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Is this the fibre the Indian fashion industry has been looking for?

Ramie, from the nettle family, has got Indian designers excited, with many calling it the next big thing after linen.

fashion and trends Updated: Feb 28, 2018 09:07 IST
The dresses made of Ramie on display at the French ambassador’s residence during Bonjour India.

A new flowering plant, found in abundance in Meghalaya, could be the magic fibre that promises to turn around the fortunes of India’s fashion industry. Ramie, from the nettle family (a poisonous leaf that stings you), has got Indian designers excited, with many calling it the next big thing after linen.

Says Hemant Sagar, of Indo-French fashion house Lecoanet Hemant, “Compared to cotton, it is more expensive to grow. However, because of its stiffness, like linen, Ramie can be woven into lightweight open-weave pattern which is useful for humid climates because it stays cool. It is found in abundance in Meghalaya because of the heavy rainfall in the region. Ramie shows great strength when wet.”

A model poses between Hemant Sagar and Didier Lecoanet of fashion house Lecoanet Hemant.
Ramie fibre. ( Youtube )

The designer recently curated a project titled ‘From Fibre to Fashion’ at the residence of France’s ambassador to India, Alexandre Ziegler, on February 22, along with 17 other designers from around the country at the Bonjour India 2017-18, which celebrates Indo-French partnership.

One of the oldest fibre crops (it’s been around for at least 6,000 years), China is the global leader in the production of Ramie, and a few other countries, including Japan, Taiwan, Brazil and the Philippines too have been traditional growers of the plant.

“Compared to silk, Ramie is stronger and easier to work with. Also, ere silk gets crushed very easily. Ramie would also go well with the climate here,” said Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama of P.E.L.L.A.

(Left) Priyanka Ella Lorena Lama of P.E.L.L.A., (Right) Her creation on display at the exhibition.

“When we first got Ramie, it took us a long time to realise its potential because we had never worked with it before. Some of it was off-white, some was yarn dyed and woven. We also decided to do an over-dyed version, and the sample came out so lovely that we eventually created our garment out of it,” say Rekha Bhatia and Nikki Kalia of KISHMISH.

A creation by Rekha Bhatia and Nikki Kalia of KISHMISH at the exhibition.

Sagar feels Ramie’s wider acceptance could lead to a bigger collaboration between designers and the fashion industry in India. “There is an urgent need for designers and industry to collaborate in India. It is the secret of a country like Italy, which is very design based. We hope the industry will take note of this new fibre. Everything is cottage in this industry in India. It is a shame because the future is certainly not cottage industry; very soon you will not be able to afford hand labour anymore. The market is driving prices down and the karigars (artisans) need more money because they can’t go on living the way they live now,” he says.

(Left) Dhruv Kapoor of DRVV, (Right) His dress on display at ‘From fibre to fashion.’

He adds, “The artisan, who is the hands of this industry, is bargained down. We’re making sure that the machines he uses are not 19th century, but 18th century. It’s so backward. When I talk of artisans in France, they are people who have three kids, five TV’s at home, three cars, a computer; they go on a holiday, get a proper salary and are considered middle or lower class. But they’re not (like in India) found on the floor, without any electricity. It’s not fair. And it’s supposed to be the biggest business in India.”

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First Published: Feb 28, 2018 09:06 IST