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Survival of Handloom Beyond Subsidies

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sector is surviving on the subsidies, but it should be able to sustain challenges from the powerloom sector and create its unique position. pens down his thoughts that help to strengthen the sector.

“Weaving Gamcha (hand woven towel) will not help handloom sector to survive” that was my comment in a high level Government meeting and the lady on the chair reacted sharply. After all we were discussing the revival of a handloom cluster which is in the constituency of a powerful political personality and the cluster, whatever left, survives on weaving Gamcha. It is heartening to observe that the mindset is changing and we have ‘Handloom Day’ in recent leading fashion shows.

Handloom sector is not only important for social reasons but from the perspective of our heritage, art and craft. Ninety five percent of the total handlooms installed in the world are in India. We need to use it to our advantage rather than looked at it as our liability. This sector should not survive on subsidies; it should be able to sustain challenges from the powerloom sector and create its unique position. Handloom products can only survive being exclusive and an object d art; a product of high design value. It should penetrate everyone’s wardrobe as that high value item, which she or he will wear with pride for its look, social value, environmental importance and matter of national pride.

Many times ethnic apparels are misinterpreted as handloom products. But not many ethnic apparel brands use handloom fabric in its commercial production. It is only at the designing stage, handloom fabrics are used for its rich design content, diversity and smaller sample size possibility. Once design team finalises the range for the season, the same fabrics get produced in powerloom for the commercial production of the apparels. Owner of one such leading brand commented, “It just not make any economic sense to use handloom fabric.” But should the business look at economic benefits only?

I also beg to differ with the opinion that consumers will find it costly if apparels, ethnic or western or fusion are made out of handloom fabrics. If consumers are ready to pay premium for organic cotton based textiles, greeting cards from ‘Cry’ foundation or even the authentic piece of art, they will be ready to pay extra for the use of handloom fabric in apparels. It will all depend on the way we position it. Can you offer a product of their choice and win their trust as socially and environmentally responsible brand?

Many brands have tried and failed to source handloom fabrics for their commercial production. Challenges lie in fragmented nature of the sector, complex and long supply chain, lesser quality awareness and poor service quality. It is hardly possible to work with one entity for the total required fabric quantity of a single product range. Once you enter the village, invariably you end up meeting the agent, ‘Mahajan’, ‘Gaddidar’ (many names but same character), who in turn gets the product from master weavers, who is dependent on actual weavers. So, even if you feel that you are sourcing from base, but actually you are not. All entities add their profit margin and make it economically unviable for the brand to source. One sourcing manager, who had put his best effort to beat all those challenges, finally failed as the master weaver transported the whole lot to another buyer, who was paying one rupee extra for each meter.

Is it not a familiar story for most of the business in India? It is an acknowledged fact that sourcing handloom fabrics is full of challenges. Systems are not in place. It is probably in the stage where our textile industry was 15-20 years back. But then should it not be looked as an opportunity? Let me conclude this write up by reiterating the same point that handloom products need to be exclusive, high in design content and a system driven sourcing structure needs to be put in place for its survival. There are many young designers with great talent and zeal to contribute back to the society.

They should be pulled in and facilitated to work with handloom clusters. We should focus on improving the fabric design and not the apparel design. Apparel should be only the medium to showcase the beautiful art created by handloom on the fabric. We need to gain trust of the weavers and master weavers as their long term partner and not a rare migratory bird. Once we gain this confidence, there will be lesser chance to be cheated in the last moment. Slowly we should develop the capacity to provide them year round order and for that it may be required to start with a smaller group. Government has spent a lot, if not enough, to improve the technical aspects, majorly yarn dyeing, of handloom products but challenges remain in the proper usage of those infrastructure. Brands should launch premium, super premium or designer range using handloom fabrics. Finally there should be a drive using the right mix of communication mediums to position handloom as a product of pride from design, social and environment angles.

Can government do it? Or should they support organised players with sufficient scale to implement it?