Once upon a time, Dhakai muslin was famous worldwide as the finest fabric of all. To highlight its quality, it is often said an entire sari of muslin would have fit into a matchbox.
A group of researchers have successfully reproduced the cotton fabric. They think the clothing material can have a billion-dollar global market if it can be produced commercially.
Many apparel companies have already contacted them, showing their interests in commercial production of Muslin, said M Manzur Hossain, chief scientist of a project titled "Rediscovering the technology of muslin and reviving its production".
"We have to go a long way for this," said Manzur, a professor of the botany department at the Rajshahi University.
In October 2014, the researchers embarked on the project at the behest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to bring back the tradition of Dhakai muslin.
The first phase of the project was about discovering the technology. "We have been 95% successful at that," Manzur said, adding that the team had made six saris, which were very similar in quality to the sari preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In the second phase, the government will definitely want to go for commercial production of the fabric, he said.
The product made by the researchers has already received the Geographical Indication (GI) certificate. A gazette notification on the GI certificate was issued on 28 December last year.
Textiles and Jute Minister Golam Dastagir Gazi said, "We have been successful in bringing back muslin. After presenting the cloth to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we will go for commercial production."
The cost of each sari made in the first phase is Tk3.60 lakh. It would not be possible to sell one piece of muslin sari for less than Tk1 lakh, even when it is commercially produced, Prof Manzur said.
Explaining the high cost, he said it took more than two years for four weavers to make 500 counts of yarn and weave it by handloom. The procedure is delicate and takes a long time.
The price includes the cost of the raw materials and workers' wages.
Once commercial production begins, weavers will have the opportunity to become more skilled, and they will be able to make better quality muslin, Manzur said.
Ayub Ali, director of the project and chief planning official of Bangladesh Handloom Board, said entrepreneurs would go for commercial production of muslin if the government facilitated it.
That would take at least two years, he said. In the meantime, the process of mass production would have to be developed.
Initially, the researchers did not have any sample of muslin cloth and the yarn.
The variety of Gossypium Arboreum, a cotton plant, that produces the unique Muslin cotton has become extinct for more than 100 years now. In Bengali, it is called Phuti Karpas.
The researchers had to go through a long and complicated method to match yarn produced from Phuti Karpas plant with the muslin sari of the London museum through DNA sequencing.
They first collected 38 kinds of cotton from different parts of the country and sorted out the cotton of Phuti Karpas from them.
During the Mughal period, such plants were grown in almost every yard and field of Gazipur's Kapasia. Yarn was obtained from that cotton and muslin was woven in Rupnagar of Narayanganj.
The production of the fabric stopped after 1850.
If this muslin can be produced commercially, it can be introduced to the world as Bangladesh's own brand again.
The researchers envision an industry of muslin, like the readymade garment industry, which will get the raw material – cotton – from Phuti Karpas plats to be grown in Gazipur.