Pavithra Muddaya, Managing Trustee, Vimor Handloom Foundation has a family tradition of preserving India’s beautiful crafts. Her mother Chimmy Nanjappa was the first Manager of Cauvery Handicrafts, Bangalore in the late 50’s. Cauvery Emporium at the junction of MG Road and Brigade Road in Bangalore has been a cultural landmark showcasing the best of Karnataka’s handicrafts.
The idea of starting a saree business was her father A C Nanjappa’s brainwave after her mother returned from the World Fair in Montreal in 1967. On his goading Chimmy Nanjappa sourced sarees for a Delhi buyer. Later while accompanying her husband for his work in Molkalmuru she purchased some silk sarees, which she sold out of a trunk at home. After her husband’s demise in 1974, Vimor was registered as a partnership between Chimmy and Pavithra. What began as a necessity slowly grew into a passion to saving handloom designs and supporting weavers to succeed, says Pavithra of Vimor.
Kamaladevi Chattopadhya, Indian social reformer and freedom activist, the driving force behind the renaissance of Indian handicrafts, hand looms, and theater in independent India was a big supporter of Vimor. “Forty ago she appreciated that we were preserving traditional designs and supporting weavers. Her biggest advice to me when the saree design was not to both our satisfaction was ‘I do not want any excuses from you’. I was upset at that time but as I got older I understood what she meant and now this is a line I use with my weavers till date,” says Pavithra.
Over the last 50 years, Vimor has done yeomen work in working with weavers and preserving certain weaving practices and styles of sarees. “The most significant contribution that Vimor has done is that we have saved many traditional saree designs from being lost. We do this by recreating these designs with weavers. Doing this with empathy and integrity for the artisan and his crafts is of primary importance to us. Design intervention is undertaken in a step by step process accompanied by monetary advances and assured buy back, allowing him to function in a risk free environment, till he is independent.” This allows the weaver to grow successfully without using the Vimor name but continuing to use Pavithra’s designs. Today this has created a ripple effect where some of the designs are in continuous production for over 35/40 years impacting weavers unknown to Vimor. This has helped weavers grown from weavers to businessmen, says Pavithra.
This July the Vimor Handloom Foundation has opened a Museum called The Museum of Living Textiles in Bangalore showcasing textiles. The foundation will look at research and documentation of textiles, livelihood training for women in distress and advocacy and publishing weaver stories.
Some of the pieces are family heirlooms while others have been donated by family and friends. On display is a datthi seere, woven for children, with a length of 3.15 metres. The devi sarees are woven on much smaller looms to suit the size of a goddess’ statue. A rare Chanderi saree runs upto 64 inches. There are some Chinese and Cambodian collections too.
The Indian textile industry is so varied with even neighbouring states having different varieties and even within states like Andhra and Tamil Nadu there being many kinds of sarees. Indian handlooms are known for their richness, exquisiteness, variety and fine quality. “Handlooms comprise the largest cottage industry in the country. Millions of looms across the country are engaged in weaving cotton, silk and other natural fibers to bring out traditional beauty of India’s precious heritage and also providing livelihood to millions of families. There is hardly a village where weavers do not exist weaving out the traditional beauty of the region. The skills and activities are kept alive by passing the skills from generation to generation. What sets our handloom apart is the excellent workmanship, color combination and fine quality,” says a well-known textile retailer.
Pavithra, who has been working with the most beautiful of colours, patterns and designs, says “This is the most beautiful aspect of our country’s diversity. We should celebrate our local cultural spectrum and use these as inspirations to create products that are aesthetic in design, environmentally friendly and allows weavers to participate and succeed financially. At Vimor this is how we have always worked not letting geographic boundaries restrict us.”
The saree will never go out of fashion. How it is draped, what is accessorised, what is designed may change, but “sarees will always be attractive to women. Our strength at Vimor is our design ability and our customers have always supported this journey. Thirty five years ago we created working women’s light silks, these were price friendly, easy home wash maintenance. At that time there were many women in executive positions and these sarees were worn to office and meetings. We believe design has to reflect the time, and purpose so as to allow women to celebrate their individuality. This is what will always make the saree attractive,” says Pavithra.
Famous people drop in announced to Vimor and Pavithra has respected their privacy and “not used their names to further our business and they respect this fact.”
“Sheila Dikshit (late Delhi chief Minister) came to Vimor, saw my aunt wearing a kodava style saree and was curious about it, so we dressed her in the style before she left. When she returned to the Raj Bhavan, she told us that the staff was amused that she wore one style going and another coming back.”
Indian textiles are much sought after. “Weavers are benefiting from the global interest in Indian textiles as the sheer variety and skill is difficult to find in any other country. Today the youth are tech savvy with using Whatsapp and social media for marketing and can cater for any overseas customer to grow their business,” says Pavithra of the growing market for Indian textiles.