Ministry of Textiles is looking to build on its India Handloom Brand (IHB) to remove the distress among the lakhs of underpaid weavers for which they has decided to totally exit from mass production of handloom fabric and focus on the premium segment, after fighting a losing battle with powerlooms in the mass segment for several years.
This move is paying off in not just improving the earnings of the weavers but also in terms of sales numbers of the IHB, whose perception has changed with better quality, competitive pricing and easy availability.
The ministry has spent Rs 2-3 crore till now on the promotion of the brand this year. It is looking to spend another Rs 20 in the current fiscal.
Alok Kumar, development commissioner, handlooms, said that from the time the IHB was launched, in December 2015, to March this year, it garnered Rs 15 crore. He is projecting it to jump to Rs 100 crore by the end of this year.
According to Kumar, it is a revival of sorts for the fabric, which had lost the favour of consumers because of sheer neglect that had led to its quality slipping and prices being uncompetitive compared to powerloom textiles. Today two-third of weavers were distressed because their products were getting priced out by powerlooms.
Mass segment space will have to be vacated sooner or later by handloom industry because the same cloth can be manufactured by private sector power-loom industry very competitively, said Kumar, who is spearheading the transformation of IHB.
The government has undertaken to train these weavers to upgrade their skills for high-end handloom fabrics like Patola, Champa Silk, Chanderi, Ashawali Silk, Salem Silk, Uppada Jamdani, Kinnori Shawl, Kullu Shawl, Tangaliya Shawl, Kutch Shawl, Banarasi, etc.
They have given weavers new designs and contemporary colour combinations and it has succeeded.
Over the last 10 years, the government has taught new weaving skills with contemporary designs and reliable dyes to 80-90,000 weavers. This has pushed up their earnings to Rs 800-900 per day from Rs 150 a day. The ministry will be training another 35,000 weavers this year.
As per the last census, carried out in 2010, there were 43 lakh weavers in the country. Of this, around 65% were in the Northeast who produced handloom fabric for household consumption. Around 20 lakh weavers were involved in commercial production of handloom cloth. This number had been dwindling because of unviable pricing and dropping sales.
However, recent government efforts at putting life back into the handloom sector have helped weavers return to it. Many weavers has returned to their villages in Chanderi of Madhya Pradesh with the resurgence of handloom's worth.
Many weavers have left their jobs in Mumbai and gone back to Chanderi. According to weavers Rs 500 per day is good enough earning in their village. It is also more dignified than living in a Mumbai shanty.
The transformation exercise started by the textile ministry after a recent market research done by Majestic MRSS Ltd on the dressing habits and fabric preference of youth in the age group between 20 years and 30 years.
The survey revealed that for 58% of the target group quality of the fabric mattered when it came to formal wears. They leaned towards branded products for assured quality even if they were priced higher than non-branded ones.
At the same time, it came out from the research that IHB was not easily available and was expensive, comfortable but sparsely available and expensive, said the executive summary of Majestic MRSS Ltd.
However, Kumar has addressed the accessibility issue by boarding on to the e-commerce marketplace. IHB is already there on nine e-commerce platforms. Since then its revenues has surged significantly.
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