There was a time when people began to forget about the beauty of locally crafted products. Prabartana is one of those few organisations that addressed the issue and came forward to resolve it.
Be it a special shari for an event or a simple shari for regular use, the name Prabartana comes to mind whenever someone thinks of a handloom shari.
For 33 years, the brand has been closely associated with most Bangladeshi women and their experience of wearing sharis. But selling these just for profit has never been their main priority.
An NGO named Ubinig conducted research in the 1980s to observe the declining state of the local handloom product industry. They performed surveys on the weavers of Tangail and tried to figure out the root causes behind the decline through their research.
One of the most crucial causes stated by the weavers was the lack of marketing activities for their products, and they were seeking support from Ubinig regarding that.
To help revive the pride and image of local handloom products while ensuring livelihood of the weavers, Executive Director of Ubinig Farida Akhter and her colleagues founded 'Taat Prabartana Samity'.
Soon, it started making its name among the educated, middle-class society as a reliable vendor for local sharis, but just as the brand 'Prabartana'.
Besides trying to expand the market for handloom sharis, Prabartana's goal has always been to make citizens aware of handloom products and their contribution to the country's economy.
That is why, they started arranging fairs with the help of local weavers multiple times a year, exhibiting sharis, along with many other local products.
Those fairs created a direct connection between weavers and consumers, which ultimately helped the former to make products as per requirements and choices of the latter.
Farida Akhter, the co-founder stated, "The market at that time was heavily saturated with imported clothing materials that made it difficult for the customers to find handloomed products. We received a great response from the market when we started selling exclusive handloom clothing from Tangail."
Even though they started their journey with only handloom sharis, many other kinds of sharis from around the country were added to their collection over the years.
Prabartana also makes tie-dye sharis in their own factory using natural, vegetable dyes.
Regardless of the design, the raw materials used in Prabartana's products are completely organic. Otherwise, it will not be added to their inventory.
If the material used is cotton, it has to be 100 percent cotton and if the material is silk, it must be completely natural.
"Just like the food we consume, the clothes we wear should also be safe. Synthetic clothing is not safe. That is why not a single product of Prabartana contains synthetic threads," Farida informed us.
Prabartana has been working with vegetable dye for more than a decade. They have their factory in Konabari, Gazipur, where they produce sharis and yard clothes using natural colours.
Haritaki (Indian hog plum), khoyer (catechu), shupari (areca nut), and onion skins are few of the ingredients used to produce natural colours. Sharis made using natural colours are usually quite soft to the touch. They look elegant while being perfectly comfortable to wear.
The factory also produces orna (dupatta), shawl, panjabi, fatua, salwar-kameez set, cloth bag, natural soap, stitched kanthas, shital pati (mat), hand-fan etc.
Their panjabi is so popular among customers that it has become quite the tradition to purchase the attire from Prabartana for Eid. Those who want can even purchase yards of clothes of their choice and make a customised panjabi.
According to Abdul Aleem, an employee of Prabartana, the number of young customers is much higher now, even though most initial customers of Prabartana were middle-aged.
The interest towards handloom products is increasing among all age groups.]
Aleem said, "The interest towards imported clothes does not always stay the same. The craze for any particular design fades within a few days. But the trend of handloom products never goes away."
The price of handloom sharis at Prabartana starts from Tk1,195 and goes up to Tk4,500.
A vegetable-dyed saree may cost you around Tk2,195 to Tk2,500. Manipuri sharis are priced between Tk2,495 and Tk3,200, whereas Dhakai jamdanis range from Tk6,000 to Tk9,000.
Panjabis designed by Prabartana are priced from Tk1,490 to Tk1,850. They also sell yards of clothes at Tk240 to Tk390 per yard, based on the material. These are all produced in their factory.
Besides, you can find the famous lohori kantha from Chapainawabganj at Prabartana at a very reasonable price of Tk15,000.
Mentioning the changes in mindset and attitude as reasons behind the current state of handloom products in Bangladesh, Farida Akhter said, "People nowadays usually wear sharis on special occasions. The transformation of this cloth from a regular wear to an occasional wear has left a lot of changes in its demand. This is why the production has also decreased."
The regular activities of Prabartana on producing and promoting handloomed products can be labelled as a 'handloom revolution' or 'taat andalan' (taat revolution). Prabartana is the drive that enriches our local culture, heritage, crafts and the lives of our craftsmen.
From the memory of wearing a shari for the very first time to wearing a shari in their everyday lives, Prabartana has touched the lives of countless women in Bangladesh.