Can clothing cure? Sustainable and ethical fashion brands certainly seem to think so, going by the increasing number of designers and brands that are using Ayurvedic recipes to dye their fabrics, and infuse their garments with antibacterial properties.
Recently, the Udaipur-based brand Aavaran made its debut at the Lakmé Fashion Week’s Sustainable Day. Interestingly, all of their clothes are free of synthetic materials and dyed using natural ingredients such as herbs, essential oils, turmeric root, madder and indigo leaves.
Though new on the fashion scene, the concept is based on the age-old art of treating fabrics with Ayurvedic herbs to ensure that they soak in the therapeutic qualities of these herbs.
Take the case of an Ayurvedic sari from Rwitvastra that employs herbs and Ayurvedic medicinal plants in weaving, and is infused with herbal dyes. Their designs are not only chic but their clothing has immense healing abilities — including keeping skin diseases at bay and ensuring mental wellness.
“Herbal dyed saris are woven by skilled artisans on the hand loom using 100 per cent naturally dyed yarn. The dyeing process uses many different herbs and natural ingredients, but absolutely no chemical or synthetic dyes. Not only does it save the environment from the toxic waste of the chemical dyeing industry but it also saves the dyeing worker from many fatal diseases due to regular handling of carcinogenic chemical dyes,” explains Subhro Ghosh, founder of Rwitvastra.
“Rwitvastra is working with skilled weavers across West Bengal to produce herbal-dyed saris and fabrics using all natural fibre like cotton, silk and linen,” says Subhro Ghosh. There are several other brands which are designing pieces and garments that enhance health and beauty, like Ayurganic and Ayurvastra that take a concoction of plants, barks, roots and herbs, and boil them with fabric at controlled temperatures so that their medicinal properties can slowly absorb into the skin. “It is an attempt to minimise the usage of hazardous synthetic dyes that pollute the environment every day and to raise the voice in favour of thousands of textile dyeing workers whose lives are susceptible to many fatal diseases due to regular handling of such carcinogenic chemicals,” reasons Subhro Ghosh.
Harping on the 5,000-year-old tradition, the Natural Fibre Weavers Association, Chennai, has also created saris infused with herbal dyes. So where do these dyes come from? “We infuse the natural fibre yarn with turmeric, tulsi, neem and sandalwood. These herbs and spices have antibacterial properties and are good for the skin. The weavers have developed 30 different natural fibre yarns so far, of which the most popular are pineapple, aloe vera, bamboo, banana stem and Calotropis gigantea,” says C. Sekar, founder of Aanafit and President, Anakaputhur Jute Weavers Association.
Just as Ayurveda uses herbs and medicinal plants for treating various health problems, Ayurvedic clothing also uses herbs in the dyeing process. “It’s an ancient technique using natural products. And India is known for it. Just like we use haldi, milk, iron rust, pomegranate rind and tree barks to make colours to use in Kalamkari, Ayurvedic saris make use of herbs,” says Kalamkari revivalist Mamta Reddy.
Handloom saris may be all the rage but the herbal sari is setting a new yardstick for the traditional Indian drape. “Herbal textiles can be good only for therapy and not for daily clothing, like we do eucalyptus dyeing for Yoga Studios,” opines designer Bina Rao....