The beginning of an extraordinary story of a small ethical fashion house starts with an objective to revive, preserve and promote the textile art, craft and traditional way of life in the remote mountains of Himalaya ‘Ladakh’. Jigmat duo set out to create an industry from local resources.
Jigmat Couture Studio is located in Ladakh (4000-5300 meter above sea level). Ladakh lies embedded in the mountains of karakoram in the north-west, the Himalaya in the south-west and the Trans Himalaya at its core. The mighty river Indus originating from the interior of Tibet is predestined to flow right through the centre of Ladakh. The region is rich in livestock such as yak, goat, sheep and camel from which some of the finest and exquisite quality of wool and cashmere are extracted.
Founder Jigmat Norbu & Jigmat wangmo /Landscape of Ladakh
Jigmat Couture was founded in 2010 ‘the first fashion house from this part of Himalaya’ following two years of research on possibilities of woollen textile in traditional weave as marketable product. Though weaving was not unknown to Ladakh, however there were limitation and constraints in term of weave, design and innovation. Hence the basic objective was to explore possibilities and to create valuable products for luxury market. Way back in 2008, along with few artisans got on the road with creation of local woollen textile (nam-bu) and eventually came out with beautifully textured, warm and durable products. The outcome was beyond expectation. It was time to launch Jigmat Couture.
Livestock in nomadic region of Changthang, Ladakh
REVIVING TRADITIONAL ART
Although region is rich with livestocks such as Cashmere goat, yak, sheep and camel, some of the finest quality of wool is found in Ladakh. The main reason of this finesse is that the growth of wool is stimulated by the intense winter cold (minus 35-40 degree) of windswept plateaus and high altitude. All this wool and hair is used for weaving variety of textiles. We Ladakhi particularly Changthang nomads have great respect and myth for weaving and loom. There’s a say in Ladakh that the weaving textile are associated with the fertility – the warp is like the mother and the weft yarn she inserts to make the cloth, is like the child conceived within her womb. As the cloth woven is similar to the child growing inside her womb. Women are the creators of life we say. We have three kinds of looms. Foot loom (thag-sha), Back strap loom (sked-thags) and fixed heddle loom (sa-thags). Various textiles are woven on these three looms ( nambu, spuruks, challi, phug-shar, tsug-tul, tsug-gdan, ta-gal, lu-gal, ma-gdan, phi-gyis, ray-bo). Every textile woven in Ladakh is used in our collection for varieties of merchandise.
Our venture is an entire ecosystem in itself. Entire process of manufacturing is not done in industrial way and round the year manufacturing, however in a very natural, ethical approach and seasonal. Removal of fibers starts around May-June. It begins with the combing of cashmere ‘pashmina’ from goats, followed by removal of yak wool and then shearing of sheep wool. Once the wool is gathered, the fibers have now to be processed and this involves cleaning by beating out the dirt and washing in river in order to remove grease. After drying, it is carded manually with wooden cards ‘bal-shad’. The fiber is then handspun by women using various spindles known as phang and yog-shing. Women in Ladakh are adept spinners and spun throughout winter months when our artisans are free from farming activities. Weaving on few foot loom at our workshop is done round the year, where as backstrap weaving is mostly done in winter months. Ladakh has a rich tradition of using natural dyes with mineral pigments and organic colors such as madder, wild rose, apple tree bark, walnut peel and various other mountain herbs, completely in sync with nature and the environment. Every step of production is done in harmony with day to day life of artisans in Ladakh, Himalaya. By supporting these craft communities and restoring the relevance of their skills, we are partners in building our brand and sustainability can be found when work with ethics. Some of our exclusive products are even signed by the Artist.
The tribe people were not reaping any economic benefit except for selling its fibers as a raw materials at below commodity prices. For generation Ladakhi were dependent on agriculture and raising livestock as their major source of income. Many of people from remote villages are abandoning the harsh realities of farming and herding animals for a more tempting urban life. In old days weaving was practiced in almost every house, every mother knows how to spin yarn. Now this art is no more in practice. Ultimately the art is dying, if incase one generation does not practice, the art will definitely die. So it is our responsibility not only to sustain this art but also to practice and promote as an artist, with these thoughts, our overall projects and venture works. Today we are proud to say, we did revive some of our finest textiles and silhouettes from Ladakh.