The new indie craft helpers

Meet the individuals who began working with weaving communities during the lockdown to help them tide the pandemic and beyond

With the recently-concluded National Handloom Day celebrations on social media and shopping portals, concerns were raised about how weavers were faring during the pandemic. Perilously, say those in the sector, with markets closing down, spending power greatly reduced and no exhibitions in sight. However, NGOs like Dastkar, Ekibeki, Raah Foundation, Sanatkada and several more, along with design schools, co-operatives and corporates have stepped in to help them sustain their livelihood during this lockdown period and beyond.

And over the past few months, at the grassroots, individuals have begun working with artisans in their community to help reach clients and rethink their sales strategy. Weavers are now experimenting with new designs and textures, and learning to use online platforms to their advantage. They all have one dream, to be woven into the Great Indian Handloom narrative.

Meera Goradia
 

Meera Goradia, Co-Founder, Creative Dignity

Goradia is happily surprised at how the Covid crisis has brought out the best in some human beings. The Creative Dignity (CD) movement, that provides relief and rehabilitation to artisans left stranded by the pandemic, started with 25 volunteer members on May 1 and has grown to 250 since then.

While CD has provided relief to approximately 2,000 artisans, of which 60% are from the handloom sector, Goradia says doles are not the solution. The aim is to get artisans back in their workshops, she says, adding, “Covid has provided an opportunity to reimagine, restructure and reconfigure Indian craft.”

And so management firm Kearney offered pro bono strategic guidance, Industree Foundation volunteered its secretariat for administrative support for a year. Norwest Venture Partners and its campaign Gratitude for Covid promised to match the funds raised by CD. Design schools including IICD, NIFT and Srishti are imparting digital literacy to the artisans. They are helping them create catalogues, take product photos and upload them. FICCI FLO is promoting their stock sales campaigns at a national level, while e-commerce platforms such as Jaypore, Okhai, GoCoop, iTokri and Gaatha are also partnering for sales. An app that will help weavers manage inventory and work as a virtual storefront is also in the works. Details: creativedignity.org

(left) Asomee Dutta Baruah and her masks
 
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Special Arrangement

Asomee Dutta Baruah, Director, Natural Collective Producer Company

“Did you know that 95% of handloom weavers are from the Northeast? If there is a village of 100 people, at least 80 will be engaged in weaving. Every second home is a small industry. Yet our voices have not reached anywhere,” rues Baruah. In addition to the virus, floods and landslides have hit the weavers hard and hundreds have lost their looms. And while rations and funds are helpful in the short-term, she hopes that the support will evolve into a more meaningful engagement with the weavers, so that they can start weaving again. “We are now weaving triple-layered masks out of Eri silk that is dyed in turmeric and neem, a practice that has been in existence for generations. People now look out for products that are sustainable, long lasting and eco-friendly. All of those notions are woven into our handlooms.” The website will be ready in a while, promises Baruah. As soon as the crisis tides over. Details: [email protected]

(left) Poludas Nagendra Satish and (right) an artisan at work
 
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Poludas Nagendra Satish, Founder, Kora Design Collaborative

Working with designers, technicians and craftspeople, Satish’s aim was to impart skills to new weavers, encourage women to weave and introduce affordable technology at the grassroots level. “With so much time on their hands, weavers are weaving more,” he says of the immediate problem that they are facing. While the finished products have piled up, there are no takers. Even the bigger and better-managed societies with their personal contacts, a good network and smart marketing have managed to sell only 5% to 8% of their stocks, says Satish.

Across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar, Kora is creating ecosystems to make the handloom communities self-sufficient. It is encouraging the cultivation of indigenous cotton, innovating simpler spinning techniques and setting up structures that do not cause disruption in their daily routine. Details: @satish_kora on Instagram

(left) Kevisedenuo Margaret Zinyu and (right) pillows designed at Woven Threads
 
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Kevisedenuo Margaret Zinyu, Woven Threads (Studio Predilection)

“Our weavers traditionally live on very little. They grow their own food and [in that sense] have not been severely affected by the virus. The current challenge is that they have their hands full tending to the family that is now home all the time,” says Zinyu, proprietor of Woven Threads, a design initiative that supports women weavers of Nagaland to preserve their traditions. She works with 20 weavers in the districts of Kohima, Phek and the far-flung Noklak. They work with single ply cotton, making home textiles such as cushion covers, table runners, etc. The Home Collection is available in stores such as Canvas in New Delhi, Jaipur Modern in Jaipur, Artisans Gallery in Mumbai, People Tree, Goa and Cult Modern, Kochi. “The lull in demand has given us an opportunity to try out different textures and designs keping in mind client specifications,” she says. Details: woventhreads.in

(left) Shashank Gupta and (right) a weaver at work
 
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Shashank Gupta, @therandomdelhi

In Khurja, Uttar Pradesh, the last of the khes weavers got some reprieve thanks to 22-year-old history student Shashank Gupta. “During the lockdown, I found them struggling to survive. The [powerloomed] cotton blankets are sold only through hawkers, and obviously, the demand for them is next to nothing now,” he says.

The weavers earn roughly ₹15 for every khes they make and have no co-operatives. Gupta began using his popular Instagram handle, @therandomdelhi, to garner support. “I first posted about them on June 25 and we managed to get about 100 orders in a month.” He hopes this has bought them some time as, otherwise, he fears that the weaving tradition — which originated in Mughal times and travelled to Khurja about 150 years ago — will go extinct. Details: @therandomdelhi on Instagram

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