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Indian brands help handloom artisans, weavers recover from COVID-19

Indian artisans, weavers and handloom workers were trying to balance their losses from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, when the second wave hit the country to further exacerbate their problems. The unexpected increase in the daily cases and sudden lockdowns brought high sense of insecurities and fear amongst the weavers and artisans and handloom workers. No matter the lack of raw materials affected the overall productions among their communities. Their fear and frustrations continued after the order cancellation, by the major companies, but various Indian brands to keep them afloat joined many different forces with the artisans and handloom workers.

India's homegrown e-commerce marketplace Flipkart is doing it's best to help the artisans and the weavers ]to get over the pandemic. Last year Flipkart kicked off Flipkart Samarth, which is designed with the intention of democratising e-commerce and building a sustainable and inclusive platform for under-served, domestic communities to empower them with greater opportunities and better livelihood. Through the initiative, Flipkart aims to provide greater visibility to the made-in-India products on its platform, products that reflect the local diversity, culture and capabilities of a heritage-rich country As part of its initiative, Flipkart has joined forces with the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K); Maharashtra Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (MSSIDC) and Maharashtra State Khadi & Village Industries Board (MSKVIB); Tamil Nadu micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) trade and investment promotion bureau (MTIPB); state of Jharkhand; and Himachal Pradesh State Handicrafts & Handloom Corporation Limited (HPSHHCL) among others. With these partnerships, Flipkart’s goal is to bring the state’s local artisans, weavers, handicraft and handloom makers into the e-commerce fold, and provide business and trade inclusion opportunities.

Weavers used to sell most of their work at retail exhibitions. At these events, held across the country, they could network as well, finding new markets and buyers. Then, COVID-19 put an abrupt end to business. In April 2020, barely a month after India’s first lockdown began, GoCoop — an online marketplace for artisans — launched virtual exhibitions to help weavers liquidate their stock. In the process, it showcased its largest collection of handmade textiles from India, with over 70,000 products including saris, accessories and home furnishing.

Taking a personal interest in supporting handloom weavers, Deepthi Ganesh has ensured that the couture works with more and more Indian artisans while also expanding their business operations globally. Born out of passion towards fashion, and uplifting the artisans of rural India, Deepthi Ganesh Label has been highly successful in creating designs for Tollywood celebrities and the elite consumer section of Hyderabad. Deepthi Ganesh, a renowned designer based out of Hyderabad and the proud owner of the couture - Deepthi Ganesh label has served more than 20,000 clients in the past 5 years in over 15 countries. The Hyderabad based couture has its physical store located in Banjara Hills with the name ‘Deepthi Ganesh Label’. They are also available on various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and website. The label plans on expanding to online fashion stores as well. Deepthi Ganesh Label specializes in creation of exclusive garments for weddings, social gatherings, theme-based designs, exquisite bridal attires, matching bride groom clothing, pre and post wedding occasions and also takes bulk orders.

Since the lockdown, production has stopped completely. Huge unsold inventory has piled up. There has been no sale either through exhibitions or through orders. They have no capital to reinvest. The artisans have neither food for daily consumption nor enough savings to meet medical expenses. DSS distributed provisions but could only reach four hundred out of the eight hundred artisans. It continues to appeal to various organisations, individuals, and platforms to raise money for relief distribution. Most artisans are now looking for agricultural work or to migrate again. According to Kedareswar Chaudhury, CEO, DSS, relief in terms of provisions needs to continue until the lockdown is completely lifted and artisans can resume work. There is a need for capital support in the form of grants or loans with low interest rates to revive production. There is an urgent need of handholding support for online marketing, design and cataloguing. More than ever, artisans need health insurance and social security now.

To that end, Creative Dignity, a network for artisans, is currently working on developing a digital platform (similar to LinkedIn) with a list of all artisans and weavers, which will enable direct contact between weavers and consumers. “We found that the small scale handloom weaves adapted quickly to online processes whereas large scale (wholesalers) producers find it really hard,” observes Meera Goradia, co-founder. The first step, of course, is to create a website, according to Kutch Craft Collective (KCC). The collective, that has been focussing on developing an online market for its 8,000 artisans, is a coalition of five craft institutions, namely Khamir, Qasab, Shrujan, Vivekanand Rural Development Institute and Kala Raksha. Today, each of the member organisations have their own sites, and a consolidated website for KCC is to be launched on August 15.

Volunteers at Sashaworld organised social media campaigns for weavers, teaching them how to sell online. As most weavers use smartphones, volunteers taught them to take photographs of their products, as well as manage bank accounts and send couriers. “They have excellent networking skills, and phone numbers of all their regular customers across various cities; people they met during exhibitions. Most of their communication happens via phone calls and WhatsApp,” says Roopa, adding, “But most weavers by themselves cannot create websites and shift to online sales. That is where social enterprises play a significant role.”

As the third wave is likely to hit the country now, weavers are hesitant. “Even with the upcoming festival season, they are not confident enough to overstock. With less working capital, they prefer to play it safe,” says Roopa. But hope comes in the form of supportive customers, says Siva: “We see more people switching to handlooms and sustainable clothing.”

“Handlooms have more takers these days due to increased awareness among buyers. We use social media to influence people to shop mindfully and encourage handloom weavers,” says Roopa.


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