In probably a first-of-its-kind initiative, artisans from the interiors of the country’s three states in the eastern region — Kamrup in Assam, Dimapur and Phek in Nagaland and Maniabandha in Odisha — got an opportunity to exhibit their collection of woven saris, yardages, home textiles and fashion accessories for the festive season at the recently-concluded Lotus India Fashion Week, courtesy Antaran, a Tata Trusts initiative. The show tilted Artisan Exhibit of Handwoven Textiles, then travelled to RK Khanna Stadium, Africa Avenue, where too it enthralled the viewers and buyers alike.
Antaran initiative took off in April last year — weavers first showcased their collections at the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai in February. “We are taking weavers around to cities, and at fashion weeks as we want them to understand how the fashion world operates,” says Sharda Gautam, Head (crafts) at Tata Trusts.
“The initiative aims to rejuvenate the ailing handloom clusters through an end-to-end programme,” says Gautam, adding, “Our objective is to transform six pilot weaving clusters by creating entrepreneur-led microenterprises across each element of the value chain. We also opened Incubation and Design Centres these three states as a one-stop destination for buyers, designers, researchers and lovers of traditional crafts,” he adds.
At the selected clusters, training is an ongoing process throughout the year. “We work on building the core strength of handloom textiles such as natural fibres, hand-spun yarn, natural dyes and weaving. The idea is to educate and empower artisans on design and business,” he shares, adding that the programme is now being extended to Andhra Pradesh too. “As of now, we are looking at working with about 3,000 artisans in six clusters from four states, but soon we will expand to other states as well,” he says.
The weavers are a happy lot as they get to know, in person, the respect their work commands in the outside world. “The experience is very enriching. Thanks to the training and support we are getting, we are now able to make informed decisions. I was initially hesitant but now I can speak to designers with confidence,” says artisan Bikash Mahapatra who is also the founder of Khimri Ikat, Odisha.
Talking about the role Antaran has played in making artisans like him turn into entrepreneurs, he says, “We now connect directly with buyers in various cities as also with hi-end stores like Nallis, Sonal Fabric etc. We deal independently with buyers, and get all the profits. We also sell to retail buyers through different pop ups in metro cities. Plus, we have our own Instagram and Facebook pages through which buyers can connect with us.”
With more and more consumers going in for handloom and organic clothing, the right kind of education in design sensibility, strengthening of the pre-loom and post-loom ecosystem and helping artisans connect with value-based buyers directly can go a long way in making India become a major export house of creative and sustainable textiles.