For 15 years now, an organisation called WomenWeave has been changing lives throughout India. Through an impressive and diverse program they are working towards overcoming the vulnerability of women who weave on handlooms, aiming to make weaving a profitable, sustainable, dignified and income-earning activity. Led by a board of inspirational women with varying expertise in the world of textiles, WomenWeave now operate under four main pathways: they connect India’s community of weavers to potential customers, provide training in craft, organisation and design, promote the integration of traditional design and cultural heritage into their products, and generate selling opportunities and market connections for their weavers both in India and abroad. With five major ongoing programmes currently underway, we think that they deserve some serious attention…
The Gudi Mudi Khadi Project, for one, is focussed on the cotton-growing belt of central India. Here, WomenWeave link cotton farmers with formerly unemployed local women of Maheshwar who create contemporary khadi textiles for fashion and interiors. Although cotton is the primary type of yarn used in Maheshwar handloom weaving, this regional cotton has no direct relationship with local weavers other than through the Gudi Mudi project – the majority of it is shipped out of the region. Despite this, about 3,000 weavers live in Maheshwar, using cotton, silk, and jari to make saaris.
Secondly, their KhatKhata Project places its emphasis on maintaining cultural heritage in contemporary handloom weaving. In villages with close connections to some of the country’s oldest weaving techniques, such as those in the Dindori District in Madhya Pradesh, WomenWeave have set up a handloom revival project that creates economic opportunities for local artisans. This is itself an unusual initiative, as much of the weaving industry in these areas is now forced to be a part of large scale industrial weaving, where insufficient financial infrastructures and lack of access to raw materials can often inhibit locals from engaging in traditional techniques.
WomenWeave also run The Synergy Programme, where they provide design and marketing support for traditional weavers and hand block printers to create higher value products with contemporary designs and a fresh approach to the traditional aesthetic. This programme helps weavers and hand block printers to meet consumers’ desires, especially in higher end fashion markets, while also encouraging productive new working relationships between weavers, block-printers, dyers, designers, and retailers.
With the launch of The Handloom School in Maheshwar in January 2013, WomenWeave has also built on earlier training programs in barefoot business, computer skills, English and design to begin a more holistic, progressive and formalised curriculum that will cultivate the next generation of handloom weavers and weaver-entrepreneurs. They give a much needed focus to women by offering healthcare services and day care centres for children of artisans, while providing education sponsorship of more than 130 children. WomenWeave is a clearly a formidable project, and we look forward to seeing it grow even stronger in the year of India's independence anniversary.
For more information and to find out how you can take part, visit www.womenweave.org.