Lets start with some basic question
How many of us own a handloom product? Do we really know what a handloom is? Can we make out the difference between a hand-loom and a power-loom fabric?
Is our love for handloom real? Or, are we just being hypocrites? The fact is, handloom makes just about ten percent of the total fabric production of India.
The weavers in India produce a spectacular range of handloom fabrics across the country, from the Madras checks of Tamil Nadu to Pashmina and Shahtoosh of J&K, Uppada from Andhra to Tant of Bengal, from the tie-and-dyes of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the fine Sambhalpuri of Orissa, The Ikats of Pochampally to the Eri and Muga silks of Assam. Add to it, the fine hand work of embroideries and prints like Chikankari of Lucknow, Kantha of Bengal, the Bandhanis and the Kalamakaris. And to top the icing, we have the elegant Silk which adds to its glamour like the Banarasis, Kanchipurams, Mysore Silks, Kasavas and the Tussars. Yet, in how many Indian wardrobes does these Indian heritage adorn?
Not everything new is the best, Handloom fabrics reiterates this fact. Handloom fabrics have certain inherent exclusive features, which makes it a great fabric for certain products like the traditional wear, casual wear and home furnishings. For many, Khadi is the only known handloom fabric and a marginal more know about jute fabric. But that’s not all when it comes to Handloom. A connoisseur can feel the difference between handloom and powerloom by the feel of the texture. But not everyone can be so discerning.
Now, what’s the solution?
The Indian Government has introduced collective marks or signs to distinguish certain valued characteristics common to these products. These marks are based on the product’s geographical location, material used and mode of manufacture. The prominent collective marks in India are Geographical Indication (GI), Woolmark, Silkmark, Handloommark and Indian handloom brand. There are also certain marks or certifications issued by the respective state governments, local bodies and sometime from Non-Governmental Organizations. Typically the owner of these collective marks are the associations or the cooperatives of which the weaver is a member. There are individual weavers as well who apply and obtain the licenses for these marks. The certifying bodies ensures many key parameters like the authenticity of the material used, the mode of weaving, the ecological and social commitment of the applicant before granting the certification or license to use these marks. This enables a control of the authenticity of the product, creates general awareness among its users and builds confidence in a buyer even though he is not very well aware of the attributes of the product. Since these products are themselves a brand in its own might, they are generally sold by their name like Kanchipuram Saree, Mysore Silk, Banarasi Saree, Pashmina Shawl, Chikan Dress Material, Dhakai Jamdani etc.
Why Indian handlooms?
India is known for its ethnicity. As far as art and culture is concerned, India features amongst the culturally rich countries in the world. The country is fortunate enough to possess highly skilled handloom weavers who have nurtured these art forms for centuries. They have increased the fame of Indian handmade fabric around the globe. These products made across India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Assam to Kutch, showcases the diversity and richness of Indian culture. Not only are they diverse, but also rich in history and religion, and mostly reflects the influence of different empires of that region. Throughout centuries, handlooms have been embedded as a culture and tradition within rural communities of India. With an estimated direct workforce of 4.3Million, Handloom Industry is the second largest employment provider in India after agriculture.
These handloom products, mostly, are neither mass produced nor are they from established manufacturing houses which have huge Brand value except for some trading and marketing houses. These traditional products themselves are a brand and are still known and traded in their original name. Due to this, the prices of these handloom products are incomparable. They only command their niche and exclusivity. Collective marks like handloom mark, silk mark etc. come for a customer’s rescue while looking for a genuine handloom product.
The middlemen and traders are killing the handloom industry for their short term gains, by providing duplicate, substandard, counterfeits and dubious products. This is mainly because of the lack of customer awareness or knowledge of these products. Handloom fabrics are aspirational products, known for their elegance, richness and comfort, even before the best of the powerloom brands and apparels came into existence. Fortunately this aspirational value has gained momentum multi-fold in recent times with the increase in the spending capacity of the urban population. However, the availability of a genuine original product is still a Chinese puzzle. The fake sellers make merry of the situation and often deceive the customers with their products sold at prices much lesser than the threshold value of a product. It is often seen on some websites, where sellers sell a Kanchipuram or a Banarsi Saree even cheaper than a normal powerloom saree.
An act of generosity.
Buying a handloom is also an act of humanity, kindness and environment conservation. Every handloom fabric has a story to tell from the time it was a fresh cotton from the field, to the formation of fine threads, weaving in the loom, designing and dyeing. Every handloom product is an unique piece of art, generally made from materials found locally, and are crafted by skilled weavers who have inherited this skill traditionally from their forefathers nurturing these rare arts for centuries. Today, the sector majorly employees rural women. Investing in these sectors offers tremendous opportunity to improve the economic, environmental and social conditions of our country’s rural communities. Production processes used in handlooms, typically have a low carbon footprint and promote the use of locally available materials as well as natural and organic materials where possible. Your shear aspiration as a customer to use handloom product represents an opportunity to provide a source of earning and employment for otherwise timid, home-based rural women, improving their status within the household. This sector needs increased participation by different stakeholders such as government, financial institutions, non-profits and academia in their areas of specialization. Building a collaborative ecosystem will align the roles of different stakeholders, each of whom can support the Indian weaver in different ways.
Online Platforms selling genuine original handloom fabrics directly from the weaver or their societies or designers, are an endeavour to give a better deal to these artisans, and in the bargain the customers get a much better deal, assured of an original product from its point of source. This will help to bring the weavers out from their confines and get them better price for their hardwork and rare specialized expertise. Our approach towards these weavers will have its own bearing on the product quality and services in the days to come. Own a handloom, wear it with pride and help your fellow countrymen from rural India. And, beware from getting cheated. It’s time that you do your bit.