Tying up with Todas to keep the virus at bay
Traditional tribal artisans from the Nilgiris are producing masks with exquisite embroidery
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to sweep across the country, a small corner of India has come forward to use its traditional skills to help people ward off the infection.
More than a hundred women and indigenous Toda artisans from the Nilgiris are producing thousands of stylish, embroidered masks for local residents, police, and sanitary workers.
The cloth masks, are embroidered with intricate
Toda designs, and sold for around ₹225 each. These have been a huge hit, with demand for the masks coming from Coimbatore, Chennai and New Delhi, said Mathew John from Keystone Foundation, which is using its marketing arm, Last Forest, to market them.
The masks are produced by Indian Yards in Coonoor and Shalom Ooty, who are partnering with Last Forest. While Indian Yards has been empowering more than 50 local women by training them on how to stitch articles of clothing, Shalom
Ooty regularly employs over 150 Toda artisans to embroider indigenous designs on bags, shawls and other items.
Sheela Powell, founder of Shalom Ooty, said the idea to hand embroider designs on masks came to her as she realised that people will have to learn to incorporate masks as part of their everyday clothing for the foreseeable future. “By using the skills of the Todas to stitch the motifs, we are providing them with a stable livelihood,” said Ms. Powell.
A Toda artisan, who embroiders the motifs on masks, said she gets anywhere between ₹50-100 for each single piece she produces, and added that because of demand for the masks, she has found work despite the lockdown.
“As there are no tourists coming into the district, there is no demand at all for Toda embroidered quilts, shawls or other clothes. But because of the demand for masks, our skills are being put to use and we get a livelihood in return,” she said.
The masks have already been dispatched for sale in stores in the Nilgiris and people can also order them online from the Last Forest website.