Keeping in toes with the weavers, textile houses, small-time artisans, local brands and the concept of ‘Make in India’ – the newer challenges faced during the ongoing pandemic raises prime questions that need to be answered for their betterment.
Set in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, Ruhi Handloom has been weaving magic with their sarees of different colours and fabrics for years. But, with the ongoing pandemic, how must have been their livelihoods? Run by Nitin Goud, his small handloom business has 14 weavers and 10 looms which has come to a grave standstill. Drawing light to his condition, he says, “This time has been very difficult for us. All of our works have stopped and this has been a huge problem. Many of our orders have been cancelled. Even the sourcing raw materials have also been stopped. We have supplied our workers with money, food, ration, etc – whatever that can be done from my end. But, it’s not enough.”
With the third phase of lockdown with some ‘eased-down’ plans for certain areas, it has sparked some of the most uncomfortable and urgent conversations on life versus livelihood. With the debating small-time artisans’ condition in this lockdown, would they ever be able to bounce back? Would a newer model of production be a good headstart? How would they keep pace with sales and revenues?
Livelihoods Under Lockdown
The north-east, in particular, is home to centuries-old tribes, with beautiful customs and traditions. It would be silly to not talk about the textiles and weaving practice of the states. Yarn Glory is a local homegrown brand of Assam which is built on this. Anannya Sharma, who is its founder and designer, works with local silk makers to create hand-woven products says, “Our sales are not forthcoming. We are however still continuing with production for goods that were already in the making despite a non-existent cash flow at the moment. Many weaver families do not have bank accounts so sending money has also been put on a halt for the moment. This year, there has been a major setback in production and sales.”
With the increasing number of reports of continuous scrambling of small-end brands and weaving houses, the ray of hope of thriving has been almost tied to a string. Housed in Ahmedabad, Happy Faces Foundation was founded in 2018, from a small space by Reeta Bhagat, who envisions an empowered, happier society by encouraging women to become self-sustaining individuals. The foundation is geared towards empowering women to become self-confident, self-employed, and independent individuals. The team says, “Our workshops are closed since 21st March and we have created awareness amongst the team about the information regarding Covid-19. Our sales have also been badly hit, since being a small organization we take orders and create only on need basis. We also sell our products at some stores but like many others, all retail business too has been halted. We distributed preventive homoeopathic medicines, discussed healthy habits and shared information from WHO on the precautions to be followed. We also emphasized on not falling prey to fake news on Whatsapp or spreading misinformation.”
So, How to Overcome?
There’s an urgent need to bounce back in business. From reaching out to the artisans located in far-flung places to sourcing the raw materials, the need for newer production models built around social security is evident. However, an apprehensive Anannya tells us, “Unfortunately I doubt that can happen when we are talking about the handloom sector. We cannot conceive of any other model as it is entirely reliant on the dexterity of the human hand. Artisans and craftsmen cannot work digitally. Also, most of the weavers come from such areas where the concept of institutionalized finance is non-existent.”
Working for ages to preserve the handloom heritage of the community, her work involves empowering the indigenous women weavers and making them financially independent. In the north-east of India, the craft of weaving and indigenous textiles has always a matter of great pride and honour. Mostly, rural women have the option of weaving and bringing in money as a stabilising element. Also, the disruption in the supply of raw materials, yarns have also caused a hindrance even if they try to implement the ‘work from home’ mantra. The gap in economic uncertainty and rising problems of unemployment just keeps growing wider.
Managing a house of 300 small-time artisans, Happy Faces Foundation has been trying to bind orders and sellers to create a more sustainable option. They say, “A lot of handmade products are made by single artisans if they have the tools and time they can still be working. But most products are based on teamwork, from sourcing to quality check and require different machines so we haven’t given our artisans any work from home yet. Though being creative, they are occupied with a lot of different crafts at home. Our head artisan, Ranjan ben crafted a macramé dollhouse for her granddaughter and some others are painting and drawing. Those who have sewing machines at home are creating masks. But more than work, all our artisans are missing the community workshop and the entire team. We have a Whatsapp group where they play antakshari, discuss future lunch breaks and are always asking about the health and well-being of the families.”
The high-end fashion houses, hospitality groups are constantly highlighting ‘pre-orders’ or ‘book now, pay later’ schemes. Nitin told us that he also has started the process of ‘pre-orders’. But, can this crisis production model be used for small-time brands as well? Happy Faces Foundation tells, “We are urging people to pre-order to support small businesses, and it also encourages the artisans to come back to the workshop once normalcy prevails. We also started a donation drive to urge people to join our efforts or contribute to our pool of resources. The response so far has been supportive but we are aiming to reach a lot more people who can contribute for more than 300 artisans working with us.”
We are at a high time that more than ever – we address the right people, small groups that actually drive and resource the bigger industries. More than anything, the question that keeps hovering in this uncertain pool is – ‘Till when shall all these last?’ The situation has come at an alarming peak with hardly any structured solutions. Guess, being self- resilient must be the only option. But what after? Will people flock to the small artisans to buy textiles and other products? With the entire indigenous and small-group houses in tatters, will the orders come in at all? How can people start working without the assurance of sales? But most importantly, would they ever be able to overcome this loss or would they keep surviving through broken hopes?