Find out how fabric became banned

The term “chintz” has become synonymous with old ladies’ curtains, bringing with it images of teapots and fussy floral fabrics. The last thing most people would expect is a history that once saw it banned in multiple countries and smuggled into Europe, with heavy links to slavery.

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According to The Inside, Chintz originated in modern-day India and Pakistan and has a history dating back more than 500 years. While we now consider the words “chintz” and “floral” to be synonymous, in actual fact, chintz is simply a cotton fabric which has had substances added to help dye adhere to it. In Europe, the term came to denote a fabric of many varieties which was made on an industrial scale.

Chintz has been used to make clothing since the 17th Century, with a push for European design to be incorporated into the different vivid patterns seen in the Indian fabric. Across Europe, the way in which the fabric took root differed between countries. French aristocracy donned the fabric, while in other countries, working women first wore the fabric. Indian chintz was the very first example of fast fashion as the imports made their way across the continent.

So, why was it banned?

European textile merchants worried about the economic consequences on their businesses, with manufacturers of fibres such as silk and wool rioting and protesting against the import of the fabric. These textiles were much more traditionally worn in Europe, often knitted in order to create garments for wear. While in the modern day, the purchase of knitting kits such as those from woolcouturecompany is something of a hobby, having previously been the main method of clothing a population, the merchants of old were faced with the reality that there may be new materials to replace their wares. The sale of chintz was so widespread that despite smugglers facing potential execution, chintz was still available for purchase and worn widely.

A brutal history

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The development of cotton, which was well suited to use in machinery, brought with it further issues, with significantly longer lasting consequences than the impact on sales for merchants. The cottons that were developed relied on slaves for cultivation and harvesting, and cottons were even traded for indigenous Americans. It was on the back of this slavery that British traders led innovation towards large factories and mills, providing a launch pad for the industrial revolution.

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