By Nicole Suares
A decade ago, spotting a local, tribal woman in Goa, wrapped in her traditional blue or red, box-chequered kunbi sari was a common sight around the neighbourhood. Today, the sari is almost extinct.
However, efforts by designer and Executive Director of Goa Sudharop, Verma D’Mello, is fashioning a new chapter for the dying garment. Through the NGO, she recently opened their first kunbi loom in Orlim, in Salcete, and provided employment to underprivileged women from South Goa. Her vision is to fashion a completely sustainable product. “Additionally, it provides a source of local employment, and we plan to go international with this,” she says.
The idea struck while participating in multiple fashion shows across the country. She tells, “When designers from the city spoke about their State fabrics, I had no words. It struck me. What are we doing about our heritage?” The question wove a new pattern in her career.
A KUNBI REVIVAL
The proud Goenkar, with her heart rooted in Goan soil, has worked with the kunbi theme before, on previous shows. After garnering positive reviews at Cannes, France, in 2018, she put serious thought into doing something for her homeland.
It was on one of her visits to World Fashion Week in California that she broached the subject to the founders of Goa Sudharop. “They willingly agreed to come on board, and I’m grateful for their support on this project. I was impressed by the work they were already into. Goa Sudharop, with their team, did a lot of outreach programs like construction of toilets for women in rural areas, trained them in sewing, pottery, carpentry and more,” she elaborates.
With kunbi, Verma’s dream is to turn it into a globally recognized fabric. “I want it to be available in yards, not just six yards of a sari. Someone may not like it as a sari, but might use it as a palazzo, crop top, etc,” she shares about the refreshing new avatar that goes beyond the single garment to multiple lifestyle products. “My attempt is to give it a modern look, yet keeping the basic essence of the fabric,” she adds.
Verma spent her pandemic years immersed in research on the kunbi weave. She travelled extensively, studying and meeting locals who once understood the old methods.
“It took me almost a year and a half to do a ground study. We went to the borders of Goa and met the locals who knew the secrets. We spent hours with them,” she says.
Time, dedication and zeal pushed her and her team to roam the remote jungles, looking for raw materials. “It’s difficult to source some of the local plants. It’s quite risky. In Canacona, we climbed the small hillocks in search of plants.”
She and her team experimented with corn as well. Did you know that the fabric has medicinal properties since it came from locally sourced plants? “I researched which plant was good for eczema, or other skin diseases.”
She sources dyes from indigenous plant extracts, like marigold for the gold borders, and barks of trees found in remote locations. Speaking of the laborious process, she explains, “We soak the yarn in the dyes, which we make. We recycle old garlands, discarded at various locations. We remove the petals, and once dried, we boil them to a certain temperature. After we strain the first layer, it goes through another process,” she explains. They use water from local springs for soaking the dyes.
The fine-tuning took many trials and errors until they reached perfection.
SHARING THE KNOWLEDGE
Today, the loom is up and running in Orlim. It provides employment to 43 underprivileged women from South Goa. “We have identified women in North Goa and look forward to starting work with them,” she says. Since the sari-making process is completely hand-woven, it takes three days to weave a single piece.
Along with producing the saris, Verma mentions the importance of passing the knowledge to the next generation. The Goa Sudharop workshops have drawn interest from the youth. Their master trainers work with students on various segments of the process.
“They need not know everything. Yarning to dyeing is demonstrated to those keen on taking it up seriously. Returning to the old ways of powerless looms will teach students the evolution process, and lead to better results. Once they understand, they can be part of any organic fabric-making industry. So far, students have witnessed the entire procedure of making the loom, how it works, etc,” she shares.
Additionally, “We will teach them to make different kinds of products and styles of clothing and accessories out of the kunbi fabric. We are exploring more about the multi-purpose application of kunbi and hope students will be proactive in taking it up.”
For more details about the fabric, workshops and shopping information, contact ‘The Loom,’ near St Michael the Archangel Church, Orlim. (Phone: +91 9890094676)