The Heritage Fabric From A Country Known For Cheap Clothes
If you walk into your closet and take a look at the labels on your clothes, you will most likely find the words “Made in Bangladesh” on many of them. Bangladesh is the world’s second largest exporter of clothes and like many other Third World countries, the working conditions in its factories are appalling. Despite the rapid and chaotic industrialization that has occurred over the last three decades, Bangladesh has managed to hold onto a centuries old method of production which is still used today to make the coveted Jamdani fabric.
Bangladesh has notoriously unsafe workplaces
After China, the country that produces and exports most of the clothes to the West is Bangladesh. While its status as the second largest clothes exporter in the world should be applauded, Bangladesh, unfortunately, fails miserably when it comes to safe labor practices. The exported clothes are made by workers who are forced to work in factories that have no fire exits and often the factories are set up in cramped apartment blocks instead of in industrial zones. Several workplace accidents happen each year in Bangladesh with the collapse of the Rana Plaza in April 2013 – where more than 1000 workers died – being the worst to take place.
The centuries-old community of fabric producers
It seems unlikely that a country with such low regard for the workforce would have a community of fabric producers who have existed for centuries around the river banks surrounding the capital Dhaka. This community of weavers, dyers, spinners and loom makers still use centuries’ old methods that have been passed on from parent to child to make the beautiful Jamdani fabric.
The fabric itself is completely made of cotton, which grows abundantly in the fertile soil of Dhaka’s river banks. It is made painstakingly by hand on a handloom which gives it a sheer and gauzy texture, making it the ideal fabric for the hot and humid weather of the region.
The Jamdani fabric is a work of art
The Jamdani is also a vividly patterned fabric and the patterns are sewn in by hand while the fabric is still on the loom. This method is similar to the weaving of tapestries. The motifs in the patterns are not copied from drawings but always come from the weavers’ memory and imagination. In many cases, the weavers use designs that have been passed on through generations. The designs are beautifully complicated, making the production of the Jamdani a very labor intensive process. The weavers’ skill and dedication to their craft is exemplified by the fact that any joints in the patterns are rarely visible to the naked eye. It is these seamless and gorgeous hand sewn patterns that make the Jamdani such a coveted and expensive fabric.
The Jamdani fabric can be used to make anything from scarves to bags, but its primary use is in making a sari, which is a length of fabric that women in South Asia drape around their bodies. The Jamdani sari is highly coveted and is a symbol of cultural identity for the Bangladeshi people. Jamdani saris can be extremely expensive due to the intricacy of the patterns as well as the time it takes to make them, which is typically 3 to 4 months.
The Jamdani fabric was recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage
In this age of cheap clothes produced in hazardous working conditions, Bangladesh’s continued production of the Jamdani is commendable especially in the light of its failing safety standards in other sectors. The Jamdani is considered a heritage fabric and its value lies in its centuries old production method, its’ fostering of community ties and in the beauty of its designs. This value was recognized by UNESCO when it inscribed the art of Jamdani weaving as an UNESCO Intangible Heritage in 2013.