Fashion tales from the Himalayas

Brands in the Himalayas are different from what you get to see anywhere else

I first heard of Looms of Ladakh when the pandemic hit in 2020. We were looking for artisans and artisanal cooperatives to raise funds for and someone had suggested their name. Fortunately they were well looked after by their founders, but I continued to follow their extraordinary work since then.

Looms of Ladakh is actually a farm-to-fashion brand, if ever there was one. It is herder-artisan-first, which means it provides work to its pastoralists and makes them co-owners of the brand. Its founder brought together women weavers of Ladakh (Ladakh is one of few places in India where women weave. The rest of India has only male weavers, while the women are only an extra pair of hands) to create a pashmina label. Pashmina, the soft wool of the Ladakhi mountain goat, is a precious commodity in the world of luxury fashion. Few Indian companies work with pashmina, as it is hard to source and thus very expensive. Looms of Ladakh is special not only for its quality of pashmina, but because it is an all-women enterprise.

I’ve seen much of the wares of Looms of Ladakh at various pop-ups in Mumbai. They are soft, but thick pieces of woollen wear—much like the stuff one’s grandmother would knit. Neutral greys and beiges, thick ear muffs, socks, caps and the like.

From Looms of Ladakh’s ‘The Himalayan Knot’ collection | Instagram@loomsofladakh From Looms of Ladakh’s ‘The Himalayan Knot’ collection | Instagram@loomsofladakh

But I am in Leh now, and visiting the Looms of Ladakh store in Leh Bazaar. It’s less of a store, more of an office, but the upper floor is tastefully done with local wood and a sophisticated vibe. The soft-spoken (everyone in Leh is so soft spoken, it’s almost like they are praying under their breath) Lobzang Lamo is showing us around. The items here are so different from what I had seen before. This is thanks to a designer collaboration with the talented Rina Singh of Eka, one of our well-loved sustainable fashion labels.

Rina has used local motifs of mountains, prayer wheels and such, and for the first time ever, introduced a little woollen embroidery to the Looms ladies. She’s also introduced a little colour, inspired by the multi-coloured prayer flags one sees across town. The pieces are gorgeous, and can be sold and worn anywhere in the world.

This collaboration has been brought about by Royal Enfield Social Mission. It’s the CSR arm of the famous motorcycle company, but calling it merely a government mandate is unfair. The manner in which Siddharth Lal has attempted to impact the terrain and the communities of the Himalayas, where most of his riders venture, is nothing short of a cri de coeur. Lal, CEO of Royal Enfield and Eicher Motors, has initiated The Himalayan Knot, a textile conservation project in the area. “Craftsmanship has long been an anchor of legacies. In Ladakh, finely woven woollen textiles stand as silent storytellers of the weaving heritage of Changpa women, whose skilled hands capture history in motifs,” he says. Other than Eka, more designer collaborations are in store with Sonam Dubal and Sushant Abrol of Countrymade.

Lal’s vision is to leave every place better. A little further up from the Looms space, is Camp Kharu, an all-green pitstop for bikers going up to Pangong and Hanle. It is a two-storied 1,500sqft structure made of driftwood and rammed earth that functions as a cafe (the kitchen is run by six local women from self-help groups) as well as an exhibition space, overlooking the magnificent Indus river.

I visited Kharu too, riding pillion with one of Royal Enfield’s riders, wearing a soft white shawl from Looms of Ladakh X Eka. The ladies at the cafe made some barley beer, a great mood-fix for the nextdoor concert by Da Shugs, a Ladakhi band so popular that even the little kids grooving knew the lyrics.