In the Right Disha!

Throw­ing light on a project aimed at pro­vid­ing women weavers with a bet­ter fu­ture

Apparel - - Contents -

Disha–a part­ner­ship be­tween the In­dia De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion (IDF) and the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP), sup­ported by IKEA Foun­da­tion–has part­nered with Cre­ative Bee in Te­lan­gana to im­ple­ment a one-year pi­lot project and work with 2,000 women weavers. Brinda Gill re­ports.

In In­dia, a many-splen­doured land, one comes across a won­der­ful va­ri­ety of tra­di­tional tex­tiles that are wo­ven, em­broi­dered, printed, tie-dyed and painted. These beau­ti­ful cre­ations re­call the fab­u­lous In­dian tex­tiles that were traded from an­cient times to re­gions across the world such as the In­done­sian ar­chi­pel­ago, Africa and Europe, par­tic­u­larly Rome.

The skills of the In­dian tex­tile ar­ti­sans–most of whom have learnt tex­tile tech­niques while watch­ing and as­sist­ing el­ders in the fam­ily at work–never cease to amaze. With resur­gence in ap­pre­ci­a­tion, in­ter­est and de­mand for hand­crafted tex­tiles, there is also an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in boost­ing the hand­loom in­dus­try that–af­ter agri­cul­ture–has long been the sec­ond largest em­ploy­ment provider for the ru­ral pop­u­la­tion in In­dia. At present, the in­dus­try has 4.3 mil­lion peo­ple work­ing di­rectly and in­di­rectly in hand­loom pro­duc­tion.

“How­ever, due to for­eign in­dus­trial influences and lo­cal in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, this sec­tor has fallen prey to low qual­ity dyes in the last cou­ple of decades. As a re­sult, this sec­tor has suf­fered from poor liveli­hoods caused by a de­crease in de­mand,” says Mani Rao, sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion busi­ness owner and Head of Mar­ket­ing for Cre­ative Bee, a Hy­der­abad-based, for-profit de­sign and mar­ket­ing firm and so­cial en­ter­prise.

An at­tempt at cor­rect­ing this and pro­mot­ing hand­crafted tex­tiles has seen the ac­tive en­gage­ment of dif­fer­ent re­gional, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional, gov­ern­men­tal and non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, as well as in­di­vid­u­als, in dif­fer­ent projects and ini­tia­tives. They are work­ing to boost and re­store the In­dian hand­crafts and hand­loom sec­tor by im­prov­ing its pro­duc­tion qual­ity and in turn, im­prov­ing liveli­hoods by in­creas­ing de­mand.


Disha is a part­ner­ship be­tween the In­dia De­vel­op­ment Foun­da­tion (IDF) and the United Na­tions De­vel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP) and is sup­ported by IKEA Foun­da­tion. It aims to help one mil­lion un­der­priv­i­leged women in In­dia learn mar­ketable skills and con­nect with in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties. Disha en­ables women to be­come eco­nom­i­cally self-suf­fi­cient through train­ing, em­ploy­ment and en­trepreneurial skill de­vel­op­ment so that they, their fam­i­lies and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions can have bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties in life.

In Te­lan­gana, Disha has part­nered with Cre­ative Bee in Jan­uary 2018 to im­ple­ment a one-year pi­lot project and works with 2,000 women who are in­volved in weav­ing-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties to im­prove their pro­duc­tion qual­ity and in­crease their liveli­hood through di­rect mar­ket link­ages. This project un­der Disha is aimed at em­pow­er­ing women ar­ti­sans engaged in the hand­loom sec­tor through train­ing, form­ing their self-suf­fi­cient uni­fied col­lec­tive that pro­duces high qual­ity prod­ucts, de­vel­op­ing a cadre of women mar­ket­ing man­agers housed in pro­ducer col­lec­tives with ro­bust pro­cesses for sourc­ing, and es­tab­lish­ing and man­ag­ing mar­ket link­ages di­rectly to re­alise bet­ter value for their prod­ucts through B2B and B2C chan­nels. The project is be­ing im­ple­mented in weaver vil­lages in four dis­tricts of Te­lan­gana, i.e., Yadadri, Nal­go­nda, Warangal and Sid­dipet. These dis­tricts were se­lected based on the weav­ing tech­niques– es­pe­cially sin­gle and dou­ble ikat–that are prac­tised, at­tempt­ing to keep the project as di­verse as pos­si­ble.


