Craft Series | Jitendra Kumar | Founder Loom to Luxury

On a recent trip to Benaras, we met Jitendra Kumar of Loom to Luxury. Jitendra shares his story of working with international brands like Maiyet, Prada, Dior and about his initiatives to preserve the craft of benaras. 

 The ethos of Loom to Luxury is rooted in providing a sustainable platform to the traditional textile industry. What was the catalyst that inspired you to create this brand? 

After 4 years of experience with local artisans, I felt this is not just a craft but it is a special skill. Which requires a lot of attention and teaches us about how to work as a team. But unfortunately, this craft was very unorganised, which created giant challenges to be sustainable in the market. 

That’s how (L2L) Loom To Luxury was Born with a three-part vision: 

1. To protect this traditional craft. 

2. To improve weavers’ skills and encourage teamwork amongst them. 

3. L2L team to work as a bridge between the artisans and buyers, increasing the promotion of handloom weaving and sustain income for weavers. 

You’ve mentioned in other interviews that the craft sector faces obstacles in terms of time, quality and management? Can you elaborate on the specific challenges being faced in these spheres? 

This craft is based on multiple skills, no craft is a one-man show. It’s required to add multiple values to create a raw form to any commodity. Working in textile/Fashion, we must pay attention to trends for the season, colour, technique etc. For example, global fashion has 6 seasons. It means we have limited time to create X amount of yardage/outfit to reach in production/store. To produce a meter fabric, it takes a particular amount of time to get a quality product. Which is the biggest challenge? A dyer will take 1-2 days to dye. There is no shortcut. But installing the same colour of warp/weft (Yarn) on multiple looms requires the dye to be done at the same time, using the same water and of course with same colour recipes to achieve consistency. 

You’ve successfully ventured into collaborations with The Row and Maiyet. What is the broader scope for handloom production in the international market, in your opinion? 

Quality issue, Acceptance Attitude and Innovation is the biggest key to enter and sustain in the international luxury market. Here I would say, handloom fabric is very versatile and there are so many ways to use it in fashion. The more education and guidance that can be given to designers on how to tap into the wide range of options handloom has to offer the more attention can be given to it. For Loom to Luxury specifically, our silks are very specialized and high end, so we focus on luxury and niche markets, but there are so many handloom weavers in India alone who are making a range of fabrics that can be added into more daily wear and casual wear collections. The options are there, it’s our job to promote them to the outside world. 

Textile artisans were once the custodians of sartorial tradition in India, but over time they’ve been underutilised and exploited, partly due to industrialisation. What are the parameters for sustainability, in terms of their rights but also to encourage patronage towards their craft? Is good marketing the only viable solution? 

We have been longtime partners with Nest (buildanest.org), who has developed an entire program around the ethical engagement and social compliance expectations for businesses working with artisans. While they are working to promote artisans to better market themselves, they also support them in following an acceptable standard for worker wellbeing and treatment which includes fair compensation, health and safety issues and transparency for workers, but is designed to make sense in the specific context of the artisan or informal sector. It’s a program we’ve adopted through our practices and encourage every artisan business to educate themselves on these practices and workers on their rights to make a change from within. I believe this is a very important component of sustainability. 

You’re working with Nest to establish a weaving facility in Varanasi, which is based on a sustainable livelihood model to benefit weaving communities. Can you talk about how this idea came about and your goals for it? 

As I mentioned that Time, Quality and management are biggest challenges in the current craft world. Varanasi handloom textile requires multiple hands to create a product. And working under one umbrella will help to address these production issues by providing more oversight and ability to guide weavers through production. On the other hand, this building answers a lot of more social and economic challenges by helping us to train the younger generation and to inspire them to continue the weaving tradition. This building will be available for those who have skill but they don’t have space to work at their home. It’s a place for community and to build pride amongst the weavers. By making the workshop open to the international community as well, it really reduces the distance between the weavers and their final product, it will give meaningful education to designers or students, as well as the well-deserved recognition and praise to the weavers for their incredible talents. 

How can incorporate contemporary design innovation and current ‘trends’ be incorporated in traditional handloom production, to make the fabric more versatile? 

Studying trends for colour, Theme, fibres, Texture etc. To reach out the global fashion market, you need to have an update about upcoming Colours and Theme. Of course, jacquard is one of basic technique to enhance any art/motif/ colour in such a form. 

A few years back we were given the opportunity to work with a designer who was able to guide us through an innovation and design process from ideas and creating mood boards to finally showing our product to designers in Paris. It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that focused on taking the traditional craft skills of jacquard weaving, but playing around with the color combinations, new motifs that were relevant to the modern fashion world, and unique uses of fibers to create a collection of fabrics that stood out from the general, and sometimes overdone, fabrics from India that sourcing agents are used to seeing. We really wanted to showcase our weavers’ talents but put them on equal footing to the renowned atelier weavers of Italy and France who have long been sought for their talents. 

Lastly, many designers derive inspiration from their travel experiences. Does that apply to you? How do your travels influence your design aesthetic

Of course, Traveling always inspires and teaches me new things. It helps to get a better understanding about contrast of culture, humanity, Colour, craft, etc, which I of course bring back to Varanasi and include in some small way into my designs. I am a sponge for absorbing new ideas, so even when I am not able to travel I am still exposed to so many interesting people through my work – designers, volunteers, mentors, craft lovers – and have the opportunity to take inspiration from their experiences and interactions. 

KNOW MORE ON www.loomtoluxury.com