing.

From bottom to top, the apprentices setting up the tables, next, the workshop with Gangadhar supervising, and at the top, a block being chiselled.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Malkha has had an easy ride in the market till now, but there are bound to be shoals and quicksands in trying to match rural production, and that too by people unused to manufacture, to sophisticated urban markets that need on-time, quality goods. To add to our problems our own organization the Malkha Marketing Trust is seriously understaffed, and still in the learning stage. In the last few weeks we have offended some of our good customers by late deliveries, and one by mistakenly delivering malkha from a set of novice weavers.

While urban customers have to juggle their deadlines and margins, rural malkha suppliers have to cope with transport strikes, the vagaries of the indigo vat, unexpected glitches in the newly minted pre-spinning machinery and the effects of 'development': The Dastkar Andhra master dyer tells us that pomegranate skin now comes from hybrid varieties which give a paler yellow than the desi. Unlike mass-production systems, malkha deals with people working independently at each stage: cotton farmers, yarn makers, weavers and dyers, all living and working in their own cycles that include seasonal variations - handweaving and natural dyeing are both affected by heat and humidity.

It's a long way to our ultimate goal of linking producers directly to buyers, and the first step is to get to know each other better.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BLTN, here is a picture of Nandita Das & her husband in our Kala Ghoda stall last February

Friday, May 7, 2010

The operators and weavers in the Burgula malkha centre are getting used to regular visitors. Being the closest malkha unit to Hyderabad, it inevitably gets a stream of them. Here L Kannan, the inventor of the Gramaspinner pre-spinning machines and head of of Fractal Foundation, Chennai, the technical collaborators of malkha explains the working of the machines to senior Government officials during their visit in early April.

A few days ago Lakshmi Bhatia, Director Global Responsibility of the international Gap clothing company and a Board member of the Ethical Trading Initiative and Nandita Abraham, faculty member of Pearl Fashion Academy were there and met members of the Village Organization. In this pic Sumana gaaru, ZP president, translates the Gandhian texts framed on the walls for the visitors in the new first-floor hall where the looms are soon to be installed, while Yadamma and others from the VO look on.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

I used to wonder what it was about the traditional Gadwal saree that made it so much more expensive than other dressy cotton sarees with zari on silk borders and pallavs. One day about 25 years ago Nazeer Kamal came to visit. He was a powerloom operator from Karnataka. His father had been a handloom weaver in Kurnool and had migrated from there to Sholapur when textile mills were set up in Sholapur the 1950s. Nazeer and his brother lived there as children, and moved to Bellary when the mills closed in the 1980s. Starting as an operator in a powerloom concern, he joined with other operators to make a union and to buy their own powerlooms. Now Nazeer was interested in technique, and what could be done on handlooms that was not possible on mechanized looms.

I opened my cupboard and showed him my heritage sarees, among which were the Gadwals I had inherited from mother and aunts. Nazeer was fascinated, and pointed out the specialty of the Gadwal technique: unlike other sarees in which cotton and silk combine, in the pallav of the Gadwal saree the cotton warp as well as the weft changes from cotton to silk. While it is a simple matter to change the weft, in order to change the warp each of the thousands of single cotton yarns of the warp must be twisted by hand onto a silk warp yarn, for each pair of sarees.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Francis Carnac Brown, British cotton planter in Malabar, testifying before a Parliamentary Committee in 1846 says "The story of cotton in India is not half told, how it was systematically depressed from the earliest date that American cotton came into competition with it about the year 1786, how for 40 or 50 years thereafter one half of the crop was taken in kind as revenue, the other half by the sovereign merchant at a price much below the market price of the day which was habitually kept down for the purpose, how the cotton farmer's plough and bullock were taxed, the Churkha taxed, the bow taxed and the loom taxed, how inland custom houses were posted in and around every village on passing which cotton on its way to the Coast was like every other produce taxed afresh; how it paid export duty both in a raw state and in every shape of yarn, of thread, cloth or handkerchief, in which it was possible to manufacture it; how the dyer was taxed and the dyed cloth taxed, plain in the loom, taxed a second time in the dye vats, how Indian piece goods were loaded in England with a prohibitory duty and English piece goods were imported into India at an ad valorem duty of 2 1/2 per cent. It is my firm conviction that the same treatment would have long since converted any of the finest countries in Europe into wilderness. But the Sun has continued to give forth to India its vast vivifying rays, the Heavens to pour down upon the vast surface its tropical rains. These perennial gifts of the Universal Father it has not been possible to tax."

