Of Golden Hues and Ahimsa
Our fabric is a combination of silk and cotton, with cotton on the warp of the loom and silk used on the weft. This combination makes our fabric heavier, sturdier, and more suitable for upholstering furniture than regular apparel fabric. The intricate floral patterns adorning the base material have been delicately hand-woven onto the fabric. Those of our products which have a brown base and off-white patterns have Muga silk woven into the weft of the fabric, while those products which have a white base and brown patterns have Eri silk woven into the weft.
The Muga silk is famous for its golden hues and rarity. The Muga silkworm is found only in the West Garo and West Khasi Hills of Assam, because of its pollution-free environment and botanical gifts. Legend says that they’ve existed since dinosaurs walked the earth and is one of the strongest natural fibres known to man. It’s why the Muga silk is more expensive - rarity and longevity! The fabric has been woven in Assam since the 13th century and was believed to be as valuable as gold. It made its way around Asia and Europe via the South-Western Silk Road connecting to Turkmenistan.
Over 8,000 cocoons are required to make the estimated 1,000 grams of silk that are required to make just one saree. From rearing and reeling to spinning and weaving, the entire process of making a single saree takes up to three months, making the silk saree easily oneof the longest labours of love in weaving.In 2007, the Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC) assigned Assam with the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Muga silk, giving Assam the exclusive patent for Muga for 10 years. However, although the demand for Muga is higher than ever before, the supply has declined because pesticides in neighbouring tea estates of Assam are polluting the Som leaves. This is a bad sign for both the silk industry as well as the ecological stability of Assam.
The Eri silkworm is named after ‘era,’ the word for ‘castor’ in Assamese. Castor plants and, consequently, the Eri silkworms that feed on them, are found in various parts of Southeast Asia including Assam, China, Japan, and Thailand. 95% of the world’s eri silk is from Assam and Meghalaya. Eri silk is popular among people of various religious and moral persuasions. Buddhists, Jains, and Vegans love it because the process of obtaining Eri silk is non-violent as it doesn’t entail killing the cocoon unlike silk-making from other types ofsilkworms; hence, the epithet, ‘Ahimsa’ silk, ‘Ahimsa’ meaning ‘to do no harm’ in Sanskrit.
Typically, for making one silk saree, thousands of silkworms are boiled alive in their cocoons before they are given a chance to turn into butterflies. This is to prevent the baby pupa from cutting through the silk filament that forms their cocoons when they are about to metamorph into butterflies. Not only is this a cruel way to treat silkworms, but it also upsets our planet’s ecological balance as many flowers depend on butterflies for pollination. In the case of Eri silk, the moth is allowed to exit the cocoon through an aperture it creates when making the cocoon itself. Although this ends up protracting the process of silk rearing and reeling by about 10 more days than regular silk, and the final cocoon yields one-sixth the amount of silk that a regular, boiled cocoon does, Eri silk remains economical in the North East region.
We obtain our cotton-silk fabric from Fabric Plus, a Guwahati-based company founded by the dynamic Dilip Barooah. In one year’s time his company’s turnover was Rs 14 lacs and in 11 years, the company has grown by 900% opening multiple factories and retail outlets. Today the company has 500 direct employees and another 46,000 people indirectly as weavers and others. In the Chhaygaon region of Assam alone, Fabric Plus has engaged 350 spinners and another 4,500 workers in silk rearing, thereby providing employment and positively impacting the lives of thousands of people in the region.Since 2009, Fabric Plus has been a partner with Women on Wings, a European NGO that is driving initiatives to create jobs for 1 million women in rural India. Fabric Plus’ silk spinning factory, which produces 250 kg of yarns per day, is run by a workforce that is 85% women and impacts the lives of 17,000 women in the region. 55% of the company’s direct employees are women.