He weaves saree in natural fibre

Japan and China evince interest in Sekar's work

He weaves saree in natural fibre
Cloth made of bamboo yarn is stronger than denim

Innovation seems to come naturally to this weaver from Tamil Nadu. He has weaved sarees from natural banana fibre and bamboo yarn. C Sekar, a weaver from Anakaputhur taluk near Chennai, also has to his credit making of herbal sarees with medicinal properties.

The process is simple. He weaves unique cotton mixed sarees and then dips them in dyes of eco-friendly colours and applies herbal paste such as neem, tulsi and turmeric.
The fabric, which already has attracted international textile experts, will absorb medicinal properties of these plants and protect skin from many diseases. “It not only protects your skin but also keeps the body cool,” the weaver claims.

Sekar, who formed Anakaputhur Jute Weavers’ Association (AJWA), had earlier made sarees spun with banana fibre mixed with either cotton or silk. Interestingly, the weaving machine, which is operated by about 200 women members of the AJWA, couldn’t be seen anywhere as it was specially made by the weavers led by Sekar, who recently got sustainability leadership award in Delhi.

A weaver has to sit on the floor and put his/her legs in a pit to operate the machine, which is fixed below the ground level. “Initially, operating the weaving machine was very tough. However, now I can weave a saree in just six hours,” Kamakshi, a weaver, said.
“The machine is specially designed to deal with even soft threads, which are mixed with herbal products,” he said. At present, Sekar takes only a few orders after catering to local market. “We sell products through our association so that weavers benefit from it,” he said.

At present, the weavers execute orders from different areas as they do not function under one roof. “The finished products will be collected and sent to the customers,”  he said. Sekar asserts that there is plenty of scope for weavers across the country to make good money if they take up weaving of natural fibre. But the governments should encourage the weaving community.

In 2012, the weaver entered into the Limca Book of World Records for weaving a single saree with 25 natural fibres. Recently, the Craft Council of India extended its help to Sekar for getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for using the maximum number of eco-friendly fibres in a single woven item. “I am working on it,” Sekar said.

“The concept of weaving eco-friendly clothes came to my mind when I was about 13-years old. After many trial and error attempts, I successfully produced a cloth made from banana fibre,” the 49-year-old Sekar recollects.

Sekar’s experiment with aloe vera, a plant whose extracts are used in beauty and medicinal products, for weaving a saree became successful a few years ago. “It will be very cool if you wear it,” he said.

He also used bamboo fibre to weave cloth. “The required yarn cannot be extracted directly from bamboo. Therefore, I made bamboo pulp and with some natural process, I get the needed yarn,” he said. According to him clothes that are made from bamboo yarn, would be stronger than “denim”.

The innovative weaver’s success could be attributed to his wife Padma, who encourages her husband and takes care of her two sons besides helping in the design section of the weaving centre.

Behind success

 “I create the design and show it to customers before making the dress material,” Padma said. As a traditional woman, Padma takes utmost care to get good output of the clothes, especially sarees. “Our herbal sarees will not only be good for the skin but also they last long as about 60 per cent of cotton is mixed with the fibre,” she claimed.

The price of sarees varies from Rs 600 to Rs 5,000 and some customers want silk strands woven into them for a “reception” appeal. The couple also make pillow covers, bed spreads, carpets and wall hangings with eco-friendly fabrics besides making shirts.

He makes it a point to visit different places to get authentic material for sarees. He said: “I had been to Bihar to collect water reed, Odisha for Chevai grass, Assam for bamboo, Kerala for pineapple, Punjab for woollen fibre and Karnataka for silk.”

Everything went well for Sekar and his company till the December rain in 2015. “We couldn’t execute   orders due to heavy rain. Most of our members were affected by the flood. In addition, several weaving equipment were submerged in the water,” Sekar said. A majority of the weavers of the association are migrants from Andhra Pradesh and are determined to continue even after they lost their livelihood due to heavy rain.

“Though, it was a tough situation, we started our traditional business from scratch and somehow we are back on the track,” Sekar said. The determination and success of Anakaputhur weavers was recognised once again as a Japanese company evinced interest in its technology for importing the eco-friendly clothes from them.

A team from China-based Guangxi Zhuang company also visited Anakaputhur recently to learn about the skill of making garments from natural fibres, especially banana and bamboo.

Armed with patent for all his products, Sekar and his team are still waiting for the help from the governments. “Many banks are offering loans to us, but we want governments to extend help and give us land so that we could form a weaving cluster soon,” he said.

Anakaputhur is close to the airport and Sekar is planning to set up a weaving park in the area as it will help him move the goods easily. “We also want to do further research on how to include other eco-friendly fibres in our products,” he said.

He says: “If our plan gets delayed, all our products could be seen only in the museum in the coming years.”

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