History & Culture

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

Weavers used to sell most of their work at retail exhibitions. At these events, held across the country, they could network as well, finding new markets and buyers. Then, COVID-19 put an abrupt end to business.

In April 2020, barely a month after India’s first lockdown began, GoCoop — an online marketplace for artisans — launched virtual exhibitions to help weavers liquidate their stock. In the process, it showcased its largest collection of handmade textiles from India, with over 70,000 products including saris, accessories and home furnishing.

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

Close to 130 craft organisations have gone online through GoCoop since then. Explaining why they began to organise online training for artisans — trade, product cataloguing, packing and shipping — founder Siva Devireddy says, “Online sales are the best way to connect artisans directly with consumers. ”

To that end, Creative Dignity, a network for artisans, is currently working on developing a digital platform (similar to LinkedIn) with a list of all artisans and weavers, which will enable direct contact between weavers and consumers. “We found that the small scale handloom weaves adapted quickly to online processes whereas large scale (wholesalers) producers find it really hard,” observes Meera Goradia, co-founder.

All about aesthetics and connection

The first step, of course, is to create a website, according to Kutch Craft Collective (KCC). The collective, that has been focussing on developing an online market for its 8,000 artisans, is a coalition of five craft institutions, namely Khamir, Qasab, Shrujan, Vivekanand Rural Development Institute and Kala Raksha. Today, each of the member organisations have their own sites, and a consolidated website for KCC is to be launched on August 15.

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

The next is to create appealing product catalogues. For over four decades now, Roopa Mehta, founder, Sasha Association for Craft Producers, a fairtrade social entrepreneurship platform, has been working with 200 weavers in West Bengal, to help them reach domestic and global markets.

Fabric of pride
  • The Crafts Council of India (CCI) has come up with an initiative to support the handloom weavers during the Covid19 pandemic. CCI‘s inititive brings individual handloom weavers into direct contact with the customers by providing the contact details of the weavers, photographs of the textiles along with the price range. The idea is to enable the customers to directly interact with the weavers across India, and place their orders. Details are being published in CCI’s social media pages @craftscouncilofindia both in Instagram and Facebook.

Volunteers at Sashaworld organised social media campaigns for weavers, teaching them how to sell online. As most weavers use smartphones, volunteers taught them to take photographs of their products, as well as manage bank accounts and send couriers. “They have excellent networking skills, and phone numbers of all their regular customers across various cities; people they met during exhibitions. Most of their communication happens via phone calls and WhatsApp,” says Roopa, adding, “But most weavers by themselves cannot create websites and shift to online sales. That is where social enterprises play a significant role.”

This technical training is key. Says Siva of GoCoop, “We trained them to take aesthetically appealing photos of their products.” This in turn, helps them expand the circle of craft consumers. Creative Dignity, for instance, managed to raise ₹5 crores worth sale in six months, through an online campaign publicising weavers’ piled-up stock, and it was all thanks to a diverse network of buyers.

The handloom-supportive customer

While the support extended by consumers for handloom weavers was rather overwhelming last year, the situation is not the same this year as the nation was devastated by the impact of the second wave. “Once the weavers cleared the stocks, they were left with no working capital and therefore less production. The biggest challenge this year is that close to 30 per cent of the artisan community have fallen through the cracks. They have taken up other jobs to sustain themselves during the pandemic,” she says.

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

As the third wave is likely to hit the country now, weavers are hesitant. “Even with the upcoming festival season, they are not confident enough to overstock. With less working capital, they prefer to play it safe,” says Roopa.

But hope comes in the form of supportive customers, says Siva: “We see more people switching to handlooms and sustainable clothing.”

“Handlooms have more takers these days due to increased awareness among buyers. We use social media to influence people to shop mindfully and encourage handloom weavers,” says Roopa.

Shop online
  • www.dastkar.org
  • www.janapadakhadi.com
  • www.shopkhadi.gandhigram.org
  • www.dastkarandhra.com
  • www.gocoop.com
  • www.okhai.org
  • www.antaranartisanconnect.in
  • www.kala-raksha.org
  • www.sashaworld.com
  • www.creativedignity.org

Of course, there still are teething troubles when it comes to the transition to online sales. “How long can a product linger in a particular site? How much to invest in product development/manufacturing? Such uncertainties are impractical for the weaving communities. Reaching the right customers is yet another challenge. The power loom is the handloom weaver’s biggest challenge; it hits them hard as it replicates fast and sells cheap,” says Pankaj Shah, co-founder, KCC.

How handloom collectives are helping weavers during the pandemic

Yet, going by the numbers, the prospect of online sales is promising. “There has been a 50 per cent increase in the overseas market and almost 25 per cent of domestic consumers have shifted to online shopping for handloom,” says Siva. “We are confident that in future also weavers will sell 25 per cent of their products online.” And the reason he sounds convinced is the changing mindset of consumers. “People look for various handlooms from other States when they shop online and that is an encouraging trend.”

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 5:45:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/social-entrepreneurs-ngos-and-collectives-who-come-together-with-innovative-solutions-for-weavers-finding-them-markets-online/article35780156.ece

Next Story