Trans-cultural slow-craft-fashion

February 22, 2023

The Karun Thakar Fund has awarded a Project Grant to Ruth Clifford, lecturer on the Fashion Design and Communication BA programme at Liverpool John Moores University, in support of the Trans-cultural slow-craft-fashion project. Here, Ruth introduces the project and its goals.

A man working on a wooden loom
Sureshbhai Vankar Parbat at his loom. Photographer Ruth Clifford, 2017

The trans-cultural slow-craft-fashion project will bring together fashion students at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and textile artisans in India to develop a fashion collection from hand-woven, hand-printed and embroidered textiles from Kutch in Gujarat state, India.

The project aims to introduce students and artisans to the possibilities of utilising hand-crafted textiles in fashion design, styling, branding and photography, as well as to broaden their knowledge of each others’ cultural context. It also aims to enable Kutchi artisans to build their knowledge of the UK market and develop new networks, potential clients and ideas for new developments in their work. We hope the project will contribute to wider attempts to decolonise the fashion curriculum and incorporate diverse global perspectives onto the LJMU fashion course, as well as support artisans in India whose businesses and livelihoods have been impacted by cancellations of orders and the lack of a tourist market following the Covid-19 pandemic.

With funding from LJMU, we have purchased textiles including saris, stoles and dupattas from three artisan-designers in Kutch: Anwarbhai Khatri who runs a small studio of hand block-printed batik textiles; Laxmiben Pavar, an embroidery artisan whose designs are innovative yet rooted in suf, a fine, geometric style of embroidery traditional to her community; and Sureshbhai Vankar, a weaver who is continuing his family business, which has become increasingly pressured since the recent death of his father. All these artisans studied at the design education institute Somaiya Kala Vidya (SKV). The project has been planned in consultation with Lokesh Ghai, textile artist, researcher and founding faculty at SKV, and with the three artisan-designers mentioned above.

We are delighted to receive a Karun Thakar Fund project grant, which is being used to support an exhibition on this project entitled Craft in Fashion. The exhibition will include a selection of pieces by Khatri, Paver and Vankar, as well as additional traditional textiles and contemporary pieces purchased through the Karun Thakar Fund grant which will help to tell the story of craft innovation in India. This exhibition will provide additional context for students participating in the trans-cultural craft-fashion project, and will also be open to the public. Once closed, the exhibition pieces will be stored in LJMU’s fashion archive alongside contemporary pieces by artisan-designers, for use in future projects.

Draped colourful fabric
Two saris hanging against a wall
Two saris by Khatri Anwar Hussain Rajaqbhai combining both bandhani (tie-dye) and batik. Photographer Anwar Hussain Rajaqbhai
Detail of embroidery
Detail of suf embroidery on a dupatta by Laxmiben Puwar
Detail of a checked sari
Handwoven check sari by Sureshbhai Vankar Parbat. Photographers Laxmiben Puwar and Sureshbhai Vankar

The project as a whole will be continuously evaluated, and we will produce a literature review and theoretical framework for both the research and project. We will also conduct participatory action research methodology while planning and supporting the workshops, discussions and craft demonstrations and share the results in both academic and non-academic publications, conferences and online platforms. This work will explore the effectiveness of digital communication methods in facilitating trans-cultural educational collaborative projects and to what extent digital platforms enhance fashion students’ and artisans’ awareness of each others’ cultural context and creative approaches. It will also explore the relevance of traditional crafts in contemporary markets and the benefits and challenges of co-design for fashion and craft.

Film still showing a woman holding up a piece of decorated cloth
Still from interview with Laxmiben Puwar in the film Tana Bana: Weaving Life into Cloth directed by Ruth Clifford.

Overall, the project will focus on the importance of crediting artisans and makers of products as equal collaborators in the design and making process, as part of movements towards challenging existing inequalities in the fashion industry.

About the author

February 22, 2023

I completed a PhD in 2020, examining design education for handloom weavers in the areas of Kutch, Gujarat, and Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, in India, focusing on case studies of two...

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