Ayurveda Consultant Amrita Kaur Tries On Medicinal Textiles
The resurgence of clean and natural living is making us reconsider our everyday choices. The demand for synthetic and artificial products is losing ground to the search for all-organic-everything, which has become the priority for those who want to transform the concept of a green lifestyle from aspirational to achievable. Even folks in the higher echelons of the fashion industry have pulled up their socks and are constantly thinking up newer methods to create a supply chain that is ethical and sustainable; systemic shifts like reverting to organic farming practices, natural dyeing methods and slower production cycles are bringing consumers closer to nature. And the move towards natural products has turned the world’s attention towards Ayurveda too — a healing system that can be traced back 5,000 years.
Ayurveda, which loosely translates to ‘the science of life’ (ayur or ayush means ‘health’ or ‘life’ and veda means ‘pure knowledge’ or ‘science’ in Sanskrit), is an ancient form of alternative medicine that helps to balance bodily functions through appropriate nutrition, herbal treatments and yogic practices. Along the same lines, a form of healing through textiles was developed, which came to be known as ayur vastra.
Organic fabrics are treated with natural dyes that have been infused with a kashayam (concoction) made from medicinal plants such as tulsi, neem, turmeric and pomegranate. Along with imparting their natural colours to the yarn, these herbs also facilitate the human body’s ability to overcome various skin infections, eczema, psoriasis, asthma and hypertension. Its mention in Vedic texts reveal that ayur vastra is not a new concept, however, it certainly took a backseat to cheaper and more accessible synthetic textiles when they flooded the market. In 2006, the Kerala-based Handloom Weavers Development Society (Balaramapuram) was given the go-ahead by the health minister to test the clinical effectiveness of ayur vastra and, since then, the weaving cluster has been developing eco-friendly healing fabrics.
Amrita Kaur, who founded the food blog Life Ki Recipe in 2011, adopted the Ayurvedic lifestyle two-and-a-half years ago, and she introduces us to its basic principles. The Vedas refer to the five elements of nature — air, water, space, fire and earth — as panchamahabhuta. The presence or absence of these elements in the human body determines its biological nature or dosha. Every individual possesses one or a combination of two or more of these doshas, namely, vata (air + space), pitta (fire + water) and kapha (water + earth), which in turn, regulates a person’s prakruti or temperament. Dietary requirements, the body’s reaction to natural therapy and exercise regimes may change according to one’s dosha. Kaur explains, “I am a vata. A vata person is most often slim. They don’t usually feel hungry and have irregular sleep patterns. They have dry hair and skin, brittle nails and cold, dry hands. Conversely, pitta people have warm hands and are frequently hungry. They have generally sensitive skin that breaks out often. A kapha person has oily skin and soft, supple hair. Their digestion patterns and bodily movements are also slower.”
Excerpts from a conversation with Amrita Kaur….
On choosing fabrics and colours based on your dosha
“During my Ayurveda studies, I learned that people who have higher body heat should use mulmul. For a vata person, who has a cooler body, something with a higher thread count is advisable. A lot of people also use tulsi leaves to keep themselves cool, especially those with anger issues, like a pitta person. Ayurveda also talks about the seven body chakras and how specific colours are associated with each one — many people I know wear a particular hue on certain days for this reason. When I first saw these medicinal textiles, I recognised the earthy shades like beige and brown that, according to the philosophy of Ayurveda, keep you grounded. What I didn’t expect were the pops of colour. It’s also very interesting to see that labels like Sui by Sue Mue have added eclectic embroidered details on these outfits to draw in the younger generation.”
On adapting Ayurveda to a modern lifestyle
“I attended an extensive one-month course at Greens Ayurveda in Azhiyur – a small village in Kozhikode, Kerala. When I came back, I had lost eight kilos and felt healthier and more connected with my body. But when I returned to the daily grind, I couldn’t follow the same routine of waking up at 5 a.m. and doing yoga and breakfast by 7 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. and sleeping by 10 p.m. You have to find a balance. The idea is to adapt those principles to correct your life. If, today, I have to go out at night and drink, I will simultaneously think of ways to eject the toxins out of my body. Ayurveda is based on that – let nothing ferment inside.”
On her morning routine
“Ayurveda dictates that to live a healthier lifestyle, a person has to start their day by doing 26 activities, which are collectively called dinacharya or ‘everyday routine’. Since I can’t possibly do 26 activities every morning, I start my day by doing a couple of things that help me clean my system regularly. I begin by cleaning my tongue. Your tongue is connected to all your organs so when you clean it in the morning, you activate them. Sometimes I do gandusha, or oil pulling, which is when you take a spoon of oil in your mouth and swirl it around. It treats and prevents formation of cavities. If there is too much white coating or slime, it means that kapha is increasing in your body. Next, I do anjanam, which is a kajal that I apply to remove toxins from the body. Then I massage my body with oil.”
