Gamcha Gone Global: How The Traditional South-Asian Cloth Is Becoming A Fashion Mainstay

Gamcha Gone Global: How The Traditional South-Asian Cloth Is Becoming A Fashion Mainstay

India is often considered a treasure trove for some of the finest fabrics and textiles-based fashion brands with a large raw material base and manufacturing prowess that leads the value chain.

With handloom fabrics and a ‘back to the roots’ approach picking up the pace as we look out for sustainable alternates in a fast fashion market, there’s much to be said about the ‘gamcha’ fabric that has undergone a sartorial revolution of its own.

A traditional Indian towel made up of thin coarse cotton fabric, the gamcha has always been a staple piece of clothing in South Asian history and has seen varied interpretations across different regions.

Orissa and Assam have a white gamcha with a red checkered border, also known as a ‘gamosa’ and worn around the neck.

Traditionally worn as a short turban by a male Bihu dancer, it is ordinarily donned by men as a scarf during formal occasions.

Two types of gamosas are traditionally woven in Assam. These are called ‘uka’ and ‘phoolam’. Phoolam is used on special occasions. At the time of festivals like Bihu (Rangoli Bihu), Phoolam is given as a gift. The presence of local flowers (Phool) and other crops on the Gamccha gives it its distinct name — Phoolam.’

Gamosa finds its usage in prestigious events and is often used to honour guests as a token of respect. Replacing the usual flower garland with the ubiquitous fabric, the gamcha is a sign of respect for belongingness and respect. State leaders and important politicians are often seen wearing the gamosas during their usual detours.

In Manipur, the gamcha is known as ‘khudei’ and ‘lengyan’. Cotton khudei comes in two variations of plain and chartered patterns and is worn by the Meetei people near the waist.

The more commonly known version is the Uttar Pradesh or Bihari gamcha also known as ‘gamchi’ or ‘angouchi’. Available in primary hues of — red, pink, off-white and white. The cotton-based fabric is worn by the common people, leaders and upper-class echelons all like.

Meanwhile, In Tamil Nadu, it is called ‘thundu’ and is found in bright shades of blue, green and saffron. Moving down south towards Kerala, it is commonly known as “thorath mundu”.

While in northern states like Punjab, it comes in a yarn of plain fabric and is used as a turban and cotton towel where they call it ‘parna’.

While the traditional usage of the gamcha finds reverence in India’s public life, as it lies in the centre of a rich cultural makeup and traditional practices, there’s an emerging streak of contemporary exploration of the fabric. Fashion brands and designers are now incorporating the cotton fabric into uber-cool silhouettes designed for a new generation of consumers that choose to step beyond the peripheries of traditional aesthetics.

From long skirts, co-ords to Indian streetwear that aims to wow, here’s a list of Homegrown brands delivering a modern revival of the gamcha.

I. 145 East

145 East, a design collective based in the city of Kolkata has a covetable collection of gamcha-based clothing, accessories and house décor. They offer an exciting range of versatile gamcha products that includes dhotis, kaftaans, jackets, co-ords and even dog collars. By promoting the local fabric, the collective aims to extend employment opportunities to local weavers and artisans, thereby empowering and strengthening the community.

View the label here.

II. Johargram

Johargram, in its literal sense, is the combination of ‘namaste’ (johar) and ‘gram’ (village) — welcoming the craft and textiles of Jharkhand with the utmost respect. Adding a modern twist to traditional textiles like the Simdega gamcha, the label crafts a new age version of streetwear that is rooted in sustainable fabrics and cultural heritage. Shop form a wide range of unisex jackets, dresses, shirts, co-ords and more.

View the label here.

III. Bihart

Bihart weaves a contemporary version of the towel into multi-functional products such as cushion covers, handwoven scarves, easy-to-pair crop-tops, and hand embroidered kurtas that maintain a fine balance of trendy and comfortable.

View the label here.

“Our innovation of the simple gamcha is twofold. One, we have used the local weaving style to make towels which can be doubled as throws and is thicker than the normal towels for good moisture absorption.” (VOF)

— Bihart on the Gamcha usage in its collections

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