Noorjehan Bilgrami, a pioneer in the preservation of the craft traditions in Pakistan, established KOEL in 1977, primarily to revive the hand-block printing craft which by then had almost ceased to exist. Introducing this age-old craft to home furnishing and women’s apparel, she popularized it to such an extent that within ten years, scores of block-printing karkhanas (workshops) were set up by entrepreneurs in Karachi alone, providing jobs to hundreds of craftsmen.
Apart from hand-block printing, KOEL carried out high quality hand-embroidery and other embellishments on fabric, setting high standards to create a unique niche in the up-market fashion apparel sector in Pakistan. Almost all the fabric used at KOEL is exclusively designed silk and cotton, woven on hand-looms by renowned master weavers of Pakistan.
In collaboration with an entrepreneur, Masuma Lotia and with the assistance from Department of Forests, Government of Sindh, an indigenous species of Indigoferra Tinctoria was cultivated at Miani Forest through a Pilot Project set up in 1998 that also included the processing of the indigo dye. KOEL had earlier started the use of natural dyes, including natural indigo and madder, for all its yarn and fabric dyeing. It is the first and only production house in Pakistan to have exclusively switched to the eco-friendly, non-carcinogen dyes, all locally produced.
The charkha (spinning wheel) was left neglected in many homes, the skills not being transferred to the next generation. Over the years, hand spinning of cotton had almost entirely become mechanized, and during this period, pile towels had completely replaced the traditional cotton towels. Hand-spinning of cotton has now been reintroduced in homes, and KOEL has begun a product line of traditional hand-woven towels made from hand-spun yarn.
KOEL has diversified from textiles into the design, production and marketing of furniture. Following the basic philosophy of KOEL’s belief in ‘simplicity and tradition’, the hallmark of our furniture is the use of solid wood and an honest approach in design by exposing, rather than camouflaging joinery. Our skilled craftsmen with their age old experience, further embellish the furniture with beaten copper and steel to enhance the aesthetics of the items. Antique carved pieces are juxtapositioned with contemporary design sensibilities.
KOEL produces exclusive apparel and home furnishings from natural-dyed hand-loom cottons, silks and wool. These are exported to the prestigious Jurgen Lehl and Co. in Japan and to Kosoen, the traditional Aizome (indigo) dyers. Kosoen’s atelier in Ome draws many tourists to their picturesque surrounding in the outskirts of Tokyo. KOEl’s exports extend to buyers in USA and Canada.
Over the years, numerous exhibitions and fashion shows featuring apparel and hand-woven, naturally dyed fabrics from KOEL have been held in many cities in Pakistan, India, USA, Canada, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait and UAE.
KOEL Productions, a subsidiary of KOEL, is committed to the revival of the crafts in Pakistan by bringing public awareness and promoting the different crafts nationally and internationally through the electronic media.
KOEL Publications, another subsidiary of KOEL, is a Publishing House that has been publishing books on the arts and crafts of Pakistan.