“For over a cen­tury, weavers in Te­lan­gana have sold their wo­ven tex­tiles to mid­dle­men. The mid­dle­man typ­i­cally pro­vides the weaver yarn and places or­ders with spec­i­fi­ca­tions re­gard­ing the tex­tiles to be wo­ven. When the weave is ready, the mid­dle­man pays the weaver straight­away. While this frees the weavers from mar­ket­ing the weaves and the con­se­quent com­mer­cial risks, it also leaves them and their fam­i­lies to­tally de­pen­dent on the mid­dle­man. In most cases, weavers are only em­ployed in con­ver­sion, which ba­si­cally means that they are given pre­pro­cessed, dyed yarn by the mid­dle­man and are only paid for its weav­ing into fab­ric,” says Mani.

He adds that weavers most of­ten earn a mea­gre amount for their work, with the largest chunk of the prof­its go­ing to the mid­dle­men. “As all the fam­ily mem­bers are in­volved in an­cil­lary ac­tiv­i­ties re­lated to weav­ing such as dye­ing and ar­rang­ing the yarn and set­ting up the loom, and the male head of the fam­ily works the loom, there is no scope for sec­ondary in­come for a weaver fam­ily. Fam­i­lies earn as lit­tle as R8,000 a month.”

He elab­o­rates that this sys­tem has been car­ried on to the present times as the mid­dle­man sources fab­rics from ar­ti­sans for de­sign­ers and



bou­tiques in ci­ties. “While it makes it easy for the de­sign­ers and bou­tiques to get fab­rics, the weavers are not com­pen­sated fairly for the work done. The dif­fi­cul­ties of weavers in try­ing to sell wo­ven tex­tiles to the end-user and their hes­i­tancy to step out of the sys­tem de­fined by the mid­dle­man keeps the sce­nario as is. Thus, given this con­text, the project aims to pro­vide weavers with train­ing to par­tic­i­pate in exhibitions, in­ter­act with buy­ers, make bills, make travel ar­range­ments and more so that they learn to step out of their com­fort zone and reach out di­rectly to the po­ten­tial mar­ket.”

The project com­menced in Jan­uary 2018 and the se­lected ar­ti­sans’ weavers were trained in var­i­ous as­pects re­lated to their craft. This train­ing fo­cused on us­ing high qual­ity, glob­ally ap­proved vat, re­ac­tive and acid dyes for cot­ton and silk that are skin-safe and colour-fast; un­der­stand­ing de­sign re­quire­ments for bulk or­ders, chang­ing mar­ket trends and de­sign de­vel­op­ment; and par­tic­i­pat­ing in exhibitions in dif­fer­ent ci­ties.

The im­por­tance of train­ing ar­ti­sans in us­ing vat, re­ac­tive and acid dyes stemmed from the pre­vail­ing prac­tice of us­ing naph­thol and sul­phur dyes that are banned in most of the west­ern world as they are of car­cino­genic na­ture. “These dyes are haz­ardous for ar­ti­sans and af­fect the health of wear­ers of the fab­rics. Fur­ther, they are not colour-fast due to which their colours run while wash­ing and by the sweat of the wearer. Due to this, the sec­tor has suf­fered greatly from the loss of an ex­port mar­ket. Thus, if the ar­ti­sans start us­ing per­mis­si­ble dyes, it would im­prove their health and make the prod­uct con­sumer­friendly and con­ducive for ex­port,” ex­plains Mani.

The train­ing also in­cluded teach­ing the ar­ti­sans tie-dye­ing tech­niques such as Shi­bori to in­crease their prod­uct range and to help those who do not have looms earn a liv­ing by pro­duc­ing Shi­bori prod­ucts that can be read­ily mar­keted. The weavers are also be­ing trained in in­ter­pret­ing de­sign graphs and mar­ket trends so that they are able to forecast and man­age their pro­duc­tion bet­ter.


In or­der to man­age any fore­see­able work­ing cap­i­tal con­straints, Disha is also try­ing to as­sist in link­ing the ar­ti­sans to sub­sidised Cen­tral gov­ern­ment loan schemes such as the Prad­han Mantri Mu­dra Yo­jana (PMMY) and State gov­ern­ment yarn and dye sub­sidy schemes like the Gov­ern­ment of Te­lan­gana’s Chenetha Mithra Scheme.


