Still a long way to go for hand­looms to be­come main­stream…: De­sign­ers start giv­ing a prac­ti­cal push

DE­SIGN­ERS START GIV­ING A PRAC­TI­CAL PUSH

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For the Min­istry of Textiles, the in­dus­try in all prac­ti­cal­ity is equated with the hand­loom...

For the Min­istry of Textiles, the in­dus­try in all prac­ti­cal­ity is equated with the hand­loom seg­ment, and other play­ers in the sup­ply chain are a small com­po­nent of the in­dus­try. This may sound very harsh, but the way suc­ces­sive Govern­ments and Min­is­ters have gone all-out to al­lo­cate funds and sup­port hand­loom, with­out even both­er­ing to get into the nu­ances of what the in­dus­try ac­tu­ally is all about, is very dis­ap­point­ing for the or­ga­nized sec­tor. Why is the hand­loom in­dus­try so im­por­tant…? Does it have the po­ten­tial to sup­port the sup­ply chain and be­come a value propo­si­tion in the In­dian re­tail mar­ket, and also lever­age its value in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket? These are some ques­tions that need hon­est an­swers.

No one can deny that even af­ter years of sup­port from the Govern­ment, noth­ing has re­ally changed in the hand­loom sec­tor, ex­cept for a few clus­ter projects that are strug­gling to keep the weavers in the trade. The pri­mary rea­son for the sit­u­a­tion is that no vi­able busi­ness model has been devel­oped in the mar­ket to give the weavers the real value for their ex­per­tise. Hand­loom weavers still strug­gle to make a liv­ing and there is no brand value at­tached to prod­ucts made from hand­loom, which can pro­pel the sec­tor for­ward. Even the end-con­sumer, ex­cept for some high-end con­nois­seurs, both in the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, do not ap­pre­ci­ate hand­loom as an

Hand­loom in­dus­try is the largest cottage in­dus­try in the coun­try with 23.77 lakh looms. The ma­jor hand­loom ex­port cen­tres are Karur, Pa­ni­pat, Varanasi and Kan­nur where hand­loom prod­ucts like bed linen, ta­ble linen, kitchen linen, toi­let linen, floor cov­er­ings, em­broi­dered tex­tile ma­te­ri­als, cur­tains etc. are pro­duced for ex­port mar­kets. From In­dia, the to­tal ex­port of hand­loom stood at US $ 360.02 mil­lion for the FY 2015-16. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, ex­port of fab­rics stood at US $ 35.34 mil­lion; floor cov­er­ings stood at US $ 125.27 mil­lion; cloth­ing ac­ces­sories stood at US $ 25.54 mil­lion; and made-ups stood at US $ 173.88 mil­lion.

art form and are not will­ing to pay a ‘price’ that jus­ti­fies the skill and time that goes into cre­at­ing these fab­rics. About a year ago, the PM ini­ti­ated the ‘In­dia Hand­loom Brand (IHB)’ logo with a vision to “brand hand­loom prod­ucts” for dis­tinc­tion and pro­tec­tion in the sea of much cheaper pow­er­loom fab­rics that hold the mar­ket in an iron grip. Many are ask­ing how dif­fer­ent is this from the Hand­loom Mark, launched un­der the Hand­loom Mark Scheme in 2006 by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh “to brand hand­loom prod­ucts and se­cure a pre­mium po­si­tion for them in the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional mar­ket”, which failed mis­er­ably in achiev­ing its goal. The only ob­vi­ous mod­i­fi­ca­tion, which the min­istry in­sists is im­por­tant, is that un­like the Hand­loom Mark given to a pro­ducer or a trad­ing com­pany, the IHB is a manda­tory stamp for “each prod­uct”, cre­at­ing a value tag as a brand­ing tool.

Not many, even ex­perts of the trade, can al­ways make out the dif­fer­ence be­tween pow­er­loom and hand­loom fab­rics and for years pow­er­loom fab­rics have been palmed off as hand­loom in the gar­ment ex­port seg­ment. Many ex­porters who claim to be work­ing in hand­loom fab­rics are ac­tu­ally us­ing pow­er­loom fab­rics, and if there is any seg­ment which is in re­al­ity in­vest­ing in hand­loom fab­ric for ex­ports it is the home seg­ment where much of the value of the prod­uct is com­ing from fab­rics, un­like gar­ments which has many more el­e­ments to play with, in­clud­ing sil­hou­ettes and value ad­di­tions.

Not sur­pris­ingly, in the last year, since its in­cep­tion, the of­fice of the De­vel­op­ment Com­mis­sioner of Hand­looms claims that only 366 hand­loom pro­duc­ers and en­ter­prises have been given IHB reg­is­tra­tion for 59 prod­uct cat­e­gories and al­most 60% of sam­ples sent for reg­is­tra­tion were re­jected as fake!

