The range of fabrics available in the market can be overwhelming. What is available for small-scale production is more limited, and must be a consideration when thinking through a small first collection.
Choice of fibre and fabric is the designer’s, but we are concerned with environmental as well as social responsibility, so we encourage the use of sustainable fibres and processes. There is good information about this here: https://www.ota.com/advocacy/fiber-and-textiles/global-organic-textile-standard-gots.
Most of our partners choose to work with cotton, because of its wearability qualities as a natural fibre. As most of them are based in Australia, the suitability of cotton for the climate is another reason to choose it. Indian cotton is woven either on a power loom at a mill, or a hand loom at a small facility or in the weaver’s home.
We have contacts for a range of suppliers of handloom fabrics. This is a traditional craft in India, threatened since the industrial revolution by mechanisation and factory-based production (restoring hand-spun and hand-loom cottons was a goal of Gandhi’s, because of what it meant for local employment). Today there is a rich supply of lovely cotton woven on handlooms, and sold through weavers’ cooperatives, social enterprises or NGOs supporting their work, as well as normal for-profit businesses.
Still, sometimes the finish of a powerloomed fabric is appropriate. There are suppliers of these cottons who sell small meterages (50m – 100m), though it has to be accepted that choices may be limited when dealing in these small amounts.
The impact on farmers of ‘modern’ cotton production techniques, dependent on the use of expensive seed and fertilisers, is brought to our notice from time to time when the media takes note of the high suicide rates amongst Indian cotton farmers and their families. This is contested territory, but several of our partners feel that organic cotton is an important industry to support, for both environmental and social reasons. Until recently Indian organic cotton has been difficult to source for those of us wanting to support the weavers: it has been too expensive for them to access and we have made the weavers our priority. However, things have changed and it’s now sometimes possible to source cotton that is both hand-loomed and organically produced.
We also have contact with a handful of suppliers of organic cotton sourced from mills, so one can find cambric, poplin, twill etc as well as knits like jersey and interlock, in prints and plains. As always with fabrics, the more one purchases the more choice one has.
While we find we work to a large extent with cotton, other fibres are available in the Indian market, including silk, various types of recycled fibres and synthetics.
India is best known for its wood-block printing on textiles, but of course there is a full range of printing techniques available, including screen printing and digital printing. It is possible to order prints in one’s chosen colour palette, and to design prints, although minimum meterage orders are usually applied. Several of our suppliers carry stock in prints that can provide a good choice for start-ups wanting to use prints but without the funds to invest in large orders.