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Protecting an age-old craft

Published : Sep 10, 2018, 12:07 am IST
Updated : Sep 10, 2018, 12:07 am IST

Kerala fashion designers and handloom lovers have united to help the weavers of vidya nair.

A weaver drying the washed yarns that were drenched in floods.(Photo: Arun Chandrabose)
 A weaver drying the washed yarns that were drenched in floods.(Photo: Arun Chandrabose)

There is a sense of vanity in every Malayali’s face when he or she dresses up in a traditional handloom set mundu or a dhoti. The Kerala saree is also not an exception. Even though machine-made Kerala sarees, dhotis, thorttus, etc. are taking over the textile industry, the perfection and comfort of wearing a handloom product is inexplicable. However, the art is dying and the industry has now shrunk to a few societies that exist on the mercy of government aids. To add to the miseries of the handloom weavers of Chendamangalam village, 36 km from Cochin with five handloom societies under which 600 weavers work, the floods have destroyed everything. Everything has to be started from scratch.

Commenting on the situation, Ramesh Menon, a fashion consultant and an active member of the group that is working towards reviving the handloom sector in Kerala, says, “I have been to Chendamangalam and the situation there is pathetic. Though the villagers have been living in proximity to the water, they had never witnessed a flood so devastating in nature.None of them expected that the water levels will rise to this extent. Most of them did not get the time to even think about shifting their looms and yarns to safe places. These weavers have come back home from the relief camps just to discover that the only means of their livelihood is no more. The looms, yarns, dyes and everything important to them require a complete revamp.”

A group of fashion designers including prominent names like Poornima Indrajith and Shalini James have united for the cause ‘Save The Loom’. The group is also considering this as an opportunity to bring back the handloom sector to the forefront. They have been working in close association with the government and other handloom lovers to help these weavers mend their looms and get fresh stocks of yarn and die.

Apart from this, another group lead by fashion designer Sharmila have an online project titled Samrakshanam - Reloom Kerala, which acts as a backend support to help sell the readymade stock worth Rs 35 lakh that will in turn help the weavers financially during this crisis. Sharmila says, “I have been associated with Chendamangalam handloom societies for almost four years now. Hundreds of weavers are facing a bleak future due to the terrible loss and damage to their looms and woven stock, which was being readied for Onam. One co-operative society building that houses around 50 looms has come crashing down. Some weavers had their looms at home, which have met a similar fate. In the past decade, these weavers had earned an excellent reputation due to their commitment to weaving. Their superlative quality handloom products had earned them a GI tag.” Sharmila wants to help them get back on their feet. She adds, “If everyone decides to buy one piece of clothing, the existing stock can be saved. We have associated with social entrepreneur Sumita Pai of Kai Thari Karigar, a Facebook community that concentrates on reviving the handloom sector. We are happy that we have done business of Rs 4 lakh.”

A weaver standing in front of her destroyed loom. (Photo: Dinesh Madhavan)A weaver standing in front of her destroyed loom. (Photo: Dinesh Madhavan)

Designer Shalini James too had posted a message on her social media handle requesting people to buy the goods that were saved from the floods. She wrote, “More than a hundred looms are damaged. Only the frames remain. The GI-tagged textiles of this historically famous village were already struggling due to rising costs, threat from power loom fabrics and unavailability of skilled manpower. Now that the floods have dealt a deadly blow to this craft, it faces the possibility of being completely obliterated from the handloom repertoire of Kerala. The only way to save the stock is to buy it, as government modalities prevent any other form of removal of goods from that space...You can individually, or as a group, buy any number of saris, dhotis or set-mundus. They are all in the price range of Rs.1000 -1500 per piece. We have tied up with Allure Dry Cleaners to dry-clean the items and make it seem loom-fresh again. They have kindly offered a 45% discount on their usual rates for this cause,” in her post she also added an appeal from Sojan, Secretary of the Chendamangalam handloom society, wherein he requests  people to come to their aid to save stocks worth Rs. 40 lakh. The money that the sales will bring in will keep them afloat for the next 6 months.

The another major setback that the society has incurred is the unavailability of women workers as many of them are still struggling to come back to a normal life. Elaborating about Save the Loom, designer Poornima says, “We have also made a website of the same name so that people from across the world who are willing to extend a helping hand can see the details of every weaver and sponsor accordingly. The sponsor can also track the weaver’s development and we have added a provision wherein the weaver, after a year, will gift his/her sponsor woven product.”

Poornima adds that they have full faith in the beautiful craft that these weavers practice. She cites an example of the presence of mind of a weaver Aisha and her husband, who, in order to save their loom from getting damaged in water, tied it to their roof. The designer is working had to pool in funds and is also getting technicians who can fix the damaged looms.Chendamangalam tide over the crisis.

Tags: handloom, traditional handloom, kerala sarees, chendamangalam village