Rolls of fabric, as the British Textile industry produces £5.8bn of materials. Image:Mircea Ploscar/Pixabay

The UK’s textile manufacturing sector produces £5.8bn of materials, ranging from the world’s most sought-after cashmere to the finest worsted wool, luxurious tweeds, and distinctive tartans, according to UKFT.

In addition to the world-renowned apparel fabrics that will be featured during British Textile Week, the UK textile industry also produces high-quality fabrics and accessories for the home and contract interiors sectors, plus a wide range of technical textiles and performance fabrics that are used in industries such as medical, defence and aerospace.

The UK textiles industry has a “great story to tell”, said Graham Stuart MP, Minister for Exports at the Department for International Trade, as he congratulated UKFT on the launch of the first-ever British Textile Week.

South Asian textiles were valued for a variety of reasons in 19th-century Britain, as they were prized as symbolic trophies of Britain’s empire in India and examples of its material resources and were also admired as models of good design and inspiration for both manufacturers and consumers.

They also became desirable ‘exotic’ commodities increasingly available in the bazaars and shops of London and other cities.

Throughout recorded history, textiles have played an important role in the social, cultural, and economic life of South Asia.

Cotton, as well as many dye plants, is native to the Indian subcontinent, facilitating the development of many textile techniques, such as the harvesting, carding, and cleaning of the fiber or wool, then spinning and weaving it into threads.

Distinctive dress forms evolved from lengths of unstitched cloth, as much of this region lies along or occupies great historic sea and land trade routes, textile products were disseminated along with great cultural exchange and the spread of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam.

Paul Alger, Director of International Business at UKFT, the largest British fashion and textile network told Asian Sunday:

“As the UK conducts its new trade agreements around the world, the ability to use Indian and South-East Asian embroidery and textile skills is very much in the forefront of what we’re looking to be able to do”.

Shilpa Bilimoria, the Founder & Creative Director of the House of Bilimoria. Image: Screenshot/House of Bilimoria.

He goes on to say “One of the best periods for the British textile industry if you look back in our recent history, is the swinging sixties, if you look at what people like Biba and Mary Quant and various other people did, a lot of that was inspired by embroidery and different access to textile techniques and manufacturing that stems from India and Asia in general.

“So you see the influence in music like the Beatles and various other south-east Asian influences that are coming through there, but certainly, on the textiles side, the swinging sixties was the golden age for the UK textile and fashion industry and very much based on the UK’s unique relationship with those countries” Alger added.

Based on a generalised system of preference he says the UK uses influences from the Subcontinent through “The ability to incorporate hand spun and handwoven textiles and boutique and other forms of a craft form that part of the world, into mainstream fashion collections and that’s what stood the UK a part for many years”.

An expert in the textile industry, Asian Sunday spoke to Shilpa Bilimoria-Cherry, the Creative Director and Founder of the House of Bilimoria, on how South Asian culture has had an influence on the British textiles industry.

“The relationship between style and clothing in South Asia and Britain has a long history, it is something that has its roots buried in colonialism with the bottom line of profit being the priority of the way this was shaped back and forth between the two places through the years,” says Shilpa.

Offering her opinion on the ban of ‘Chintz’ textiles, which were loved by the British, with their origins in South Asia, and even their name originating from there, she says “What could look like a very British style of print or textile to the discerning eye, could, in fact, be a textile that’s life is really far from British”.

The woodblock printed, painted, stained or glazed calico textile of chintz originated in Golconda, which is present-day Hyderabad, India in the 16th century and came to dominate western interiors and fashion.

The word chintz came from the Hindi “chint” or Persian “chitta” meaning “spotted” or “printed”, and refers to a technique, rather than to the fabric itself.

Originally an Indian hand-painted or hand-printed calico, it became popular in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was imported by the Portuguese and latterly the East India Company.

Decorated with floral motifs and natural forms, this brightly coloured cotton fabric appealed to Europeans in particular. Foremost, cotton was softer than local linen and woollen fabrics, and the shiny vivid finish of chintz looked as expensive as imported silk.

The influx was such that both France and England began to view the imports as a threat to their local mills because they could not produce the fabric themselves.

As a result of this in 1720, the British government banned the import of most cotton textiles into England, followed by the restriction of the sale of most cotton textiles.

Chintz, although today might be largely associated with twee or cutesy armchairs and wallpaper is, in its true form, commonly referred to as a fabric that was not only once highly prized the world over, and helped revolutionise fashion and design, but also changed the course of history, but not for the better.

As Chintz became the cloth that changed the world, tells a story that is “Much larger, and often much less pleasant”, according to Harvard historian Dr Sven Beckert, and is a “Tale of armed trade, colonialism, slavery, and the dispossession of native peoples.”

The founder of Bilimoria adds “Bearing this in mind there is a dance between countries and cultures that have been happening and continues to do so, with influences turning into what could be seen as a whole new style of this modern-day world citizen.”