Over time, the Disha project through Cre­ative Bee has been con­nect­ing the women’s weav­ing col­lec­tive to lead­ing fash­ion and life­style re­tail brands, e-com­merce com­pa­nies and ex­port houses, and hold­ing exhibitions through which the weavers can di­rectly re­ceive and ful­fil bulk or­ders and sell their prod­ucts. A group of 40 women were se­lected to form a Man­ager Cadre and to re­ceive train­ing in matters re­lated to sourc­ing, pro­duc­tion plan­ning, in­ven­tory management, mar­ket­ing, com­puter skills and e-com­merce such as ad­min­is­trat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the buy­ers; ac­cept­ing

and pro­cess­ing or­ders; in­ven­tory, sup­ply chain and ac­counts management; cost­ing; com­puter op­er­a­tion and other tasks re­lated to man­ag­ing their op­er­a­tions.

Per­haps the great­est learn­ing came when the ar­ti­sans trav­elled to ci­ties and met and in­ter­acted with buy­ers and de­sign­ers. They ob­served the en­gage­ment of the end-users of their prod­ucts with the wo­ven fab­rics and thus un­der­stood how their work is viewed by buy­ers/de­sign­ers and how their weaves (saris) are worn and yardage stitched into gar­ments. They got an in­sight into the pat­terns and colours typ­i­cally pre­ferred by ur­ban buy­ers, and into dif­fer­ent pref­er­ences across age groups as well as dif­fer­ent ci­ties, as the exhibitions were held in Hy­der­abad, Su­rat, Pune and Kolkata, and will also be held in Ahmed­abad and Cochin later this year.


Learn­ings from the last few months of project im­ple­men­ta­tion in­di­cate sev­eral ob­ser­va­tions. Firstly, di­rect mar­ket link­ages es­pe­cially by par­tic­i­pat­ing in exhibitions and di­rect buy­erseller meets en­able weavers not only to have good sales and in­come but also to build their con­fi­dence, lead­ing to a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of con­sumers and mar­ket re­quire­ments.

Se­condly, the mas­ter weavers who have hith­erto been play­ing a key role in the hand­loom sec­tor and in the weavers’ liveli­hoods can­not be ig­nored or ex­cluded. For any project in­ter­ven­tion like this to suc­ceed, it is crit­i­cal to make it in­clu­sive by cre­at­ing roles for dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing the mas­ter weavers.

Thirdly, once in­tro­duced to the con­cept, the buy­ers would like to have im­me­di­ate re­sults, for ex­am­ple, hav­ing busi­ness di­rectly with the pro­duc­ers’ col­lec­tive. How­ever, the for­ma­tion of the pro­duc­ers’ col­lec­tive is an or­ganic process re­quir­ing ges­ta­tion time. There­fore, the need for an in­terim fa­cil­i­tat­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion be­comes im­per­a­tive.

Fur­ther, in the process of col­lec­tivi­sa­tion, cre­at­ing a cadre of man­agers from within the weavers’ groups helps in in­creas­ing their buy-in and long-term sus­tain­abil­ity. Given the time con­straints, in the in­terim, hav­ing a pro­fes­sional layer of man­agers ex­pe­dites the strength­en­ing of the pro­duc­ers’ col­lec­tive and the in­crease in busi­ness or­ders.

There has been en­thu­si­asm to de­velop de­signs and en­cour­age their chil­dren to con­tinue the tra­di­tion. The part­ners of the project hope that the weav­ing col­lec­tive will grad­u­ally be­come more con­fi­dent and self-suf­fi­cient and forge di­rect mar­ket link­ages by keep­ing up-to-date with chang­ing fash­ion and mar­ket trends, and con­stantly pro­duc­ing high qual­ity, com­pet­i­tively priced prod­ucts.

Mani also added that the male weavers were ex­ceed­ingly sup­port­ive of their wives and daugh­ters tak­ing part in this project. “Though pa­tri­archy is largely preva­lent in these ru­ral re­gions, the male mem­bers of these com­mu­ni­ties seem to un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of this ini­tia­tive and have been en­cour­ag­ing the women to take part in it and learn what is on of­fer, for the bet­ter­ment of the fam­ily as a whole.” The project hopes that this is a turn­ing point within the sit­u­a­tion and that by help­ing this com­mu­nity earn bet­ter through di­rect mar­ket link­ages, more sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tion weavers will opt for the fam­ily trade rather than look for me­nial jobs in the ci­ties.”

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