Started by a Japanese woman, there is a brand that is contributing greatly to the sustained development of the hand-woven industry for Indian fabric. How do they actually manufacture? Visiting villages where handicraft lives, they produce business that values the traditions of the land/systems to sustain them.

One afternoon, I visited CALICO : the Atelier on OPEN DAY. At the hideaway-like atelier, in a quiet residential area in Delhi, Fumie Kobayashi – who chairs CALICO – welcomed us.

For a reader who follows CALICO’s Facebook Page and Instagram – where information on what actually surrounds beautiful fabric with the value of Indian traditions, and villages that follow handicraft, is transmitted – it is a visit that is my heart’s desire come true.

CALICO : the ART of INDIAN VILLAGE FABRICS are “activities to support the sustained development of India’s hand-weaving industry”. As in the statement on its official “ABOUT US” page, it is managed with an idea that differentiates itself from ordinary fashion brands.

Clothes with a natural mood – made with hand-woven fabric that has warmth – line up inside the atelier.
A soft stole that appears nice to the touch, its manufacturing like that of a work of art on which a delicate weave has been applied. They are all items that – straining one’s eyes – one would want to take into their hands and see.

Rare traditional techniques. The finish of the Jamdani weave is delicate and beautiful, such quality that one ends up being charmed at the sight of it.

While looking around inside the atelier, when I proceed to ask questions about the cloth that I am interested in, I understand that Fumie makes every single product with care.

She told us the stories of the makers in the villages where they produce.
For example, it was when she visited the village that she found the fabric with a striped weave pattern that weaved in pre-dyed yarn. It could be that because the width of the stripe was not uniform, it did not become the product intended. The fabric that an Italian designer had ordered had been thrown away outdoors. After that – the cotton hand-woven cloth with beautiful shades of grey that was woven with great effort put in – was reborn as a product of CALICO. Becoming the design name DDG (Defected Dark Grey)/“Rejected Ink Black”, a series with non-uniform width – making use of monotones – was made.

Also, among CALICO’s popular products, in thinly-made white Khadi cloth, there was a one-piece with Mughal geometric pattern applied with block print in white ink. The design – which used the fabric so that the pattern can be seen through in light – overflows with a sense of hand-making that one cannot do with a machine. Many products using block-printed fabric can be seen in shops within India, but the charm of this fabric stands out further here.

This – towards we modern people conversely sensing the goodness and warmth of hand-making in “failed, out-of-place” things – is the textile design that is planned by CALICO. In this production process, she says, she asked the craftspeople who go on pressing the wood-blocks – with hand-carved patterns – to blur the block prints. Opening up gaps to not make them equal – and applying the ink only once in three times – on purpose, making a daring blur effect. It seems that the block-print craftspeople were saying that they could do it better. The way of thinking that makes use of “not being perfect, imperfection” – which she mentioned – is interesting.

A Khadi-cloth stole with a daring, only slightly unequal block print applied.
A skirt with a Jamdani weave design set in. It fits snugly and takes well to the skin.
Design a system that continues

In that manner, overlapping the traditional techniques of the craftspeople who actually do the handi-crafting – and contemporary senses – the products that CALICO produces are made ready. It is to add essence, little by little, while respecting the work of manual labour that they originally do. Fumie says it is “the idea of designing a business, rather than designing clothes.”

Here, the business is to make a “system that continues”. Together with the craftspeople who take handicraft as their occupation in villages, they keep following the techniques that they have inherited. Previously, Fumie was employed in a major consulting firm. When she was thinking of work that was inclined towards her passion anew – with the one that she sensed the most potential in being India’s hand-woven fabric – she started CALICO.

To the best of their ability, they make sure that no wasteful loss is made. They thoroughly repair clothes rejected at inspection, and even in rare cases where errors are found in Japan, they deal with it by using them as staff clothes at exhibitions, etc. Saying that she “cannot think of such a thing as hand-woven fabric being thrown away”, she turns to face with the fabrics and products with affection.

To put on CALICO’s products is to wear the tradition of India’s fabric culture that was developed with time spent. They propose a sustainable lifestyle that is at the other extreme from fast fashion.

At its atelier (it sometimes holds open days at the atelier) in India, it deals in products of brands that it collaborates with – as well as those that share the will of its activities – apart from CALICO’s own products.

Main brands handled

Ganga Maki Textile Studio

There are even items that can be worn by both men and women, such as bottoms with rare twill weave denim Khadi cloth, made in villages in the Bengal region.

CALICO : the Atelier OPEN DAY (Atelier OPEN DAY held irregularly. Details on Facebook page)

“Fabric of Kutch” exhibition, a treasury of Indian handicraft

Besides making products in India and mainly conducting exhibitions in Japan, it also widely promotes activities that introduce Indian fabric culture. The “Fabric of Kutch” exhibition, a treasury of Indian handicraft – realised with the planning and co-ordination of CALICO – was conducted at the Hankyu Umida Gallery from 13-18th June, 2018.

At the atelier. An antique children’s vest on which Kutch regional embroidery has been applied.
At the atelier. An antique Kutch fabric on which mirror embroidery has been applied.

The Kutch region is a town in the state of Gujarat in Western India, famous for its desert of white salt. It is also a town for Kutch embroidery – which is highly-valued globally – and textiles thriving with hand-work.

Fumie says about India’s unique colour usage – “When one goes and sees the place that is the desert, one understands that they want to use colour. I think, how about getting the people of Osaka – who are idiosyncratic enough to match their use of colourful colours – to accept them?”

This time, at the “Fabric of Kutch” exhibition, a treasury of Indian handicraft, it seems that workshops on embroidery and dyeing inviting local craftspeople and NGO personnel were conducted as an opportunity for people to be able to experience their beautiful fabric culture.

CALICO notifies people of its exhibits being conducted in various places in Japan on its official EVENTS page and CALICO’s Facebook page on occasion. I would very much like you to go over and see them.

Photographs・Text : Yoko Kobayashi (translated by Aumurto)

This post is also available in Japanese.