May 17th, 2012
02:07 PM GMT
Demra, Bangladesh (CNN) - Centuries ago, "jamdani" was among the most highly prized textiles in the world. But these days it's being replaced by cheaper, mass-produced materials, and the expertise needed to make traditional jamdani is dying out.
Jamdani originated in what is now Bangladesh, many centuries ago. Woven on hand looms, for hundreds of years it was traded everywhere from Bengal to China, and as far west as Italy. Historical accounts from the British East India Company show exports of jamdanis in the 1700s worth millions of rupees.
Today, a six-yard piece of fabric that makes up one sari can cost upwards of $2,000, but creating a sari from jamdani fabric is a labour-intensive process that can take up to seven months. These fabrics can only be made by hand, using traditional manual hand looms.
The advent of cheap machine fabrics has threatened the future of the jamdani makers, but now the ancient art is experiencing something of a revival.
Three decades ago, recognizing the importance of keeping the tradition alive, entrepreneur Monira Eemdad began encouraging weavers to go back to their looms - orchestrating sales through retail shops to keep weavers in business.
“The new generation of weavers don’t want to get into this monotonous work,” Eemdad told CNN’s Leone Lakhani. “It's hard for us to explain to the young ones to do this work.”
She began marketing the saris not just in Bangladesh, but overseas too. Some 15,000 weavers work under her guidance today, with 5,000 pieces of jamdani sold each year, mainly in markets across South Asia.
“The subcontinent is the main market,” Eemdad said. “Then maybe others who live abroad - they demand a lot.”
She added: “Internationally, now the jamdani pattern, the motif, can be made into exclusive materials, for instance very expensive curtains, household items. Or others who are into fashion design can make scarves, put a touch of a jamdani design on a dress, to make it different. There are many forms.”
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