The small town of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh is renowned for the skill of its master weavers for weaving fine silks and cotton, and it’s here in Central India that Hema Shroff Patel, a self-taught handicraft artist and hand-loom weaver, decided to launch in 1999 the privately owned micro-label Amba. For Patel, launching Amba meant a commitment to preserving the traditions and techniques of Indian textiles, but also to improve the livelihoods of women handloom weavers in rural India.
Amba produces two collections per year. During the fall season, scarves and stoles made from warmer wool and dyed in earth-tones. The spring collection consists of cotton and linen lighter shades. Silk is present in the warp and yarn in the weft. Hand-block prints appear in a number of the loungewear collection that include kaftans, tunics, pyjamas, and shirts for both women and children. The motifs range from traditional lotus, camel. peacock and rickshaw designs to more contemporary ones such as Ambassador cars and quirky inspirations taken from urban and rural scenes.
Amba’s colorful array of textiles are the result of keeping old traditions alive with the use of natural dyes. Flowers and leaf extracts as well as indigo and Manjistha are sourced from Indian Rubia. All dyes are organic and the waste yielded from the dyeing process is used for farming and irrigation.
An important aspect to Amba is to provide economic independence and sustainable means of income to poor rural communities in India. Patel serves on the board of WomenWeave Charitable Foundation based in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, which was founded by American Sally Holkar. The 15 year-old company is recognized as a social enterprise where funding goes to teaching and upgrading skills among the weavers and dyers, but also upgrading facilities for the workers including building a new workshop and adding solar lighting to existing buildings, allowing weavers to work longer hours.
A portion of Amba’s profits are designated for specific projects to help sustain the skills of the artisans that Amba employs. “Reach for the Block” os a collaborative effort and Tharangini (Amba’s Bangalore-based block printer) that trains women and children to use traditional block printing methods. Amba has also funded aYoung Weavers Entrepreneurship Program, The organization employed a graduate from theYoung Weavers Program and taught him the necessary skills to open his own business. Training included business basics from finance principles to communications skills.
Amba’s collections are currently available in in select shops in India, Europe and the United States. To learn more please visit www.facebook.com/ambaweave.