Dear Ibu Allies,
There are many beautiful stories about Himroo, and I am writing to share my own with you. My name is Arushi, and I am the founder of LoomKatha in India. Himroo is a fabric that was favoured by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, the royal Nizams of Hyderabad, and later by famous Bollywood actors like Dilip Kumar. However, despite working with handlooms for nearly a decade, I had never until recently seen an actual Himroo and therefore it always held a mystery and romance for me. So when I set up my own organization, this was one of the first crafts that I was sure I wanted to develop.
In 2018, I arrived in the city of Aurangabad, the birthplace of Himroo, all starry-eyed and optimistic. Only to be hit by the hard reality that there were no active Himroo looms left. I had almost abandoned the project when I succeeded in tracking down two erstwhile Himroo weavers. They took me to a dusty old shed where two of the original looms were still standing. Seeing the partially rotten wood and the sagging threads was heart-breaking. Yet, it was also a starting point.
It took us almost six months to weave our first product, which was still a mishmash of polyester threads and fuddled design. However, watching our weavers’ enthusiasm and their willingness to stay until midnight to troubleshoot was motivating. We cannot give up now, I thought. And slowly the situation improved. Our first group of women trainees brought life and light to the shed. We were able to fix three looms and recreate a couple of the original designs.
It was then that I wrote an article for HandEye Magazine about our project which was read by Susan from Ibu. She immediately sent me an email offering to work with us. After over a year of grappling with the looms, her email was like the first ray of light at the end of a tunnel.
The Ibu design team sent me a few colour references and we began to develop some samples. Our little band of weavers was super excited to learn they were actually working on a real order—our first! This guaranteed that they would be able to continue earning and supporting their families. In their community, being a weaver is a highly respected occupation and this was the first time that women had been permitted to take this up. They were always worried that they might have to go back to working as domestic cleaners.
The initial dress that we made didn’t hit the mark but rather than abandoning us, Ibu tweaked their plan and sent us patterns for jackets instead. Sidhika, our design expert, set to work on these patterns. The prototypes we sent to Ibu were approved. Voila, we received our first purchase order and our first advance payment! Nothing can stop us now, I thought.
India went into complete lockdown just weeks after we began weaving the Ibu order. Aurangabad was one of the worst hit districts and restrictions were not relaxed for months. Yet, every time I wrote asking for more time, I received a supportive reply from Marisa at Ibu. We eventually shipped the order in small batches over 8 months. It was fascinating to see them showcased in the beautiful fashion shoot done by Ibu and to hear that they were selling well.
Yet there are miles to go before we can rest. The Ibu Foundation has provided much needed grant funds that have allowed us to purchase loom equipment and provide training for our artisans. We now have six operational looms and are working with a group of eight weavers. We would like to set up a total of ten looms, a small tailoring unit, and a heritage craft center to showcase the craft in all its glory. Most importantly, we would like to revive more of the traditional designs and create new products. Again, like a fairy godmother, Ibu is walking with us on this.
Thank you to this beautiful sisterhood that is Ibu.
Arushi Chowdhury Khanna