Colorado State University Grant Promotes Diversity Through Study of Textiles from India

The Colorado State University Department of Design and Merchandising, as well as K-12 schools across the nation, will offer new courses and activities that integrate research on cultural diversity using textiles as a window into India.

The Fabric of Indian Life Project, which included a trip to India from Dec. 26 to Jan 25, was led by Colorado State University faculty Mary Littrell, professor and head of design and merchandising; Molly Eckman, associate professor of design and merchandising; and Jim Boyd, professor of philosophy.

The project was made possible through a Fulbright-Hays Group Project grant through the U.S. Department of Education. The Fulbright-Hays program, which helps bring international awareness and expertise into American education, provided $83,000 out of the project’s total funding of $112,000.

While in India, project participants visited major cities as well as five rural villages, where they were given the opportunity to join in workshops with artisans engaged in textile production. The group also met with the CEO and executive team of a major Indian retailer, an independent contractor, a designer and an exporter in the textiles industry.

Littrell said India was chosen because of its rich cultural and textile heritage, the changes occurring in its large retailing complex and its overall economic potential. The group visited rural schools as well as the premier apparel design institution in India, the National Institute of Fashion Technology. These visits allowed the group to take a closer look at India’s role in the global textile and apparel market.

According to Littrell, only 5 percent of retail is organized in India, while 95 percent consists of small stalls in open markets. These numbers will change drastically as large retailers enter the market.

"The timing of the project is what makes it interesting. India has always been an entrepreneurial country and is a democracy and it is projected that the country will soon have the largest population in the world. Changes are being made in its retailing structure that stand to significantly affect the lives of Indian consumers throughout the country. Many universities are interested in the economic changes in India as related to their teaching and research programs," said Littrell.  

The information gained over the course of the trip is being used to teach a group study this semester led by Eulanda Sanders, associate professor of design and merchandising, and Linda Carlson, lecturer and curator of historic collections for the design and merchandising department, who participated in the project.

The objectives for the course include gaining an understanding of textile and apparel traditions in India and developing an appreciation for Indian culture through literature. Students involved in the study are developing projects that reflect their growing knowledge of India.

Course enhancement is not only being made at Colorado State but also in K-12 schools across the nation including Poudre School District.

Marty Marsh, a language arts teacher at Lesher Junior High School, will invite Colorado State design and merchandising students into her classroom to work with seventh and ninth grade students studying Indian textiles. The college students will tie-dye with the seventh graders using a traditional Indian tie-dye, called bandhani and create textile designs with ninth graders using computer aided design.  The results of these activities will be included in a gallery exhibit in the Gustafson Gallery in the Gifford Building in early May.

Sanders, Carlson, and Marsh will also be teaching the modern Indian novel Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai to their students. The Colorado State students will lead the discussion about the Indian culture with ninth grade honors English students.

The rest of the team was made up of 12 members of the International Textile and Apparel Association and six K-12 teachers chosen from across the United States.

"This was a great way for the university to link with K-12 teachers and learn about educational trends that run through primary education into secondary education," said Eckman.