Technology is helping the revival of the handloom industry which has been battling newer and cheaper forms of textile weaving and design. From farm to fibre to fashion, a host of tech companies are lending help in the form of design software, sourcing of raw material, e-sales platforms and even customer orders, offering weaver clusters across the country a path to sustainable livelihood.
Tech giant Microsoft has been at the forefront of this drive. Pochampally village, near Hyderabad, is known for its traditional Ikat weaves and is the first Indian textile weaving process to obtain Intellectual Property Rights protection under the Geographical Indications (GI) Act. To help the 1,000-odd families associated with this dying art, Microsoft, in association with Chaitanya Bharathi, an NGO, has set up a digital empowerment centre at the textile park in Pochampally. This centre will impart training along with National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) to create new designs, help set up e-markets and use technology to preserve the craft. Says Anil Bhansali, MD, Microsoft India (R&D), “Weavers from Pochampally can start using technology to expand their design knowledge and market reach.”
Microsoft is providing support to weavers through funding for the looms, counseling the weavers to continue their craft, training artisans in natural dyeing and design skills and getting customer orders for handloom products. Technology is an enabler, cutting across multiple dimensions, archiving, preserving, outreach and feedback, says Chitra Sood, director, business management, Microsoft India R&D. “We support the weavers right from procurement of raw materials to marketing of the finished products,” she says.
Similarly, in Odisha, Microsoft, along with project partner Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), initiated a project called DigiKala which is an integrated digital development model for traditional skills-based artisan clusters of Nuapatna and Barapalli districts. The project is aimed at tech enablement of the weaver community to bridge the digital divide. So far, 500 community members have been trained on digital literacy skills using the Microsoft Digital Literacy Curriculum and 25 digital designers have been trained on weaving and design using computer-aided software. There are three self-help groups in the clusters that are using digital media and information technology tools and e-commerce platforms to conduct their work. In addition to this, Microsoft also conducts Skype training programme for inter-community exchange of experiences of using technology for designing.
“In Pochampally, we encourage weavers to use natural dye and have helped over 20 cotton farmers to grow organic cotton. To preserve old weaving techniques such as Telia rumaal, Gollabhama and three-shuttle Gadwal, Microsoft is documenting them for future generations. About 180 families in the districts of Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar and Karimnagar are being supported through this initiative. There has been 25% increase in wages of the weavers since they are continuously getting orders and over 60 women have been trained in garment making and Banjara craft,” Sood adds. Five weaver community clusters—Gadwal, Siddipet, Gollabhama, Narayanpet and Pochampally—have been identified by Microsoft. The objective is to rebuild the handloom ecosystem while strengthening it with technology that can be utilised at various levels.
Meanwhile, Swedish telecom gear maker Ericsson has announced the launch of its handloom weavers’ social initiative in Uttar Pradesh. The initiative, called ‘Baank-e-Loom’, in partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, envisages digital development of the handloom cluster in Barabanki district. Through digital integration of traditional skills, Ericsson India aims to empower traditional artisans in embracing new technologies, designs and scaling up weaving methods by employing ICT tools in marketing and sales. The Barabanki handloom community with a population of around 50,000, is beset with challenges such as lack of information, inability to market products profitably and direct access to market. Under the initiative, the local weavers would be offered ICT training to help better market their products. An e-commerce portal would also be set up to sell their finished goods. Starting in Saidanpur, Baank-e-Loom could be a replicable model for all the 470 handloom clusters of India.
Moving ahead, to tap the B2B e-commerce segment, wholesale e-commerce wholesale app Wydr, along with National Handloom Development Corporation (NHDC), enables artisans to connect with retailers and big distributors across the country for products certified under the ‘India Handloom Brand’ by NHDC. Wydr has reached out to weavers and co-operatives in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan, Varanasi, Panipat, Jaipur and Jodhpur for this.
Similarly, GoCoop Solutions and Services, a Bengaluru-based venture that provides an online global marketplace for co-operatives and community-based weavers and artisans, has developed a marketplace technology platform to expand its buyer and seller base.
Currently, India has over nine million artisans and many of them are organised as cooperatives and community-based organisations. GoCoop leverages technology bridging the gap between buyers and cooperatives, enabling inclusion of these producers in today’s on-demand economy and effectively eliminating middlemen. With a transparent, streamlined supply chain, GoCoop’s marketplace is ensuring a fair price for artisans from over 250 cooperatives and high-quality products to its customers. With an inventory-less model and cluster-based approach, the company has less than 1% product returns, consistently delivering high-quality craft products, says Siva Devireddy, CEO, GoCoop.
– By Mahalakshmi