Umme Kulsum Ali Akber of Karachi, Pakistan is a graduate of Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture and a budding entrepreneur who designs charming rugs and mats from leftover fabric in a unique way. In March, her hand-crafted designer rugs received acclaim at a contest held by New and Next University in Frankfurt, Germany, winning the best thesis project award for her innovative concept built wholly on recycling. In this blog, she explains how the seemingly arduous task of recycling fabric waste is actually quite easy, cost-effective, and environmentally beneficial when put to practice.
I am proud of my father for spending his life nurturing a business that he grew with his brothers from occupying a small office space to owning several textile mills.
I remember quite vividly visiting his factory as a young child. The clanking of machinery, and the satisfaction of looking at coarse, raw material being transformed into an orderly stack of textile and fabric, with the final product ending up beautifying a room or any kind of space.
In my school days, I used to frequent the factory site in the after hours in order to spend time with him. In hindsight, I cherish that time as it deepened our father-daughter bond, and because I got a front row seat to observe the trappings of running a business right from the procurement of raw materials to the finish line. For me, it was the beginning of an entrepreneurial curiosity that would germinate into a fixation as I grew up.
My father taught me to think outside of the box, and to explore uncharted avenues and pitch new things to the market.
A question that bothered me when I was younger was what could be done with the textile waste that was generated in the process of weaving, stitching and printing cloth? A common site at textile mills is the mounds of textile waste that is discarded. The question remained suspended for a long time until I found an answer through my current undertaking of creating designer rugs using textile waste.
Pakistan is a hub of the global textile industry and the large volume of industries results in a significant amount of textile waste that goes unused. An unfortunate reality of our times is that, not only plastic, but textiles are a major contributor of waste in our environment. In fact, many synthetic fabrics do not decompose and can pollute the environment forever.
Pakistan also faces the burden of having to deal with imported waste from other countries. However, the abundance of textile waste presents a unique opportunity to produce inexpensive and exclusive home-based products such as dhurries – thick flat-woven cotton or wool cloth or rug – on a sustainable basis.
My project is based on recycling, albeit with a creative touch. The beauty of utilising textile waste for production is that I can use several colour variations. The range of colours allows me to create aesthetically pleasing products without the need for excessive dyeing. I have only dyed 10% of the fabrics used in my dhurries, with the remaining 90% already dyed. Most of my designs are inspired by the textures of different kinds of stones that I have found in nurseries, beaches, streets, parks and gardens.
Another interesting aspect about my products is that the warp and weft on the handloom (khadi) is also made of recycled materials – left-over threads that were used by the previous batches of students at my university and other wastes such as excess yarns used for making t-shirts.
My products are made for use in the home because I do contend with the reality that people might not be comfortable wearing something made out of waste. They are different from other rugs as the dhurries I produce do not utilise the traditional dhurrie making technique. Instead, they are made on a handloom consisting of larger loops of threads that replace the usual needles. This has allowed me to easily use thick t-shirt yarn as the warp and streamline a process that would generally take four times as long. This economical setup can easily be replicated by textile owners resulting in economic gain for factories while making an environment-friendly choice of reducing the waste that goes into the landfills.
As a textile student and environmentally conscious citizen, my goal is to use my knowledge and experience to create awareness of my technique that ensures environmental benefit while providing economic value in bringing out better and aesthetically pleasing designs.