Heritage goes global

Friendship on Friday commemorated its 20th anniversary. This was a special milestone for the NGO and they celebrated their achievements on the occasion. During a day-long programme, they held several events to display their various initiatives with nature and the environment, their efforts to turn around people's lives. In general, Friendship is known for its floating hospital and its boat replicas. But it also has a special story of changing the lives of girls on the chars (river islands), empowering them and helping them to be self-reliant.

Their initiative, Colours of the Chars, is as colourful as its name. These are the colours that have splashed across the world. If we talk about fashion for development, this is it. Colours of the Chars is changing the colours of lives there. The flash of that colour on the catwalk of a five-star hotel, gave us a glimpse of just how much is happening on those remote stretches of land. It is the women of those chars who are behind the creations on display. It is the magic of their nimble fingers that has taken this fashion far and wide around the world. Their work adorns the environmentally conscious fashionistas. Runa Khan, the founder and executive director of Friendship, told this touching tale at the outset of the programme.

She can proudly claim that they are different from anyone else. They are Bangladesh's first 'slow fashion' brand. Their fabric is woven in the Bangladesh's traditional weaving method. They use natural and Azo-free dyes. That fabric is used to make clothes and other products. Sometimes leftover bits and pieces of fabric or rejected cloth is recycled and up-cycled too. Designer Imam Hasan and his team are doing laudable work.

Back to the fashion show. Friendship Colours of the Chars is spreading around the country and the world. This organisation has been continuing for 20 years now, achieving praiseworthy success. And this was presented in the six chapters of the evening's show -- Handloom, Jamdani, Khadi, Heritage, Upcycle and From the Chars to the World.

I had talked about dramatics and that needs to be elaborated there. It began with a short play on the evils of child marriage and the determination to overcome all odds in life. And weaving was the magic wand there.

But these were no fairy tales, but the true picture of change on the chars. The lanterns carries by the girls here were not just a touch of nostalgia, but were symbols of enlightenment. So the point is, fashion is not just an indulgence, but a catalyst for development. It is a tool for change. This is basically the actual and replicable example of fashion for development.

Then the stage lit up and models arrived, displaying the beauty of hand woven fabrics, intricacies and the amazing stories behind these creations, creations that dazzled, creations that soothed the eye.

Needless to say, all the fabric was hand woven. Some were woven on the chars, some elsewhere. The first chapter was about fabric all hand woven on the chars. There were outfits made of this fabric, including the traditional sari. But a creation that was draped like a traditional sari was particularly eye catching, much like a mermaid. It spoke of the sheer diverse creativity of the show -- sometimes far out creativity and sometimes more practical wear.

A handful of organisations have kept Bangladesh's khadi alive down till today and Friendship Colours of the Chars is one. While a lot is being done with khadi in neighbouring India, it is gradually facing extinction on Bangladesh. There have been isolated and scattered initiatives with khadi, but Friendship Colours of Chars is an exception.

It has given this weaving heritage a fresh lease of life. It was challenging to train up these who spin the thread, the threads with which the cloth is woven. But they managed to do so. What a historical role this khadi played in the independence movement of India, the inspiration of this hand woven fabric. That is why Friendship Colours of the Chars call this the Thread of Independence.

Heritage can go global, can enter the international realm. That is what was shown in this chapter. In this part, actress, model and dancer Sadia Islam Mou appeared on stage, creating quite a sensation. She was the showstopper, the presence from the start to end of this part. The creations here too were attractive and bright in natural colours.

What can one say about beautiful jamdani? Various initiatives have honed the skill of our jamdani artisans. Friendship Colours of the Chars is determined to stick to the use of natural and Azo-free dye and this was evident in the jamdani creations presented at the show. The skill of the artisans and the creativity of the designers juxtaposed in perfection. Normally jamdani is used just for saris, but now the time has come to think outside of the box. It must go global. It has all the potential. Saris will not be enough to keep jamdani alive.

But what I found the most spectacular and indeed internationally appealing at this show were the chapters, Upcycle Life Cycle and From the Chars, to the World. Amazing presentations of clothes made from basic fabric with the clever use of props.

When the model strode on stage, head in a globe, carrying plants, that said it all. This symbolism deserves kudos. And extraordinary ideation.

Friendship Colours of the Chars has branches in Holland and Luxembourg and so can let their presence be known to the world. With pride. And they are doing so.

This show presented slow fashion creations suitable for the global market, a sign of the times. They gave the apt message to Bangladesh and the rest of the world -- 'take it slow'. The mastery in cut, patterns, intricate work and colour schemes will linger in the mind for long.

Another elements that set this fashion show apart from rest is the ready document for the viewers. And the use of subtle props throughout. The makeup artistry added élan.

Azra Mahmud outdid herself in the choreography. It was a new, it was refreshing, it was gripping. It was a night where Friendship Colours of the Chars took heritage to the world.

Director (operations) Nazra Sabet and team deserve praise for presenting this excellent show. Mention must also be made of Alvin Colin Furtado and SM Jabbar.

The show was interspersed with speeches by the chief guest, secretary of the environment, forests and climate change ministry Dr Farhina Ahmed and others involved in Friendship and Friendship Colours of the Chars at home and abroad.