Diana WymanJuly 19, 2021 AATCC Blog

Cultural Heritage Practices of Recycling

By Ritu Jadwani at University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Ritu Jadwani, former professor of Fashion & Sustainability at the University of Delaware in United States, presented at the Old Textiles, New Possibilities conference held by the Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark in June of 2021. Jadwani’s talk focused on “Cultural Heritage Practices of Recycling In India” where she highlighted the craft clusters that recycle fabrics to re-create a unique product.

Recycling practices are very popular in the villages of Kutch in Gujarat to make one-of-a-kind quilts; in Kolkatta, West Bengal to create beautifully hand embroidered Kantha scarves; and in northern India to handcraft colorful rugs from fabric scraps.

Sustainability is the backbone of cultural recycling practices in India in the textile and apparel industry. Skilled female and male artisans handcraft quilts, scarves, rugs, accessories, fabric beads, and saris through hand sewing and embroidery using various techniques. Jadwani has been working with the skilled artisans in Gujarat during the last 13 years to create products from traditional textiles and fabric scraps and generate employment opportunities for artisans to sustain the crafts and textiles of the region. Her initiative is called Namaste NYC.

Jadwani’s talk was attended by about 150 people who were from Denmark, Latvia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Italy, India, and various other countries. The talk was held virtually through Zoom (considering the Covid-19 pandemic) as part of the Reuse, Repair, and Redesign section of the conference on day 2.

During the discussion, there were some questions by the participants as below:

  • Do you know how the women involved in these traditional crafts feel about these textile traditions being adopted and adapted into modern fashion?
    It’s nice to see the change and they appreciate new ideas. We often collaborate to create and design new ideas. They are happy that their crafts can help sustain their families through modernization.
  • Has there been a mix and match of different popular and eminent embroideries of the country in a single fabric?

Yes, mixing is very popular now. Due to migration of artisans and awareness among people, designers and even artisans are mixing embroideries and crafts. So, now there is a mirror work with patch work tunic; and bandhani and batik are combined to create a unique sari. The artisan community believes in supporting each other, collaboration and sustenance—so they understood the art of combining crafts before the designers did!

  • Is there any dominant embroidery/technique that is appreciated and is the highest in demand globally?
    In my experience, I have seen the kantha and kutchi embroidery popular globally. The style and colors have evolved, but the technique is still the same. Many designers work with artisans in Kutch and Kolkata to create these unique pieces for the global and local markets.
  • Since weaving has mostly centered on women of low-income groups, how have their economic conditions improved or is it still struggling?
    Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they are struggling, so we designers are creating a circle to supporting them by buying their fabrics. The conditions have improved since the global market has started appreciating ethnic heritage handwoven textiles. So, the weavers and artisans have many exports and international orders. Weavers who are not digitally-connected with the global world are still struggling to make ends meet. Thus, technology has played a large role in helping the artisans to capture a global market.


Neckpiece handcrafted from recycled fabric patches and adorned with tassels.

Patch work cushion made from fabric scraps, intricately patched to create a unique color scheme.

Model wearing leheriya tie dye scarf with tassels made from fabric scraps.

Model wearing a necklace made from fabric beads created from recycled fabrics.

Ritu Jadwani, designer and former professor at University of Delaware in United States of America.

Model wearing one of a kind patched jacket crafted from fabric scraps.

Ritu is currently based in Ahmedabad and continues to work with artisans through her initiative Namaste NYC.

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