Understanding ayurvastra, the art of medicinal clothing

It’s noon in Kerala, and we’re sweating bullets, trying to understand the nuances of ayurvastra — fabric that has been dyed with medicinal herbs to enhance health and beauty. Rajan, who’s explaining this to us, is the sixth generation (on record) of the Kuzhivila family who’s trading in this fabric. Their lineage goes back to the Silk Route, when they supplied rajas with turmeric-dyed cloth.

And perhaps this would have been a dying art, if it were not for the curious minds of designer duo Lecoanet-Hemant. The multi-award winning designers, who began their journey as couturiers in Paris, are now refining the concept of ayurvastra, with a line of garments under the label Ayurganic. At their factory in Balarampuram, where the bricks are infused with healing herbs and the walls plastered with neem paint and sandalwood oil, Hemant Sagar takes us through the painstaking process.

From the forest

The first step is to procure GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified organic cotton from Tamil Nadu. Once the swatches are delivered, they’re bleached in a natural aloe vera solution, then dipped in natural gums so they can absorb and hold on to the colour and medicinal properties of the herbs. After dyeing the fabric for a minimum of six hours in ayurvedic herbs, it is cooled, washed and kept in a dark room for a minimum of 15 days. “The longer you keep it in the darkness, the more steadfast the colour and healing properties,” explains Rajan.

The processing unit is located in the heart of the Agastya forest, where Rajan and his team source more than 1,200 herbs, used for various combinations that range from immunity, to better sleep, to glowing skin. The water used to dye the fabric is believed to be medicinal as well, to be consumed or bathed in to enhance health and beauty. Interestingly, we’re told that when the cloth is washed in the nearby Neyyar River, there is an increase in the fish population (because of the various healing herbs).

The experience
  • I wore Ayurganic all through our Kerala visit. When I got the invite talking about ayurvedic and organic clothing, I didn’t expect the garments to also look, well, expensive. The first day, I chose the Bindu wraparound skirt, which I combined with a simple back vest. We travelled by boat and by bus from Poovar island to Balarampuram. Still, after 10 hours of wear, the skirt was relatively uncreased and fell beautifully till my feet. The next day, I wore the Veda top with crushed harem pants and got similar results. My favourite piece is the Guna hooded bathrobe, which falls beautifully, cinches in the waist — and if it were socially acceptable, I’d happily wear it out for dinner.

The challenges

In this world of fast fashion where garments are constructed in as less than a couple of hours, delving in a project such as Ayurganic requires not just patience but also a desire to redefine the industry. Some of the things Sagar and Didier Lecoanet struggle with include the time taken to create the dyed fabric before it’s delivered to their Gurugram atelier, and the fact that production halts during the Kerala monsoon. “The one time we insisted, we got fabric that was incredibly patchy because everything gets mildew,” says Sagar. And because it’s a traditional process, there’s no way to ensure uniformity of colour.

We must credit the designers for their intelligence — by adding a satin weave through the organic cotton, they have made the fabric richer and more pliant. Currently, the garments are only available in one light yellow shade till they can perfect the colour uniformity. The blend for this shade is used to enhance overall health and immunity. Many different herbs (including red sandalwood, sweetflag, vetiver, wild turmeric) are used; however, neem is the main ingredient with 20% concentration.

The inside story

Not many people know that they had begun work on Ayurganic much before Genes, their ready-to-wear collection. Back in their Gurugram home, Sagar recalls how it all started back in 2008, thanks to an eclectic Frenchman they employed. “For three years, he travelled around India, before he discovered ayurvastra. We changed the concept by bringing in certified cotton,” he says. For the first couple of years, they were simply experimenting, until they got a call from the first ayurveda website in Germany ( who became their partners in Deutschland. This gave them access to more than 30 top ayurvedic institutes in that country, who loved the garments.

But wellness isn’t just a business deal for them. Outside the work environment, Sagar is usually seen walking barefoot to stay connected to the earth. He also has a healing crystal carafe to charge his drinking water and is into bio-hacking, a light hypnosis programme that you can use for anything — from enhancing well-being or to stop smoking. Lecoanet meditates regularly, and works on three-week detoxes. Even their 1,00,000 sq ft, five-floor atelier features recycled grey water, and natural light floods the building. It’s a far cry from sleepy Balaramapuram, but a fitting climax, for a brand that creates these easy, elegant and very refined outfits.

The writer was in Kerala at the invitation of Leocanet Hemant.

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Printable version | May 2, 2021 5:14:23 PM |

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