‘There is a dearth of weavers who actually practise weaving currently; finding capable and creative weavers is a challenge’.
Mangalore: August 7 is commemorated as National Handloom Day. It was on 7 August 1905 that a call was taken to boycott foreign goods and promote Indian-made products. It was at this juncture that the Swadeshi movement started. “Handloom has sustained itself through major revolutions, including the era of fast-fashion,” says Mahalasa Kini, a textile revivalist who is trying to promote local artisans through her lifestyle brand “Ghar by Malsi”. She began this venture two years back on National Handloom Day by launching an Instagram page dedicated to promoting the work of various artisans through her brand. This year, she intends to launch her official website to commemorate the third anniversary of her label, as the pandemic has cut short her plans for more elaborate celebration.
The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have reduced the consumption of lifestyle products and hence this sector did not witnessed seasonal effect, even during festivities. Even though it has affected the overall market, Mahalasa Kini says there has been a lot of dialogue and awareness given to handloom and artisan-based products in the past two years. The pandemic helped people connect across the globe and many online communities were built on the basis of interest. She says campaigns and concepts like “vocal4local” and “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” has managed to create a buzz among people and encourage them to make conscious changes and choices.
Further, she adds that the G.I registration tag given to Udupi Saree in the year 2016 has brought recognition to the art and provided creative dignity to its artisans. However, people do not relate to it, as many do not know its real significance. “Customers don’t look for G.I tag but quality, price, colour and how they feel while donning the saree,” she says.
Coming from a management background, and giving up her job in Mumbai to follow her passion wasn’t easy for Mahalasa. Of the many challenges, this field dealt with designs, it involved traditional skills and was solely labour-based. She learnt the art through various experienced weavers and educators from the fashion sector.
“Ghar by Malsi” is now training new generation women in the art of handloom weaving with the help of master weavers of Udupi Saree. The sales happen primarily on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and through personal contacts.
Vasudeva Shettigar who is 75 years old, learnt the skill while he was just fifteen is training people for Mahalasa. The training takes place for a period of 3 months. Vasudeva, who is 75 now, has trained nearly 10-20 youngsters 10 years back in weaving towels and bedsheets. Similarly, Keshav Shettigar who is around 66 years old used to weave in his youth, but gave it up and sought employment in other fields. Now, like Vasudeva, he is sharing his knowledge and skill with others. Mahalasa states that lack of documentation is the biggest challenge of this sector as the skill is purely knowledge based. There exists a dearth of weavers who actually practice weaving currently and hence finding capable, talented and creative youngsters to be a part of the weaving community becomes a major challenge.
Despite the Department of Handlooms and Textiles coming up with various provisions and schemes aimed at weavers and reviving the handloom sector, both Keshav and Vasudeva are unaware of them. Vasudeva says he applied for one particular scheme during lockdown. But did not apply for other schemes as his earlier attempts at seeking funds under government schemes went in vain.
The government of Karnataka’s official handle mentions life insurance, scholarship loans, Thrift fund for marriage, house construction and medical expenses and assistance for implementation of latest designs for the weavers. But many like Keshav and Vasudeva are unaware of it.
Mahalasa says the lack of monetary benefits reaching the weavers has dissuaded them from continuing their profession. She says she wants to popularize the craft of handloom, especially that of Udupi handloom, to an extent where the weavers and the community get everything they truly deserve and more.
For Aastha Ritu Garg, Indian heritage and culture played a vital role in her upbringing. She grew up seeing her mother wearing handloom sarees and father giving lot of emphasis to Indian art. Aastha Ritu Garg is the founder of the clothing label “Padmashali”. The clothes are handwoven by weavers across the country. She initially started off employing 20-30 weavers, but now nearly 200 weavers are working for her brand. Her intention behind setting up “Padmashali” was to help the marginalized section of the society, particularly the weavers. Asked what impact her clothing line has on weavers, she says it’s about livelihood. She compensated weavers during the pandemic even before the products were ready, in order to make sure they had enough liquid cash to buy raw materials.
Aastha Ritu Garg earlier worked as an Area Sales Manager for Coffee Day in Delhi before setting up her own clothing line. She explains how the gifts she received from her relatives ended up becoming the capital for her business. Her collections are often associated with mythological themes. For instance, her collection “Ganga” was created keeping in mind women who emerged victorious despite going through many challenges and obstacles in their lives. Through her collection “Yashoda” she wanted to reach out to widows and single mothers. Her collection “Radha” was created bearing in mind young girls who are still blooming.
Garg gives much emphasis to sustainability in fashion through her work. She says that lot of water and electricity gets wasted in producing one piece of garment, while these resources have to be judiciously used for the future generation. In her perspective, handloom products fall under the category of slow fashion as she does not encourage her customers to buy more. At her label, handloom products are viewed as classic and heritage pieces encouraging her customers to hand-wash them instead of using machines.
She points out that customers need to be educated by making them aware of the process behind producing any particular product. She says that the government’s initiative of labelling products as “authentic” has helped in giving people insights into what exactly they’re buying. “But it is ultimately the customers’ call, they can choose to throw away the market brochure that explains the process of production or make conscious changes in order to bring a change in society,” she says.