Despite being the second largest provider of rural employment, after agriculture, the handloom sector is steeped in a crisis, a crisis that is largely a result of its inability to keep pace with modernity. The mushrooming powerlooms, lack of marketing and credit facilities for weavers, changing tastes and declining patronage are among the myriad factors plaguing the sector that should ideally be the symbol of India’s proud heritage. The lives of many weavers in the hitherto thriving handloom hubs are now hanging by a thread. The recent initiatives by the Telangana government, including roping in e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart to promote traditional handlooms and provide the much-needed marketing linkage for weavers, are laudable. All cloth requirements of government departments, including school uniforms and hospital bedsheets, are to be from the handloom sector alone. Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister K T Rama Rao has appealed to people’s representatives and government officials to wear handloom clothes at least once a week. While these gestures will go a long way in helping the weaving community in distress, there is need for a massive awareness movement to encourage people at large to use handloom products. The weavers of Pochampally, Gadwal, Narayanpet and Siricilla, whose masterly creations were once popular across the country, are in dire straits now because of lack of a level playing field. Concerted efforts are needed to bring back the glory to their produce and expand their retail footprint.
A major problem facing traditional weavers and designers is that they have not kept pace with the new generation whose ideas of clothing, convenience and comfort have changed. The challenge before them is to reinvent and tweak their work to keep pace with changing times and tastes. It is equally important for governments to create a proper eco-system and a level playing field. The new strategy for revival of the handloom sector should cover branding, effective marketing, skill upgradation of weavers, loom upgradation, making good quality raw material available at cheaper rates, availability of adequate credit facilities and product design. While brands such as Fabindia have always worked with handloom fabrics, those like Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail and Titan Group are now readying to foray into the segment. This is a good sign for the ailing sector. Weavers must be trained to use the internet to place product details and prices as many ecommerce partners are now offering to promote them on their platforms. They should be encouraged to incorporate coloured threads that bring in changes in the designs and motifs. Accounting for 90 per cent of the world’s handlooms, India is uniquely positioned to tap its global business potential. Giving a contemporary touch to the traditional weaves is the need of the hour.