Meet the Artisans
Found primarily in the eastern states of India -- Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar-- tasar silkworms are a rarity. Unlike mulberry, the most widely used silk, tassar silk is textured and consists of shorter fibers. The benefits? It lasts longer and is more durable than mulberry silk.
However, it’s not produced in large quantities and is a labor-intensive process.
Tassar worms live on trees and munch on their leaves. Reared by local farmers, they have to be hand picked and moved around the forest till they’ve had their fill of foliage. Once they start the process of spinning their cocoon, the worms can produce more than 1.5 kilometers of silk in just 8 to 10 days.
After one month, the cocoons are harvested and laid out in the sun to dry naturally. The cocoons are often also dipped in warm water to allow the silk to soften (by then the worms have scurried off). The silk is then spun and woven by tribal and rural women in the villages.
Bhagalpur in the eastern state of Bihar has become a hotspot for tassar silk. There are reportedly over 30,000 weavers churning out tassar silk, using hand looms, in the city.
Delhi-based Eco-Tasar is a social enterprise that specializes in this raw wild silk. Founder and CEO Khitish Pandya started Eco-Tasar to help villages have a sustainable source of income. Given the special nature of tasar silk-- its multi-tonal finish and durability-- Pandya realized that it had to be marketed appropriately. So Eco Tasar specializes in pillows, scarves, bedding made with this rare silk.
And indeed Indian tasar is quite rare. India produces only about 500 metric tons of the material in a year, significantly less than its neighbor, China. Yet, the Chinese use machines, not artisans, to weave it.
Instead of focusing on speeding up the process through mechanization, Pandya is passionate about using it as tool to help the local population.
“The process supports a large base of artisans across a geography that is endemically poor,” he says. "That's most important. That's why I spend so much time on this."