A Journey to South India

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Earlier this year, I traveled to South India to meet with some new textile producers. It was my first time visiting this part of the country and I fell in love with it immediately. The south has a very different feel to the north — it’s much greener and more tropical, and the architecture seems to have more in common with that of south-east Asia than the architecture of north India. Having spent all of my past trips to India in the north or central regions, traveling to the south felt like visiting another country.

I spent the first few days visiting the temple towns of Tanjore and Madurai. After this, I traveled up into the hills to visit a weaving centre that specialises hand-woven fabric made of organic cotton. This centre was originally set up by a charity dedicated to helping rural communities in the local area. Many of these communities were dependent on irregular, poorly paid work, and the weaving centre’s goal was to create regular, reliable work for them. Over time, the weaving centre has built up its expertise and is now a sought-after supplier of hand-woven fabrics.

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After visiting the weaving centre, I set off with the head of the facility to visit the organic farmers that the centre sources its cotton from. I was met by the head of the farming association who proudly showed me around his and his neighbours’ fields and talked to me about the benefits, and the challenges, of growing cotton organically.

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He showed me some of the techniques the farmers use to attract pests away from their crops, such as solar lamps, which attract insects to water bowls. These simple techniques allow the farmers to deal with pests without resorting to pesticides.

He also showed me the reservoirs they had built to collect rainwater and funnel it through to the fields. Agriculture in south India has been badly affected this year by a shortage of monsoon rain. The organic farmers I met seem to be doing ok though, and although the ground was quite dry, the reservoirs were full. Much has been made in the media of the thirstiness of the cotton crop, but this really only applies to genetically modified cotton. Native cotton breeds are actually drought-resistant and can thrive in dry and saline conditions.

When I asked him about the yield of his crop versus non-organic farms, he admitted that it was lower. But he said that he took pride in growing organically as he was creating healthy soil and healthy products. He also told me that he is able to command a premium for his crops, particularly among local buyers who trust that his produce is healthier than that from non-organic farms. The farmers in his association grow a range of crops alongside cotton and I can attest that their tomatoes are superb, having tried some directly from the field :)

As always, I was immensely inspired by my visit to these farmers and weavers and I’m excited to introduce their products to the UK. The first collection Ecosophy has made with them is an organic towel collection. The weavers have managed to create a terry weave (the classic towel weave), which is quite difficult to do on a hand loom, and they have finished it off with a hand-knotted fringe, creating a towel that is both functional and elegant.

To shop the collection, click here.

Ecosophy