Fashion

This Handloom Day, here is the story of how rural women are empowered to become successful weavers

Did you know that 95% of the world's handwoven fabric comes from India? Or that the handloom weaving sector is one of the largest economic sectors in India after agriculture? And yet, the handloom sector is an ailing industry. Today on National Handloom Day, we speak to the founder of Jaipur Rugs Company (JRC), Nand Kishore Chaudhary who started what was then a small business in 1978 with just two looms and today employs 40,000 weavers across different states that produce handwoven carpets. Chaudhary recalls, “I started my career selling shoes at my father’s shop in Rajasthan. But there was very little room to grow there. I borrowed ₹ 5,000 from my father and started with two looms and nine weavers in my house.”

Chaudhary soon realised that there was a huge demand for carpet exports and there were very few weavers in India. So he began working as a contractor manufacturer for rugs, which he continued to do for eight years. Later he began an export business in Jaipur with his brother. After three years, he realised that the weavers in Rajasthan couldn’t fulfil their demand. “So I went to Gujarat and trained 15,000 tribal men and women for carpet weaving. I stayed there for nine years. In 1999, I separated from my brother and started JRC,” says Chaudhary, who was drawn to Dharampur and its surrounding areas in Gujarat as the government was trying to train tribal communities.

Such a long journey

It wasn’t an easy task. At first, the tribals didn’t welcome him as they were wary of outsiders, who would often exploit them. Many of them were heavy drinkers. These communities were considered untouchables, and Chaudhary’s family, friends and even neighbours strongly opposed Chaudhary’s working with them.

“I realised how a man can be judged by his caste, and how hypocritical people are. But as people continued to reject me, I received more love from the weavers. I believe a person should only be judged by the purity of his actions,” says Chaudhary.

Today, JRC employs 40,000 weavers across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha. Their successful business model, ensures that raw materials are delivered straight to the homes of the weavers without a middleman, has attracted attention from the likes of business philosopher Charles Handy. Recently, JRC also partnered with Airbnb, to offer experiential stays with weaving families at their villages.

Mumbai calling

In February this year, JRC opened a 4,000 square-foot store in Lower Parel. “We were almost pushed to come to Mumbai. We already have a good client base here, and work with quite a few interior designers and architects who have been requesting us to set shop here for almost two years now,” says Chaudhary’s son Yogesh and a JRC company director. The store, with its bare walls and high ceilings, designed by Ravi Vazirani is a befitting showcase for their rugs, each of which tells a story. Take for example, the Antar rug, woven by three weavers, where you can see the disagreement in the design opinion of its creators at the beginning of the pattern. And yet, it all comes together like a seamless design dialogue in the end. It’s a piece that’s won JRC an award at the German Design Council in 2015.

Creative collaborations

JRC’s hallmark is contemporary design in muted tones and subtle motifs. One of their recent collaborations was with Gauri Khan, whose collection is inspired by the mud walls of the weavers’ homes. It’s an aesthetic that’s been guided by Chaudhary’s daughter Kavita, who is JRC’s head of design.

The challenge, Kavita says was to develop a contemporary design style, which is largely abstract, inspired by nature and time. It was during her conversations with the weavers, Kavita realised that, “We are trained to think in a certain way, whereas the weavers, who have no design school training think differently.” And often what is designed on the computer, cannot always be translated on the loom in the exact way. “We are trying to create different colour blends and knots directly on the loom without designing them in the studio. With the inputs from the weavers, we realised that we can design something on the loom that we can’t think of on the computer. Developing this new language is also helpful as it beats the aggressive machine industry which sells cheaper copies of JRC designs. “The designs we develop with the artisans are so spontaneous on the loom, they become works of art and ultimately too complex to recreate on a machine,” says Kavita.

Empowering women

JRC imparts business training to women so they come at the front end of operations. These women are called the Bunkar Sakhis, or weaver managers.

“They have the wisdom, problem-solving skills, and they manage their homes in a small income, give education to their kids, while taking care of their health -- they are the best managers in the world. These women are trained to make their own decisions, work towards on-time delivery, zero wastage and zero defect. The ground-up model is the way of the future,” asserts Chaudhary.

Jaipur Rugs, 13 B/C, Sonam Studio, Sunmill compound, Sitaram Jadhav Marg, Lower Parel

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 1:58:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/fashion/weaving-success-stories/article28838323.ece

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