Our search for ayur vastra directed us towards three Indian labels — Sui by Sue Mue, Upasana and Ayurganic by Lecoanet Hemant — which have been experimenting with remedial clothing for the discerning consumer.
Sui by Sue Mue
Founded by Mahima Gujral in 2018, it focuses on breezy, urban pieces for women.
What’s the story behind Sui?
My journey with sustainability started about two years ago when I completely gave up fast fashion and started doing market research. When I looked at India, I found a lot of beautiful ethical brands. However, their silhouettes were not flattering for everyone, and changing this was one of the ideas behind the inception of Sui. We also wanted to make sure that we connect with nature and tell a story with every outfit. So, every season, we revisit our travel journals and the moments when we connected with nature ourselves, and we try to figure out how to translate those elements into our garments through little embroidered symbols or slogans.
When did you first come across natural herb-infused textiles?
Initially, we practised azo-free dyeing, but even that is not the cleanest method. Also, there was no proper certification to determine whether you are azo-free or not. We were looking for alternate dyeing processes and came across our current vendor, Truetone Ink in Gujarat. And that’s when I learnt about herbal dyeing and all its advantages.
How has your experience with the product been?
I had heard from a lot of people that natural dyes tend to fade with time, and it’s also difficult to get the exact colours you want. But if you see our collection, we have a beautiful palette. The colours do tend to tone down a bit, but that’s a common side effect associated with natural dyes.
What has been your biggest takeaway?
You have to be very careful with herbal colours and how you treat them. If they interact with certain chemicals or light, they tend to fade. So we did have an issue at first, but we have come a long way. I am also trying to ensure that our supply system is as transparent as it can be. For example, we only work with certified organic cotton and hemp fabric. We also spread the word about the way we produce our clothes to create awareness and use the waste fabric to make accessories or utility products for our office.
Founded by Uma Prajapati and Manoj Pavitran in 1997, it was one of the earliest labels in India to champion sustainable fashion choices. The brand specialises in separates and accessories.
What led to your working with healing textiles?
The fashion industry is the second largest producer of pollutants, and a big reason is the chemical dyes. There are a lot of efforts that we have been making towards sustainable fashion for the last 15 years, and medicinal textile happens to be one of them. I came across these fabrics four years ago, and I decided to create a classic line.
What are the medicinal benefits of herbs?
We use tulsi that acts as an antiseptic for the skin. It is also healing and helps in dealing with stress. We incorporate red sandalwood, which has a harmonising effect and boosts immunity, while neem has detoxifying properties. I don’t deal with a large variety of herbs as I also consider the colour expressions that we want to work with. I have already worked with some base colours, like that of pure indigo and unbleached cotton, which are also healing.
Who is your customer?
People who are looking for superficial beauty should not touch Ayurvedic fabrics. It is for those who understand the values of the system, are conscious of and ready to invest in these textiles — as they also need attention and care. Our fabrics are living pieces of clothing.
How should one take care of medicinal textiles?
One has to understand that they are not dead. They constantly communicate when coming in contact with your skin. That awareness itself can make people more sensitive. Exposure to harsh chemicals and high temperatures during washing can ruin the material. These are very beautiful fabrics and the medicinal properties will remain for three years. After that, you will be left with just lovely garments. We’re now coming out with a series of soaps, which will be very effective for cleaning these clothes.
(With inputs from Uma Prajapati.)
Ayurganic by Lecoanet Hemant
Founded by Didier Lecoanet and Hemant Sagar in 2009, the label utilises 100 per cent pure GOTS-certified cotton to create relaxed separates for men and women.
Do you produce your own textiles?
No, we don’t do it in-house. It’s a recipe from a family in Kerala that has been doing this for many years. They used to make clothes for the royal families of South India, and they started by making them with ginger and turmeric roots. Today it has evolved into ayur vastra, which uses all kinds of herbal concoctions to give a special character to the textile.
Tell us about your process.
It’s an extremely complicated procedure that takes place in the Handloom Weavers Development Society. The textiles undergo different procedures such as boiling, maceration and rinsing — some 20 to 30 processes with 160 different herbs — at their centre. All this is done for about two weeks, and the outcome is an Ayurvedic garment.
What is the potential market for such a product?
We have been in production for 10 years, and it’s going very well. It’s a slow, organic procedure which is what many people are looking for now, and The clothes cannot be mass-produced because they are artisanal. Also, the textiles have a story to tell. In India, however, people are not really interested. They find ayur vastra too expensive and don’t understand what wearing something like this could do for your body. I would say that the biggest markets for these products are in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the USA.
Why should consumers invest in Ayurvedic clothing?
It’s the well-being of the metabolism that is achieved by wearing these garments. Your skin is the largest organ of your body, and it breathes. So when it comes in contact with something that contains so many herbs, it’s like breathing in good oxygen. The difference is like living in Delhi versus living in the Himalayas!
(With inputs from Hemant Sagar.)