For those who have experienced it before, the echoing rhythm of the handloom carries you back to gentle memories of weaving villages from the times gone by. Almost every village then was a cottage industry in its own merit, with skillful independent weavers entwining combinations of threads and dyes to craft magic. Each piece of fabric created thus, was raw, unique and an epitome of intricate & dedicated craftsmanship.
Kerala was no different. In fact, they are the creators of one of the most exquisite and universally popular forms of handlooms, the kasavu mundus and sarees. The undyed, off-white cotton cloth, often laced with coloured or golden borders is a favourite among the young and the old alike, even to this day. Yet, it is a pity that today, only co-operative societies supported partly by the State Government and limited master weavers in places like Trivandrum, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kannur and Kasaragod are engaged in handloom production and retail. One of the most important reasons for this is, of course, the advent of power looms that engage in mass factory production thus ensuring lower costs and increased choices. Adding to this, the independent handloom industry could not match up with constantly changing trends and consumer orientations.
Therefore, today, there is an urgent need to not only support traditional craftsmen and their skills but also develop better design support and innovations in the field to help weavers adapt with the
new world view. Organizations such as ours, in the struggle to revive traditional handlooms and livelihoods of independent weavers, hope to also bring forth a sense of familiarity and admiration for the artform among youngsters who are otherwise used to hybrid power loom products. Our designs propose to explore modern ideas and creative preferences while holding on to the basic crux of the art.
Among consumers, love for local handmade products is on the rise. The charm of pure cotton Kerala sarees, mundu neriathus or mundu jubbas cannot be matched by modern mixed fabrics and machine prints. But many are not willing to spend. Bridging the gap between the needs of these consumers and earnings of the weavers is no menial task. It requires establishing a heightened awareness of the processes involved in crafting a single piece of handloom fabric. It also necessitates coming up with better ideas of cost cutting by removing middlemen. This will, in turn, generate a secure means of livelihood for artisans, allowing them to retain their family heritage rather than migrate to other sources of earnings.
Sankalp started off as an organization promoting women empowerment. But today, we also hope to give a platform to talented artisans who find it increasingly tough to hold on to the handloom industry they so cherish. We further wish to reach out to handloom lovers and make superior handloom clothing available to them at cost-effective rates. Let’s pray that more and more such initiatives are taken up by independent organizations in the State to revive our age-old handloom heritage.
Author: Gowri Bhavadas