Nila meaning ‘blue’ in Sanskrit is a non-profit organisation, spearheaded by the Lady Bamford Foundation and dedicated to honouring and preserving the natural dye and handloom traditions of rural India. The initiative offers a platform for artistic exchange, innovation and education but also a space for creativity, cultural exchange and the crafting of hand-made textiles. Like Bamford, Nila shares a passion for sustainable production, natural fibres, protecting the soil and keeping traditional handicraft skills alive.
Nila House was opened in October 2019. It is a cultural centre of excellence located in Jaipur. The rooms and workshops at Nila House are a space for people to come together and learn about craft and design, guided by masters in their field, including block printing, hand-spinning, hand-weaving, embroidery and natural dyes. A place where contemporary designers meet with traditional artisans, encouraging new learning and keeping traditional skills alive.
Natural indigo dye
At the heart of Nila is the colour indigo, a shade that reflects devotion, wisdom, integrity and sincerity. And the indigo dye that is characteristic in so many of its arresting blue textile work is indigenous to India, carefully grown, fermented and extracted from the indigofera tinctoria plant, and celebrated for over 4000 years.
Not only does this beautiful hue colour each garment in the Nila collection, it helps to sustain India’s natural, artisanal ecosystem. As a natural dye, indigo is kind to the craftsmen who use it, while being inherently kind to the soil.
Indigo is also wonderfully unique. There is no single recipe – the colour produced by the dye depends on many factors such as yield, climate, humidity, temperature, the number of applications, and the number of bacteria required for fermentation. These various aspects and the delicate interplay of external elements are what make indigo textiles so precious. The beauty of Nila is in this uniqueness, and for that reason, each piece will differ slightly.
Shop the Nila Collection
Bamford is proud to offer an edit of Nila pieces, crafted by artisan communities in India, available to purchase online and in store. The collection of home textiles and items for baby are dyed with natural indigo.
Nila Botanicals Quilt
The Botanicals Quilt exemplifies Nila's ethos for preserving sustainable craft practises. The botanical print is screen-printed with natural dye; the intricate silhouettes are reflective of indigo, marigold, tamarind and pomegranate, imbuing the quilt with a holistic appreciation for nature.
Craft in a time of uncertainty
Since opening in October 2019, Nila House quickly became a hub for craft enthusiasts in India and beyond to learn, connect and forge lasting relationships rooted in a shared love for traditional crafts. In March this year, after a successful exhibition and series of lively workshops, the pandemic became a serious concern for Indian citizens and Nila House was equally affected by the national lockdown. The body of work that has emerged since is a testament to the commitment and passion of their team and the strength of Nila’s core vision.
From online workshops and open-source ‘Learn with Nila’ workshops, to a new e-shop, which means that Nila are still able to commit to productions with their existing artisan partners - the organisation reacted quickly and yet with due caution and care to the rapidly changing circumstances. In accordance with local guidelines, Nila are now working on training small groups of women in person, making sure to observe health and safety measures while ensuring they will have a reliable source of income towards the end of the year.
Nila artisans were able to work remotely during the pandemic, supported by online resources made available by the Nila team.
Nila launched the beginnings of a long-term initiative to support and train hand-spinners in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Nagaland. The spinners are all women and largely work from home, which means that these initiatives were able to function remotely.
Part of Nila's mandate is also to support the farming and use of natural indigo in India. In this vein, they have just harvested their first experimental Indigo crop outside Jaipur, which was being maintained remotely during lockdown.
Nila are now working on training small groups in person, making sure to observe health and safety measures. The team spent some time in summer creating uplifting and educational summer boxes which were then donated to house-bound children.
'Although we remain a highly ambitious organisation with a small team, we have also realised the importance of slowing down, of reconnecting with our roots and making sure we are still on the intended path, for our journey is to be a long one.’