As the world slowly comes to terms with the adverse impacts of fast fashion, it is time for our local industry to look inward as well. It is time for us to slow down, rejuvenate the crafts of the past - the handloom, Dhakai Jamdani and other sustainable strands of fashion.
To celebrate 20 years of the founding of the NGO Friendship, its lifestyle brand Friendship Colours of the Chars organised the second edition of their prestigious fashion walk 'A Night of Tradition' at the Intercontinental Dhaka on Friday, 25 November.
The event showcased hand-made, traditional clothing like taat, jamdani and others, adapted for modern fashionistas. The event also highlighted the struggles of the predominantly female artisans working for Friendship in the Char regions, and the importance of sustainable consumption through initiatives like 'upcycling', which repurposes discarded clothing materials from the fast fashion industry.
The show began with a performance that highlighted the heartbreaking realities of Char women, from early marriage and domestic violence, to a lack of financial independence. It also showed how Friendship's initiatives contributed to empowering these women and lifting them from poverty.
The performances showcased the creations of the Char women. Designed by Imam Hasan, the garments were all made by the women from those regions. They were all handspun and naturally dyed. The segment was divided into five performances, all choreographed by Azra Mahmood.
The show flaunted the strength of traditional handlooms – one of the trendiest and most comfortable forms of clothing. The handlooms had different patterns, ranging from traditional Gamucha checks and striped patterns, to taat. Many of the handspun cotton sarees had intricate embroidered motifs around the border. There were natural-dyed block print clothing in both cotton and silk, in trendy, earthy shades.
Dhakai Jamdanis followed the handlooms. The artisans clearly tried their hearts out to bring these products to life. Both the regular-wear jamdani and fine jamdani sarees featured intricate traditional geometric motifs and were complemented with extraordinary blouse sets, magnifying the beauty of the attires.
The unique collection of Dhakai Jamdani, adorned by both male and female models, beautifully highlighted how versatile jamdanis can be.
Cumilla's ancestral craft of Khadi was presented mostly in Kurtis and, interestingly, in the form of hoodies as well. The neutral-toned clothing was edgy and the collection was impressive. The show also highlighted the anti-colonial backstory of Khadi and how it taught us lessons in self-reliance.
The most interesting and grandest part of the fashion walk was 'Heritage'. Inspired by the ancient architectural beauty of Panam city, the designs turned out very elegant and classy.
The headliner model showed off a gown brandishing the walls of Panam Nagar, while the other attires incorporated a fusion of different materials like Katan, natural-dyed cotton, etc. Sadia Islam Mou was a showstopper, and added an additional layer of glamour to the event.
The fashion walk ended on a hopeful note with its penultimate performance, as the models showcased how unique 'reused and repurposed' clothing can be, as well as highlighting the importance of sustainable consumption. The headliner model wore the 'weight of the world' on her shoulders to signify the adverse effects of fast fashion and how upcycling is an effective way to address this.The 'upcycling' initiative also highlighted Colour of the Char's dedication to sustainability and the role of slow fashion in achieving that.
"Our fabrics are different. We only use traditional techniques of weaving (handlooms), along with unique patterns of dyeing, printing and embroidery. Enjoy wearing our collections, just as our women weavers, and the earth, enjoy creating them," said Nazra Mahjabeen Sabet, Director Operations, Friendship Colours of the Chars.
"Colours of the Chars grew out of an effort to create opportunities for marginalised women living in the char regions.
We initially trained them on traditional weaving techniques to empower them financially.
But when we saw the bundles of uniquely designed clothing, we realised that the world needs to experience the creative dexterity of the Char women, while also being exposed to sustainable and clean fashion," said Runa Khan, Founder and Executive Director of Friendship.
Runa stressed that she did not want people to purchase the products out of pity.
"Rather, they should empathise with the artisans behind each of the products. Then people can decide whether or not to purchase them based on the quality of the products. We do not compromise when it comes to quality."
During the event, we learned, through various renditions and visuals, how Friendship as an NGO transformed the lives of women living in the remote areas of northern Bangladesh, and how they made sure the efforts of the artisans of our country are well recognised globally.
Friendship also reinforces the idea that consumers should embrace the concept of delicate, organic and sustainable fashion.
Syed Nasim Manzur, Managing Director of Apex Footwear as well as an Executive Member of Friendship, was also present at the event.
"Friendship started its journey with a very targeted programme to reach people in Char regions with health interventions.
Now Friendship has become an icon in education, architecture and sustainable development.
Today's event and the initiative to uphold locally produced, hand-crafted textiles in the age of 'fast fashion' perfectly sums up what Friendship stands for," said Nasim.