Even though weavers in the handloom sector work from their homes and villages, the impact of Covid-19 has neverthless permeated to them. The crisis created by lockdown, markets being shut and the resulting decline in demand and sales of handlooms is an unprecedented situation for the sector.
The monsoon ussually ushers in the season of festivies and a lot of events which used to be a great time for sales. It didn’t help that events, fairs and exhibitions which used to be organised in March-April across India, didn’t take place.
The biggest challenge for small or big town weavers and designers during the lockdown has been the lack of demand. This has resulted in people conserving their finances, since purchases besides day to day essential kitchen and medical expenses are being viewed as unnecessary.
Although the lockdown has been lifted, the increase in number of cases on a daily basis has not given any confidence to buyers, hence purchasing remains a luxury. This has impacted weavers as well as entire design chain.
“Weavers from unorganised sector prepare well in advance for these events. Domestic markets though are opening slowly, are seeing very low footfall and conversion. Lower consumption has lead to inventory being piled up, leading to lower orders for the coming months. All this will have a long term impact on the weavers,” designer Anavila Misra tells IANSlife on the occasion of National Handloom Day, marked on August 7.
Misra, who is known for her handloom sarees, gets 90 percent of the textiles from handloom clusters of India. All surface ornamentation be it block printing, embroidery, or Khatwa on Anavila creations is also done in these clusters.
Pointing out the challenge faced by the handloom industry, Sunita Budhiraja, Founder and Chairperson, Six Yard and 365 Days believes that the “powerloom is a big threat”.
“There is a clear change in priorities. Powerlooms are also one big challenge to the handloom sector. What is woven on handloom in one week can be achieved on powerloom in a couple of hours. The designs are so symmetrical that at times it is difficult to differentiate. Powerloom is a big threat to handloom industry,” she tells IANSlife.
“Weavers community on their own cannot survive if they do not get funding, yarn, designs and supervision by the master weavers,” she adds. “Only creating demand and buying their produce can help improve the condition of all. Unless we, the wearers buy handloom sarees in a sustained manner, there will always be a threat of the looms coming to halt, which will mean our national heritage going into oblivion.”
On the other hand, Misra feels that the government should give a push to the sector which is “the fore-bearer of the cultural heritage of the country; not only from the commercial viability but also from the point of view of cultural and heritage preservation, government intervention is much needed.”
Designer Ujjawal Dubey of Antar Agni shares similar views. He says: “The government should increase their consumption of handmade fabrics in schools, hospitals, railways, etc. This will increase the demand by many folds. Apart from that, the government seems to be working on policies to support local industries which will hopefully be beneficial.”
Experts say the sector would see a few changes post the pandemic. Going back to classics, longevity of design, use of technology, thinking out of the box and getting into related categories will be a few of them, Misra pointed out.
Dubey adds: “Hopefully, there will be a surge in demand with the government talking about supporting local businesses and small scale industries. An increase in demand by the end consumers will lead to many creators also working with fabric.”
To build a sustainable business, visibility, awareness and reaching out to customers to create a loyal clientele are the keys, says Budhiraja. “This should be supported by a consistent and cost effective supply chain. Creating new designs, blending innovation with tradition with colour schemes that attract today’s generation should be kept in mind. Public interests evolve with time. They adopt newer designs, colours and fabrics, yet the older ones come back in course of time. Hence, it is important to keep track of new trends and understand the likes and tastes of the public. Creating brand / product awareness always helps in the long run.”