Revenue & taxes were levied by the East India Company.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mayank's clothes are really nice, simple & classic with beautiful detailing. Besides the malkha ...shirts? Kurtas? in the show he also has one made from naturally coloured cotton... to dye for, excuse the pun. Taamara also has lovely leather from Bengal, with new designs of hand bags and chappals in the traditional stamping & colouring technique, a specialty of Bengal.

Meanwhile we're facing hurdles in matching malkha production to orders. While there's a long waiting list for the indigo, there have been problems in getting the yarn to the dyers and getting it back to the weaving centres. But there's plenty of the kora coming in as the new units step up their production. And Satish's new dented stripe design has begun to come off the looms, will be first shown at the Sampoorn exhibtion in Bangalore in June.

May 12: Just added 2 pics of Mayank's malkha kurtas, taken during the show by the cameraman from a local mag, You & I

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mayank tells us that there's a new store in Hyderabad called Taamara, which is holding s small preview of his work this week-end, including 3 malkha garments.

Meanwhile Ipshita Maitra is developing the story idea for the film, and one of Mayank's colleagues, Peter, is planning a shoot of his garments in malkha production centres.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Delhi Crafts Council is working towards an exhibition of finished products in malkha for household & furnishing, with different traditional artisanal work on malkha. They held a workshop with the Sirali group in Jharkhand recently and came up with these lovely cushion covers.
The last picture is of one of the Sirali group during the workshop.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Talks on Ethical Textiles were given at Reggio Emilia, Parma & Florence in Italy, on 25th, 26th and 27th March. The first one, in Reggio, was held at the Maki Pub, which serves simple meals and drinks. Maki Pub has bought all its furniture and most of its accessories from Ravinala, one of the Fair Trade organizations in Italy. David Cambioli of Altra Qualita, Deborah Lucchetti of the Clean Clothes Campaign, Michele Fantoni of INvestiRE & Uzramma of Malkha Marketing Trust spoke.

Altra Qualita imports artisan made goods - not just textiles - from the less industrialized countries. They buy khadi and malkha from Weavers´Wheel and make it into garments which they sell through their catalogue. The Clean Clothes Campaign looks into issues of exploited labour in the production/market chains of big clothing companies, shares such information with the public and attempts to influence the companies to mend their ways. INvestiRE is just at the early stages of setting up ethical clothing chain, from fabrics produced in India and Brazil, tailored in Italy by social businesses.

The audience on each occasion was drawn from the network of supporters of Ravinala and G.A.S, the Italian Ethical Consumer Group.

My Italian being limited to 'grazie' & 'buon giorno' I needed a translator. Deborah did it at the Maki Pub, Michele in Parma and Massimo, a professional translator but one who specializes in sport, in Florence. Massimo had prepared for the event by going through our website and did an excellent job.

It is tempting to see these efforts as larger and more significant than they are, nevertheless, they do represent a growing interest in promotion of local and ethical manufacture and trade.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thanks for your comment A, glad you enjoy the blog...

Yes our site has become very static and needs to have more information, pics of fabrics from our range, prices and the details of different processes of khadi, handloom & malkha...

Here's a short version of the difference:

KHADI uses yarn spun on charkhas [ring-frames] turned by hand
HANDLOOM uses mill-spun yarn
MALKHA uses special pre-spinning processes, cutting out baling/unbaling/blowroom which the other two use

All three are woven on handlooms.

The DESI sale is meant to introduce malkha to the regular DESI customers, who are used to handloom fabrics at a lower price. We hope that once people wear malkha they will realize that it is good value!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Kala Ghoda exposure in Mumbai is bearing fruit... Jayashree & Anita from the Maati store in Powai have been in touch, saying that customers have been saying good things about malkha. Maati is planning to try retailing malkha on the basis of these reports, and we hope to get into a long-term partnership. It would be the first retail partnership... oops, typed 'partnershop' by mistake, though that might be a good term to use for this arrangement.

Arti of OMO in Bandra has also been spreading the word, and we had an excited call from another potential customer who's planning to come to Hyderabad to look at the stuff.

Two small shows coming up this month in Bangalore, here is the invite... oops again, no copy-paste facility. The 1st is at DESI Basanavnagudi, tel 26725514 from 11th to 14th, & the 2nd at Julie Kagti's, Hatworks Boulevard tel 41327515 from 19th to 22nd.

