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Weaving the road to women empowerment

Apr 30, 2013

Sally Holkar, founder of Women Weave, an NGO working to empower women from the marginalised sections, says that the occupation of weaving not only provides financial security to women, it also gives them aesthetic pleasure. Excerpts from the interview.

Sally Holkar

OneWorld South Asia: How does your NGO Women Weave, empower marginalised Indian women?

Sally Holkar: Most of the women working with us are widows, physically challenged, or those coming from the marginalised farmer-families. Most of these women are economically disadvantaged and do not have any means of livelihood apart from a few odd jobs in agriculture.

The skills imparted by us to these women are helpful for as they can then can weave and earn a livelihood. Once trained for handloom weaving, these women who have been working in the hot sun all their life time can enjoy the privilege of working in the shade along with their children.

The occupation of weaving is ideal for these women as it is physically safe and less stressful as. The art of weaving also brings aesthetic pleasure to these women.

OWSA: How challenging was it for you to sell apparel made out of the hand-spun yarn?

Holkar: The key to any of this kind of work is design and design is very expensive. We were very lucky to be funded by the Tata Group and HSBC Bank for three years respectively.

If we did not have great design, we would have faced a big challenge in selling clothes made on the handloom. Therefore, great design is not an option, it is essential for selling Khadi.

OWSA: What makes handloom industry a sustainable activity for rural women in India?

Holkar: Sustainability of the handloom business is based on the three crucial factors including the weavers, designers and the market.

Today, with almost everybody in the country owning a mobile phone, it can become an important tool for teaching, learning, exchange of information and even marketing.
We can overcome a lot of problems with an intelligent use of a mobile phone like delivering latest lectures on weaving and marketing.

OWSA: How has the brand ‘Women Weave’ helped in selling products made by isolated women weavers?

Holkar: Each product sold under the brand name of ‘Women Weave’ carries a story. It tells the story of forest dwellers and tribals engaged in the task of weaving.

This brand has given a chance to the marginalised women to do collective business. Women Weave has increased the design awareness of the weavers and has also given them a fair exposure to the market. We are selling products from these weavers to around 29 countries of the world.

Tomorrow, even if our organisation is not there, the weavers would still survive as they do not remain anonymous and are equally showcased along with their products all over the world markets. We are desperate to see these weavers as handloom entrepreneurs in the near future.

OWSA: What message is Sally Holkar striving to weave through her engagement with the handlooms?

Holkar: The message is that there is huge potential in India for such products to be woven in India and marketed globally. Being a labour intensive industry, handloom is one of India’s great USP and the country should not miss the opportunity to tap into its potential.

Handloom also shows an environment friendly way of producing cloth in a much more sustainable way as there is no electricity involved in the production process. Our carbon credits are accrued only during the transportation.
Though it was not our moving force, but the handlooms are empowering women in a green way. It has been a great privilege to be part of the big family of Indian weavers for forty long years.

OWSA: How can the fashion industry help revive the handloom industry in India?

Holkar: Fashion designers need to send their interns to interact with us and other NGOs that are doing handloom because they cannot work on handloom unless they understand it.

The fashion industry needs to have a dedicated programme for their interns to work with the handloom weavers. The designers also need to have 25 per cent of their collection both in winter and summer from the handlooms.
Like every designer has a bridal collection, they should also have a bridal handloom collection, to make a statement in the market.

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