The Kai Thari Facebook group’s efforts to promote handlooms are bearing fruit
4/16/2018 3:00:47 AM
|written By : By Nithya Subramanian|
Mahatma Gandhi, the champion for handlooms, succinctly summed up this invaluable part of the Indian heritage as follows: “Khadi stands for simplicity, not shoddiness. It sits well on the shoulders of the poor, and it can be made, as it was made in the days of the yore, to adorn the bodies of the richest and the most artistic men and women. It is reviving ancient art and crafts.”
However, the handloom industry has been affected by industrialisation and various policy decisions. Even the recent 5 per cent GST has had a negative impact on the business. Now a group of Indians have come together on Facebook, forming a group called Kai Thari (handloom in Tamil) to promote handlooms. Started in 2015 with just a handful of members, it has now over 12,000 from across the globe, with hundreds joining every day.
Singapore too has a chapter and here are excerpts of an interview with Rama Srinivasan, a spokesman for the group.
India Se:How was the Singapore chapter created?
Rama Srinivasan: The Singapore chapter is an offshoot of the Kai Thari group on Facebook. We are handloom enthusiasts.
India Se: The Kai Thari group has managed to revive the fortunes of two weaving communities – one in Karnataka and the other in Goa. Which are these and why were they chosen?
Rama Srinivasan: The Udupi handwoven cotton and the Kunbi weave (from Goa) were chosen for these two initiatives, labelled Spandana (mindful, nourishing touch) and Spoorthi (inspiration). Spearheaded by Savitha Suri, these initiatives have successfully revived dwindling weaving communities and increased their earnings.
Spandana: The weavers of Udupi, a small town of Karnataka, specialised in simple cotton sarees characterised by plain two-coloured borders (one minor colour running in two bands on the upper and lower end of the border with the major colour forming the background). These were worn by the local population. However, there was a steady drop in local demand and it was increasingly seen as ajji saree or grandmother’s saree. Suri’s initiative helped improve the quality of the sarees, boosted sales and increased the weavers’ earnings. From the five clusters that were engaged in weaving in October, there are now approximately 25 clusters that have restarted weaving.
Spoorthi: The Goans have an iconic weave called the Kunbi (kaapod). Traditionally worn by the women of the Kunbi community (farm labourers), the red fabric was a short, coarse garment draped at knee length and looped across the shoulders (with or without a blouse depending on the religious affiliation of the wearer).
Suri’s initiative to promote the Kunbi finally found fruition in November 2016. An online order form was created which included contact details and design preference indicators. Orders were restricted to not more than four pieces per individual. Dupattas and stoles were added to the product range. Within three days, 245 orders were received and soon the ball began rolling.
Both Spandana and Spoorthi were initiatives to attract budget-conscious customers who were not textile-erudite but supportive of handlooms. If Spandana created the base for mindful buyers, Spoorthi created sustainable livelihoods.
India Se: Designer Wendell Rodricks has also been credited with reviving the Kunbi saree and bringing this handloom to the limelight. So what more needed to be done?
Rama Srinivasan: When the Goa-based fashion designer Wendell Rodericks created a Kunbi-inspired collection in 2010, it was hailed as a landmark moment in textile history. This, however, did not gain further traction. The International Film Festival of India, 2017, held at Goa saw the government selecting Kunbi sarees from this initiative to make bags for delegates. The bags drew a lot of appreciation for their superior quality.
India Se: What do you as a Singapore group plan to do in future? Are you working with other communities?
Rama Srinivasan: The Singapore group started off small and now has about 50 people. The group meets to discuss handlooms, attends talks and workshops related to textiles in Singapore and places bulk orders for handloom products that the members gift or use. In addition to supporting initiatives of the main Kai Thari group, we also aim to identify moribund weaving communities whose products could do with a fillip and create a Singapore-initiated movement to help them.