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's a struggle to maintain the health of the soil, of farmers, of customers and the environment by avoiding chemicals in cotton, and of course in food crops. The harmful effects of chemicals were only understood after their use became widespread, and the warnings of early whistle-blowers like Rachel Carson [author of Silent Spring] were by and large brushed aside. Now we seem to be ready to accept and propagate Genetic Modification which could be even more dangerous than chemical use. Yesterday we heard the depressing news from our friend Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture that much of the organic cotton in the country has been contaminated by BT cotton, and that as a result some cotton growing regions of the country and some certifying agencies have been blacklisted by international certifying agencies.

This just goes to show that once the genie of GM is let out of the bottle it is impossible to contain, and who knows what the long-term effects will be?

In the malkha process, we are gradually working our way towards using cotton that is neither GM nor a product of chemical intensive agriculture. Rather than have an outside agency certifying the cotton we use we would prefer to create if possible chains of transparency between cotton growers, textile producers and cloth users through regular communication.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

malkha at kala ghoda

Kala Ghoda is a lovely event to be part of. There's song, dance & drama as part of the street festival, something that Western countries seem to encourage more than ours. There are two sections to the bazaar, one in which participants pay a commercial rent, and the other which is managed by Concern India on a non-profit basis for NGOs and craft groups. Due to the number of NGOs wanting to take part and the limited number of stalls available, Concern gives the stalls only for half the festival period to each. So we got to introduce malkha to the Mumbai public at a very reasonable cost, through for only 5 days. The downside of Mumbai shows is the octroi charged on even handloom fabrics, though they're supposed to be tax free all over the country.

As usual the deep indigo sold out in a couple of days. Sutanu's prints did well, and its interesting how each region in India has its very different tastes with regard to colour. Chetana boutique and Sonya Khan of Yellow Leaf, buying for Khazana, were among our wholesale buyers.

My amateur efforts to do a small video on my camera invariably end up with several seconds of shoes & street surface, so I'll spare you those, here instead is a picture of our stall. Hope our technical friend Pramod will send me one of Nandita Das at our stall, looking gorgeous as ever.

Friday, January 29, 2010

There are now 8 malkha centres working, 4 in Andhra and 4 in other places. Wish we could get regular news from the ones in other states, but communication is not their strong point... we'll share news as we get it.

We're all packed for the Kala Ghoda festival. We have about almost 3000 metres of malkha from our 4 Andhra centres, about half of it in the natural undyed which remains our most popular fabric. The rest is natural dyed or block printed in Sutanu's prints.

The organizers have given us a 5-day slot, from the 6th to 10th of Feb. The venue remains open from 11 in the morning to 10 pm. More later from Mumbai...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last year when we began production of malkha at one of our new centres, the first production that came off the looms was 500 metres of very loosely woven bleached fabric. We rejected it for sale, and have been selling it off extremely cheaply as defective stuff. Just to try it out we made some nightwear out of it, and found it to be really really comfortable for the summer ...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mayank Mansingh Kaul and 5 other young designers have banded together to open a store called Afterhours, in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. Mayank has seen our fabric and loves it, and we have just sent samples so that the others can see it too... we hope they will like it and have a special malkha show in their new shop, which is opening in a few days, on January 19.

Shalini Subramaniam of Plantation House [Bangalore]writes: "I'm happy to let you know that my store's open and everyone who's visiting the store loves your fabric!!"

Now we have to work on coordinating production and market... we have a huge demand for indigo and red, but we're getting more undyed kora and less of the colours... we're working on it!
And Satish's new loom design is already in production and on order, it is simple but beautiful and is going to be a huge hit in the market.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This month is going to be a busy one for malkha. Firstly we had to move our Hyderabad office and are now in temporary quarters with the prospect of another move soon. Then, preparations are on for the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai early next month, friends, please pass the word round. We had a visit from the Khazana team and were happy to introduce them to the malkha process before the Mumbai show, we hope Khazana will become a regular customer. Sonya Khan of Yellow Leaf is their designer and is used to working with khadi.

Deliveries of orders have been delayed because of transport disruptions in Andhra [both for and against Telengana activists protesting], of yarn to and from the dyeing centres and of the fabric. We apologize to our customers.
... and a peaceful New Year to all

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