Sheila Hicks has lived and worked in many countries, and always immerses herself fully in the culture. In 1965, she was approached by a representative of Commonwealth Trust of Calicut, Kerala, India. CommTrust was (and is) the longest continually operating hand-weaving mill in India. The mill had thousands of highly skilled weavers, but their fabrics were rejected by European buyers as incompatible with modern furniture. Hicks had been suggested more than once as a textile designer whose ideas were at the forefront of contemporary design thinking. CommTrust believed Hicks could revitalize the designs of the mill, and were confident in her ability to work in a non-industrialized setting.
Hicks stayed in Kerala for 2 ½ months, each day sitting down to experiment at the loom, working with the vibrantly colored yarns in stock, and using the traditional equipment and techniques well-known to the weavers there. When she arrived at a successful design, she turned the loom over to one of the weavers, and moved on to the next loom. Introducing slubby hand-spun weft yarns and using complex combinations of colors, she created richly textured cotton fabrics suitable for upholstery, curtains and table linens.
Hicks encouraged the company to capitalize on the unique qualities of hand-woven fabrics, rather than compete with machine-woven goods from Europe. She selected a group of 20 designs to become the Kerala Collection, and named each design for a village in the area. The samples were stitched to hand-made paper and presented in a hand-woven bag. The anonymously-produced line was a success, winning CommTrust the state’s Best Exporter award for three years from 1968 to 1970. Hicks returned two years later to create the Monsoon Collection, which included some silk fabrics. One of the designs from this second collection, Badagara, has been in continuous production for more than 45 years.