In the Kullu Manali Valley valley lies Bhutti, a small hard-to-access village on the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India. It’s here you’ll find one of the world’s last hand-weaving societies in the world. And it is here that Cape Town-based designer Ben Nivison’s first collection, a Cape-Indo range of tartan textiles, was woven.

The Bhutti Weavers Corporative Society, popularly known as Bhuttico was founded in 1944 to create employment in the Kullu district. After searching for the right weavers for his product, Ben found this group that uses sustainable practices to make woven woolen products inspired by the Himalayan mountains, the river, the flora and the religion and culture of the area. The teal-coloured water of the great Vyas river which flows through the Kullu Manali Valley from iced-capped peaks echoes the blues of the Atlantic Ocean in Cape Town.

After studying textile design at Shenkar University in Tel Aviv, Ben wanted to create stories using textiles as his medium. He is fascinated by the role textiles play in the identity of ancient cultures and the intrinsic story-telling power it has to offer. “It is my goal to create a brand dedicated to giving fabric an identity, a tangible entity that people can relate to,” says Ben.

Ben created the design of his first collection referencing his own heritage while respecting the community who brought his design to life. His father is of Scottish descent and when he read about tartan he found that Scottish designs, like those of the Indian designs, are very specific to clans and geographic location, and to what yarns and dyes are available in that area. “I took the tartan idea and wanted to have fun with it. I use repeats of the patterns in weird ways,” he says.

The collection tells more than Ben’s story. “I wanted the people who wove this fabric to have a very tangible relationship to the design. I want you to be able to tell where it is from.” Before visiting the village with photographer Ricardo Simal, Ben sent samples of a range he had hand woven to Bhuttico. His designs were adapted to suit their set of skills and to the lambs’ wool yarn they are accustomed to weaving. Because weavers work with specific looms and yarns, there are nuances in how they work and what they produce. The wool was sourced from Australia, and spun and dyed in Kolkata in India. Ben selected royal blue, navy blue, light brown for his Nivison tartan while Bhuttico weavers introduced their favourite, traditional colours, teal blue and fuschia pink into Ben’s other designs.   Ben says, “It’s the fusion of our traditions”.

The result of Ben’s six months of research, design and manufacturing is a range of 10 richly coloured tartan textiles. The Woolmark-certified merino wool fabric comes in two weights and there are four colours in each design.

The BN collection launches on Thursday evening (19 July) at The Bello Studio at the Biscuit Mill. Along with the fabrics, Ricardo Simal’s photographs and a short film will be exhibited.

Photo credits: Ricardo Simal (and last one supplied)