The humble jute is making headlines suddenly. Coming into the market reincarnated with a fresh spirit, it has been welcomed by the world of fashion.
Designers are taking a serious look at jute now. “It is only a matter of time before the glory of the mighty jute industry will be restored,” says Mangal Hari, whose father used to work in a jute factory in West Bengal in the 1950s. He plans to use jute to make clothes now. Exploring the full potential of the fibre would eventually see him getting into manufacturing of the textile dealing in designer clothes and fine attires, he hopes.
Jute, commonly known as sackcloth or hessian, has come a long way from occupying the dark shelves of old warehouses. With its USP of being an eco-friendly, biodegradable and sustainable fibre, today jute is garnering space in big brand boutiques. And even becoming a part of royal wedding couture. Remember Meghan Markle while getting married to Prince Harry had preferred jute gift bags for guests attending the wedding? She is also often seen sporting jute footwear.
The West Bengal government could tap the opportunities that this crop offers and earn a huge revenue, for it has a tremendous market overseas nowShyam Agarwal, textile entrepreneur from Howrah
All this has put the jute industry a notch up in visibility. Yellow in colour, the fibre is also called the golden fibre not only for its colour but its versatility and its tensile strength. With a growing concern for climate and environmental health, plastic is being shunned worldwide, pure organic fibres like jute and cotton are fast gaining attention. Experts say that growing this fibre can help us in times of climate and stricter environmental law introduced in many countries, as it can help with carbon capture, and the fact that it uses even less natural resources than cotton.
“People associate jute with something coarse and staid, muted in colour, prickly and uncomfortable, but we are trying to make them aware that soft clothes can be made out of it, for jute can be woven and spun,” says Alisha Nair, a fashion designer from Hyderabad. Her label Volvo deals in jute and cotton fabrics .
“Innovation and experiments have led to advanced processes like bleaching, dyeing and finishing and by mixing jute with other synthetic and natural fibres, jute as a textile becomes softer with a better feel, shine, and with an aesthetic appeal,’’ says Nair .
Puja Rathore, a boutique owner from Jaipur, finds jute products much in demand today. “Women prefer pants made of soft jute for summers, which need less maintenance than other fabrics. Jute blended with rayon and acrylic acquires a sheen and a soft texture and if it is dyed in muted colours, it becomes beautiful and wearable too.” For winter wear, it can be blended with wool, she says.
For our daily requirements of bags, footwear, fabric, lampshades, curtains and other utility and lifestyle items, jute is versatile and one of the most resourceful fibres nature has gifted the earth after cotton, which is more expensive. In Kolkata, many designers of household products turn out beautifully crafted and colourful jute bags which fly off the shelves at any fair. Not only is it affordable, but a wakeup call to the planet to look at it, especially when the UN Environment Programme says that the planet is ‘drowning in plastic’, a non-biodegradable product.
Jute production has a strong history in Bengal, where jute mills flourished under the British Raj but gradually declined after Independence. Most of these mills were located on the banks of the Hooghly river, but lack of financial and marketing support slackened the industry. Shyam Agarwal, a textile entrepreneur from Howrah, suggests, “The state government could tap the opportunities that this crop offers and earn a huge revenue from the jute industry, for it has a tremendous market overseas now.”
So as jute trudges from sacks and gunny bags to a fashion fabric, one can look anew at this home-grown humble fibre.
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