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Ahimsa eri toast of West

- Assam silk endorsed for preserving life of worm

Guwahati, Jan. 1: The next time you drape an eri shawl around you, do so without any twinge of guilt.

The Assam silk, which is produced without killing the silkworm, is gaining popularity in the West as ahimsa (non-violent) silk — a Gandhian principle which even the Armanis and Hugo Bosses are endorsing while choosing fabrics for their product line.

The West’s preference for eri has enabled an entrepreneur from Assam to bag orders from readymade garment manufacturers in Europe and the US.

Dilip Barooah, managing director of Fabric Plus, a textile firm that deals in Assam silks such as eri and muga, told The Telegraph today that the ahimsa process followed in producing eri has made it popular in the West. Unlike eri, muga silk is produced after the silkworms are killed in the cocoon stage.

“Because of the non-violent process of eri production, its patrons are rapidly increasing in the West, where people are very conscious about loss of life of any kind,” he said.

Barooah said because of the increase in eri’s demand, he has recently received orders from manufacturers of garments and accessories such as Julie Strap of Germany, Jyodhi of Geneva in Switzerland, Kaveesha Inc of the US and Eco Silks of the UK. “Nearer home, we have received orders from NOLIMIT, a reputed apparel manufacturer of Sri Lanka.”

Fabric Plus exports Assam silk to 11 countries and 20 top global brands, including fashion giants Armani, Hugo Boss, Just Cavalli, MaxMara, Chopard, Moschino. They use eri to manufacture garments and other products such as shirts, shawls, stoles, cushion covers, curtains, ties and bags.

Barooah said they were currently focusing on the domestic market, which is growing at a rapid pace. The firm annually exports Assam silk worth around Rs 3 crore while its supply to the domestic markets stands at Rs 11 crore per annum.

The firm had commissioned its first composite eri silk spinning and weaving unit at Chaygaon in 2009. At present, it produces 100 metric tonnes of silk per year. Headquartered in Guwahati, it has offices in Calcutta and Mumbai too.

Barooah, who is in his mid-fifties, had received the Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Award last year. The award is presented to men and women from various walks of life for outstanding services, achievement and contributions in their profession.

Barooah, a textile technocrat with over 35 years of experience in India and abroad, said they were also working towards women’s empowerment in association with the Netherlands-based Women on Wings. “Around 85 per cent workers in our factory are women,” he said.

Around 500 people are directly associated with the firm while around 25,000 people are indirectly associated with it, he added.

Barooah, who hails from Margherita in Assam’s Tinsukia district, has co-authored the book, Indian Ways of Silk, with Danish authors Ole Zethner and Rie Koustrup. It was published last year. He is also a member of the sub-group committee of the national fibre policy for silk and handlooms of the Northeast under the Union textile ministry.

Barooah said value is added to only about four per cent of the silk cocoons reared in Assam by producing yarn and fabrics whereas 96 per cent of the raw material, that is cocoons, is exported outside the state. Hence, there is a lot of scope for setting up units for production of value-added silk products.

According to Central Silk Board’s 2011-12 figures, Assam’s silk production stands at 2,109 metric tonnes, next only to Andhra Pradesh (6,019MT) and Karnataka (7,800MT). Of the state’s total production, muga accounts for 115 metric tonnes and mulberry 18 metric tonnes, while eri rules the roost at 1,976 metric tonnes.

Silken facts

Eri fabric is fine, durable
Eri comes in two colours -reddish brown and white; its brightness is less
than that of muga
Fabric Plus exports more made-up (ready-to-use) eri fabric and less yarns
Eri is used to make shawls, stoles, cushion covers, curtains, neck-ties, shirts,
coats, blazers, bags, and the like
In muga production, there are two processes -the cocoon is boiled with the silkworm inside or it is boiled after the silkworm comes out of it
Eri is produced only after the silkworm leaves the cocoon
In case of both eri and muga, the cocoon is boiled to make the fibre soft and durable