Models wearing sarees in vibrant colours, showing-off the beauty of the hand-woven saree in unique colour combinations is a common sight during fashion shows in Colombo. Today, the handloom saree is in high demand among the fashionable local community as well as expatriates and foreigners.
At a recent fashion show held in Colombo, thirty five models dressed as brides in handloom sarees, showcased the elegance of locally handcrafted sarees and textiles. First Lady Shiranthi Rajapakse, who was the chief guest, said she would only wear handloom sarees in future in order to assist the local industry.
The Sri Lankan handloom textile industry is centuries old, with a long history in trading textiles with nations like India, China and Middle Eastern countries, and is one of the oldest traditional crafts on the island.
The introduction of modern trends in combination with traditional designs, woven in new processing techniques, has made Sri Lankan handlooms gain a foothold in the competitive international market as well in recent times.
The local handloom textile industry is a highly labour intensive, rural based industry generating high returns. Hand woven items are unique in comparison to other textile products due to its special characteristics. Being mostly cotton based, it demonstrates excellent fabric handling properties partly due to its weaving method.
In Sri Lankan there are around 962 private handloom producers in small, medium and large-scale units and the industry as a whole provides employment to around 15,000 persons. During the last few years the industry has recorded a rapid growth rate, with exports of handloom products increasing from Rs.l04 million in 2000 to Rs.135 million in 2005.
Among the items in demand in the export market are, soft toys made out of handloom fabrics, hand woven materials such as curtaining, furnishing, bed and table linen, bath and kitchen linen, and cushion covers, etc. These items are presently being exported to some of the most discriminating markets in the world. Books, notebooks, albums, and even writing pads are now made with this handcrafted textile.
According to industry sources the major export markets are USA, UK, South Korea, France, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden and Japan.
Sri Lanka’s handloom products, due to their special characteristics, have been able to compete successfully with machine-made fabrics and are fast gaining popularity both locally and internationally.