A new pitch

Cricketer Brett Lee tries his hand at a whole new ballgame, fashion design, with limited edition scarves woven in the hills of Kumaon with wool from the land of Oz

A new pitch
Almora, nestled in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, is known for its panoramic view of the Himalayas, the Nanda Devi temple and delicious cuisine. But it might come as surprise to some that the beautiful scarves from here, hand woven by the Panchachuli women weavers, are world famous as well. Ask Bill Gates, who owns a nettle scarf woven by them.

Given that, it hardly comes as a surprise that Brett Lee turned to these weavers for his limited edition of Six Stitcher scarves that debuted at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week Spring-Summer 2014.

The collection comes in nine designs with a total of 100 pieces in each. Colour combinations range from soft naturals to deep, dark classics: natural on camel, dusk on natural, acai on natural, natural on taupe, electric blue on navy, taupe on navy, acai on navy, steel on black, chill on black. The scarves are made by warping fine mill spun lambswool on horizontal wooden handlooms and then handwoven.

Lee collaborated with an Australian NGO, Artisans of Fashion (AOF), who work with Panchachuli women weavers and the Woolmark Company for this project. AOF, led by its founder Caroline Poiner, works to bring together global fashion industry and Indian artisans in the textile space.

Explains Poiner, “The Brett Lee collection will help generate long term sustainable work for these women weavers. The concept was based on the combination of a high quality raw material — 100 per cent merino wool provided by Woolmark.”

The concept of bringing together women weavers came about in the 1990s, thanks to the vision of Mukti Datta and Dena Kaye. Meant as a training programme to empower the local women of Kumaon, the initiative has played a key role in changing the socio-economic dynamics of the local community today and is run by the women themselves. “These women come from rural backgrounds and have been working with Panchachuli for the past 10 years or so,” said Dutta.

Proceeds from sales are the main source of income for the women who own and manage the enterprise. Panchachuli has five retail outlets in Uttaranchal and supplies to the Oberoi, Aman Resorts, Umaid Bhavan and Ananda, and has an overseas market mainly in the US, Germany, Italy, UK and Belgium.

The women use various types of wool, such as munsiyari (100 per cent pure pashmina), chamoli (hand woven oak silk, bactrian camel wool and pure sheep wool), pataldevi (fine lamb’s wool), almora (tweed handwoven from pure merino wool) and kasardevi (100 per cent lamb’s wool, vegetable dyed), to create stoles and shawls. All their products are hand dyed, hand spun, hand knitted. Bright primary colours dominate their collections in silhouettes such as crocheted nettle wraps, pashmina mufflers, stoles and wraparound blankets as well as vegetable-dyed lambs wool scarves.

“Lee has a strong connection with India and, as an ambassador for AOF, was really enthused about the project. He is keen to make a difference and saw this as the perfect opportunity to be involved in something he is passionate about and also where he could use his popularity with the people of India to the weavers’ advantage. Lee naturally loves the connection with Australian merino wool — being a first class product that we as Australians are very proud of. Besides, Lee also has a background in fashion with his own collection in the market, so this seemed an obvious choice,” says Poiner.

The Six Stitcher collection is available online at www.sixstitcher.com, priced from Rs 2,900 and above depending on the type of wool. AOF is also looking to sell the scarves in select retail outlets and international terminals of airports in major cities.


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