The real chal­lenge is to cre­ate aware­ness among the weavers for their cre­ative and mar­ket po­ten­tial, and skill them to be busi­ness­men not crafts­men. No doubt mar­ket­ing is the big­gest chal­lenge. In 2015, The Varanasi Weavers and Ar­ti­sans So­ci­ety (VWAS), was es­tab­lished with an aim to con­nect weavers with the mar­ket through ex­hi­bi­tions and events across In­dia, but the go­ing has not been easy. Al­though Varanasi is at the cen­tre of at­ten­tion, and de­sign­ers con­sider it as the ‘Shahrukh Khan’ of hand­loom, it is still a hub that con­tin­ues to be, by and large un­or­ga­nized and strug­gling for value. One can imag­ine the plight of lesser-known and fo­cused weaver hubs. Ac­cord­ing to many de­sign­ers who are try­ing to re­vive the hand­loom of dif­fer­ent clus­ters, the mar­ket­ing ef­forts can only be suc­cess­ful once the weaver and the sup­ply chain are strong. “Just go­ing out there and mak­ing com­mit­ments on de­liv­er­ies, with­out en­sur­ing that the prod­uct can be de­liv­ered com­mer­cially, on time and in quan­ti­ties de­sired, is sui­ci­dal as it only tar­nishes the im­age and pushes the ef­fort to pro­mote hand­looms back by many steps,” says a pas­sion­ate Man­ish Tri­pathi,a young de­signer closely as­so­ci­ated with the IHB pro­ject work­ing with Ma­hesh­wari Crafts­men. His vision is to cre­ate a vi­able sup­ply chain, mi­nus the mid­dle­men so that weavers can get a share in the profit.

Man­ish and other de­sign­ers like him be­lieve that the only way to go for­ward is to cre­ate con­sor­tiums and take full re­spon­si­bil­ity to train and em­power the weavers so that the ROI be­comes in­ter­est­ing for buy­ers – for both do­mes­tic brands and in­ter­na­tional re­tail­ers/de­sign­ers. An­other young de­signer who has be­come syn­ony­mous with hand­loom and is also as­so­ci­ated with the IHB pro­ject, Rahul Mishra says, “I want to gen­er­ate em­ploy­ment across vil­lages to en­sure that ‘kari­gars’ can work from their homes, en­joy home food and see their kids

grow. My dream is to em­ploy over one mil­lion peo­ple in the largest crafts re­vival and sus­te­nance ef­fort ever ini­ti­ated.”

While the chances of hand­loom be­ing a part of main­stream ex­ported gar­ments is still re­mote, from the stand­point of the lux­ury fash­ion sec­tor, hand­looms, could play a big role in forg­ing the global lux­ury in­dus­try ahead. As of now, top in­ter­na­tional brands in Europe and Amer­ica, such as Chanel, Dries Van Noten, Lan­vin, Naeem Khan, Valentino and Elie Saab, are al­ready dip­ping into this vast reser­voir of craft. Vet­eran In­dian de­signer, Neeru Ku­mar is among the first to have suc­cess­fully cre­ated an ex­port ven­ture on hand­loom fab­rics, con­vert­ing them into ready-to-wear gar­ments for stores in Ja­pan and the US. She is very clear on the di­rec­tion. “The only way to keep hand­looms dif­fer­en­ti­ated from pow­er­loom prod­ucts and cov­eted across the world is by tex­tu­ral and de­sign dis­tinc­tion,” says Neeru.

One of the big­gest plus points go­ing in favour of hand­looms to­day is the fact that they are truly sus­tain­able and en­vi­ron­ment-friendly. This very point has pushed Ke­tan Jansari, Owner of Hanger­loop, a 2004 GMT pass-out from NIFT, Gand­hi­na­gar to ex­per­i­ment with hand­looms for mass pro­duc­tion prod­ucts. He is work­ing closely with the Govern­ment of Gu­jarat to cre­ate vi­able clus­ters where fab­rics can be pro­cured in rel­a­tively good quan­ti­ties for cus­tomers who are now look­ing at sus­tain­able fash­ion. “We want to give mod­ern sil­hou­ettes to hand­loom and di­rectly con­nect them to the younger gen­er­a­tion, who do not as­so­ciate with such fab­rics, ex­cept at wed­dings or fes­ti­vals. Hand­looms can­not sur­vive on tra­di­tional strength and there has to be a makeover to at­tract a new gen­er­a­tion of cus­tomers,” ar­gues Ke­tan.

On sim­i­lar lines, Gau­rav Jai

Gupta of Akaaro, an­other new-age de­signer who has cre­ated waves for his ap­proach to de­sign­ing and is prac­ti­cal and prag­matic when it comes to hand­loom, says, “I feel like we are in a time warp when it comes to de­sign. We need to step away from the Gand­hian ide­olo­gies of hand­loom and in­cor­po­rate tech­nol­ogy to match our skill set with in­ter­na­tional de­sign stan­dards while in­creas­ing the wages of the weavers.”

Young de­sign­ers are work­ing with weavers to cre­ate fresh de­signs

The In­dia Hand­loom Brand (IHB) has em­pow­ered gen­uine hand­loom weavers

A spe­cial com­puter train­ing course at the Ma­hesh­wari Hand­loom Train­ing Cen­tre is help­ing weavers be­come mar­ket savvy

De­signer Rahul Mishra is pas­sion­ately work­ing to cre­ate con­tem­po­rary de­signs from hand­loom fab­ric

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