Crafting brand Co-optex and Poompuhar

Co-optex and Poompuhar have helped the weavers and artisans showcase their textiles and craft to a larger audience

Published - February 18, 2022 10:14 am IST - CHENNAI

Policy push: In 2011, designers were drafted to reproduce old motifs. This helped to woo customers. File

Policy push: In 2011, designers were drafted to reproduce old motifs. This helped to woo customers. File | Photo Credit: S. Siva Saravanan

Sustained support from the government has over the years helped handloom weavers and traditional artisans in Tamil Nadu to survive downturns and competition from power looms and modern manufacturers. Creating brands such as Co-optex, a weaver’s cooperative, and Poompuhar have, to a large extent, helped the weavers and artisans showcase their textiles and craft to a larger audience. The sector, though, requires more aid to incentivise future generations of traditional crafts people.

To ensure regular income to the weavers, the State began procuring and providing free school uniforms and free dhoti and saris for festivals from 1983. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government managed to procure the products and safeguarded the livelihood of the weaving community. It is the second-largest economic activity in Tamil Nadu, the first being agriculture.

Proactive steps to obtain Geographic Indication (GI) tag for famed region-specific products such as the Toda embroidery, Thanjavur doll (thalaiaati bommai) and Madurai sungudi sarees, have also helped indigenous artisans make these products “cultural icons” of Tamil Nadu.

The State is home to 1,134 handloom weavers’ cooperative societies with 2.44 lakh weavers. In 2011, a decision to rope in designers to reproduce some of the old motifs brought back customers to Co-optex retail showrooms. The government also provides rebates on silk saris.

While initially, despite quality yarn and zari, the sarees were not sought after as the designs were unappealing, the Co-optex introduced designs from other parts of the country, redesigned its showrooms aesthetically and even started exclusive boutiques to attract customers.

According to an official, Co-optex, once synonymous with burgeoning unsold stock of silks, is now flush with novel designs and trendy outfits that even some young college students and professionals want to show off. An official said through regular rise in the wages of the weavers the organisation was ensuring that the unique weaves of each region had been revived.

In 2019, Co-optex began registering profits, although now it has faced the negative impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

While during 2018-19 its retail sales netted ₹275.58 crore and online sales were ₹1.05 crore, post-pandemic its retail business in 2020-21 stood at ₹206.21 crores against its target of ₹250 crores. The online sales rose to ₹1.86 crore while the export turnover was ₹57.20 lakh for the same period.

During last year’s Pongal festival, the organisation distributed 23.32 lakh saris and 9.02 lakh dhoties. During Deepavali 2020, Co-optex supplied 22.88 lakh saris and 8.75 lakh dhoties to old age pension beneficiaries.

The Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation, synonymous with its retail Poompuhar showrooms, serves as a platform to introduce various art forms from within and outside the State.

The organisation focuses on seven popular crafts of the State including bronze idols and brass lamps, papier mache dolls, stone carvings, and Thanjavur paintings. There is a large group of artisans who create bamboo mattresses, clay dolls and metal toys. The clay and terracotta doll manufacturers are spread across Tamil Nadu.

However, a section of artisans says their display space has dwindled in the past decade and calls for efforts to revive the art of making metal toys, once created in abundance in and around Tirunelveli.

As for Co-optex, a weaver says elections must be held to cooperative societies periodically as otherwise, they are controlled by administrative officers, who “may not represent our interests and welfare”.

D. Ganesh of Bharatiya Janata Mazdoor Maha Sangh in Kancheepuram, claimed weavers engaged by the cooperatives do not get full remuneration as a part of it goes as commission to the president of the cooperative society. He is also of the view, that politically affiliated persons, “who have no idea about weaving”, get elected to cooperative societies. There is also a need to create awareness among weavers of the various government schemes, including that of the central government, he felt.

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