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Dilip Barooah, Assam’s pioneering ahimsa silk entrepreneur dies of coronavirus

Tycoon played stellar role in promoting traditional handloom fabrics of the Northeast

Guwahati, August 20: The demise of Dilip Barooah, a towering figure in the handloom industry and a pioneer in the export and popularisation of Assam’s handloom fabrics, will leave a void which many feel will be tough to fill.

Barooah, the founder of Fabric Plus, passed away in Guwahati at 10 pm yesterday, at the age of 62.

According to Dhanjit Sharma, an employee of Fabric Plus, Barooah was diagnosed with stage IV cancer of the kidney about 20 days back. He was admitted to Apollo Hospital here at the time. He was then shifted to Nemcare Hospital where he was said to be infected with Covid-19. Barooah was then taken to Health City Hospital where he expired after staying one day.

Barooah is survived by his wife, a son aged 28 and a daughter of 22. The family had shifted to Guwahati from Mumbai about a year ago.
Barooah founded Fabric Plus, a leading manufacturer, exporter, supplier and retailer of Assam and ahimsa(peace or non-violence) silks, including eri, muga, mulberry, tassar yarns, fabrics and silk dresses in the country.

Apart from silk sarees, mekhala sadorkurta, scarves and stoles, the company offers a range of silk products starting from cocoons, cocoon cakes, dressed fibres, tops and yarn to fabric, garments and accessories. It features as one of the most organised handloom set-ups in India, and has played a pioneering role in promoting traditional handloom fabrics of the Northeast.

The story of Barooah is as fascinating as that of the birth of his company. Hailing from Margherita in upper Assam, a young Barooah ventured into different career streams before thinking of working with textiles and eventually dedicating his life to it.

Barooah decided to be self- dependant very early in life, having watched his parents struggle to provide for their six children. After one failed attempt to run away to Chandigarh to pick up skills at a Swiss Watch Repairing Training Centre, three failed attempts to join the National Defence Academy, he finally made his way to Guwahati to complete his pre-degree at Arya Vidyapeeth College. Even there he had to skip a year because there were strikes by the lecturers. Around that time, when he had no place to stay in Guwahati, he chanced upon the Assam Textile Institute (ATI) in Ambari. 

The lure of hostel facilities and scholarships was enough to get him interested, but what helped him get really hooked were, in fact, the textiles. “The dots somehow connected with textiles,” he fondly recollected later in life.

After studying textile technology at ATI, he went for his chartered textile technologist degree from the Textile Institute, Manchester. He also did Management from SASMIA, Mumbai; export management from Indian Merchant Chamber, Mumbai.

He worked in different companies across Mumbai, Germany, South Africa, and even came to Assam to complete a project during the early days of his career but he didn’t stay back then because he felt that Assam wasn’t ready for a workaholic like him.
After years of working outside his own region and country, he felt a need to come back and start something of his own. He started coming to Assam frequently in order to explore the possibilities but it was tough getting loans. Finally, he got his break from former NEDFi CMD K.N. Hazarika and the then DoNER minister.

Started as a merchant exporting company at Mumbai in 2003, Fabric Plus became a partnership company in the year 2005 and started its first eri and muga silk yarn factory at Vasai Road (E), Mumbai. The first factory was a small one but they worked their way to the Chaygaon composite silk unit which expanded from 20,000 sq feet to about 50,000 sq ft. At present, Fabric Plus has 500 employees and about 1,25,000 people indirectly associated with the company.

Nearly 90 per cent of Fabric Plus’s products were exported, with Italy being the primary export country, catering to top international fashion brands like Maxmara, Marella, Georgio Armani, Hugo Boss, Channel, Paul & Smith.

Fabric Plus has also worked with clients like Hermes, Ted Baker, Chanel, Boss, Caroll, Balmain, Brooks Brothers, Paul Smith, Camerucci, Luisa Spagnoli, Marina Rinladi, Emporio Armani, Incredible India, Fab India, to name a few.
Highly impressed with Barooah’s work, the Italian government selected him as a prominent exporter to Italy and also sponsored a fully paid marketing and management course at CUOA University for developing more export trade in the European Union, including Italy.

Barooah’s demise and the void he has left behind are being felt by many in the fashion industry of Assam.
NewFileOnline talked to a few established fashion designers like Meghali Das and Payal Chadha.
Meghali Das, the owner of Handloom Hues — a boutique on Zoo-Narengi road, posted a tribute to Barooah on Facebook. Talking to NewsFileOnline, Das said, “It is a big loss for the handloom sector in Assam because he did a lot of work with eri and was doing very well in his field. I have been working with weavers, who work on our own looms. We specialize in mekhela sadors and do a lot of eri work. I used to call him up a lot of times to find out more about eri, of which he was an expert. I was in touch with him during the lockdown period and last month I had talked to him regarding a new project.”

Payal Chadha, an established fashion designer of the city, famous for her innovative mekhela sadors as well as Indian and Western outfits, said, “He was the ‘Bhishma pitamah’ of the textile industry of Assam. The credit for making peace fabric or ahimsa silk so popular goes to Mr Barooah. The MD of Fabric plus and Rudrasagar silk left his six-figure salaried job to help the people in his home state. The demise of silk expert and social entrepreneur is a huge loss to the silk industry and will impact the livelihood of probably 100,000 rural families in Assam.”

Chadha is the owner of Gallery 2000 boutique on Rajgarh Road.

Eri silk, which is the only naturally occurring ahimsa silk, is produced only in the Northeast, mainly Assam. The potential of this silk was earlier ignored, but with the growing awareness about eco- friendly organic textiles, Barooah was confident of eri becoming one of the most wanted silks in the world.

Barooah had lofty ideals and this is reflected in a message on his company’s website, where he wrote, “Our objective is to serve our society – its people and our traditions, the environments we inhabit and ultimately the stories that arise from the synthesis of our interactions. As a Social Enterprise, the company aims to develop communities across the North-Eastern region of India in terms of cultural preservation and adaptation, socio-economic stability, livelihood generation and environmental welfare.”

Team NewsFile