More than 80 percent of the residents of Thiruvallur located near Alangombu and Sirumugai a 40km from Coimbatore are weavers operating the loom engaged in creating colourful designs on soft silk saris adorned by millions of Indian rather than Kora silk. Even though Alangombu and Sirumugai host a majority of the 82 handloom cooperative societies awarded the right to weave and sell the GI tagged Kovai Kora cotton saris.
Nine months after Kovai Kora cotton saris were awarded a geographical indication tag, hundreds of weavers in and around Sirumugai have shifted to soft silk as they struggle to find buyers for Kora. The GI tag has not made any major difference to sales, as Kora cotton saris, the signature creation of handloom weavers in Sirumugai, have lost their sheen in the ever-changing fashion industry.
Cooperative societies claim that after GI tag was granted, Kora sari sales went up by 10% to 15%. But this spike in sales is too insignificant to impact their income," said K Maarimuthu, president, Alangombu Devanga Cotton Cum Silk Handloom Weavers' Cooperative Society. They are unable to hike wages for a Kora silk weaver.
The handloom, textile, handicraft and Khadi department fixed wage for a Kora cotton weaver ranges between Rs450 and Rs850 per sari, based on the design. A sari takes two to three days to weave, which means they have to survive on this wage for three days, said V Savithiri, a weaver in Alangombu. On the other hand, a soft silk sari weaver gets paid anywhere between Rs750 and Rs1,900 per sari, making it more remunerative.
Thus almost 80 percent of the 6,000 weavers in Sirumugai have shifted to soft silk. Thirty years ago, the entire village used to weave Kora cotton. Five years ago, it had reduced by 40 percent and continues to decline.
The fall in demand for Kora saris has not helped matters either. Fewer people are interested in Kora saris, confesses Dr Radhika Prithivi, managing director, Tharakaram Silk House. The educated upper middleclass women prefer sheer fabrics that can be worn with designer blouses. Most people do not even remember that it was awarded a GI tag in July last year.
Soft silk looks grander and brighter, making it a more affordable and light weight version of the Kanjivaram silk sari, said Aparna Venkatesh, fashion designer.
According to weavers, the GI tag just gives them heritage value and nothing more. Things will change only if the demand for Kora silk sarees increases, which would improve wages for Kora weavers on a part with soft silk sari weavers. If their situation does not improve, soon Kora silk saris would become history.
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