Handloom weavers in distress as stocks accumulate

Handloom weavers in distress as stocks accumulate with no sales

Economic gloom

Representative image. Credit: iStock

Uncertainty looms large over the handloom industry as exhibitions, which are a major market for the industry, have come to a complete halt with no signs of resuming anytime soon. 

More than 50% of the sales for the sector come from exhibitions, according to industry experts. Without exhibitions, there has been an accumulation of stocks, which has left weavers with minimal or no work. 

Siva Devireddy, CEO and Founder, GoCoop, a marketplace for weavers, says with offline options on halt and no wholesale buying happening, weavers & cooperatives had no marketing avenues open to them. All of them had huge inventory but no place to sell their products.

“We saw a sudden surge of interest from the artisans to come online and sell. We have on-boarded 76 Weavers & Artisan Groups & Cooperatives in the last four months on the GoCoop Marketplace,” he says.

Mohamad Shakil, a weaver associated with Khinkhwab, a Benaras-based clothing brand, says that his income has come down by 50% and it has been difficult to manage things. “I have the support of the organisation I work with but many weavers I know have switched to vegetable selling and other businesses to sustain,” he adds.

Ruchi Agarwal, Founder, Khinkhwab says demand has been massively impacted, but existing cash reserves helped them buy from many other weavers who had come seeking help. “Independent weavers in Benaras, on the other hand, go to shops at chowk bazaar to sell their products, but those were shut throughout the lockdown period, which had forced many weavers to switch to other means of income,” she says.

The handloom industry is one of the largest unorganised sectors of economic activity in India, occupying a place next only to agriculture in providing livelihood to people.

The industry provides employment to around 4.33 million handloom weavers and allied workers in the country.

Mala Dhawan, Founder Trustee - A Hundred Hands, a charitable trust set up to help artisans whose livelihood depends on handloom, says cluster sales have fallen by over 75%-90%. The trust has association with over 1,000 weavers across the country.

“With sales plummeting and cash flows affecting even raw material and therefore, production, the earnings of weavers associated with groups where production is still going on, albeit rather slowly, have halved. Many others have lost jobs and turned to agriculture in their villages.”

The weavers who are employed, on an average, earn between Rs 10,000 and Rs 30,000 per month depending on their output and level of expertise.

“In the first few months, the situation was more or less under control in the villages and the fear had not crept in. Post-June till date, as cases are rising in the villages, weavers are gripped with fear,” says Dhawan.

Prepaid route

While cash-on-delivery transactions were a norm in the business, most of the companies have switched to ‘prepaid only’ to pay wages to the weavers on time. 

During the lockdown, due to concerns of instability and transfer of the virus with cash transactions, we went for pre-paid only kind of transactions, which helped the artisans receive money prior to the work, so that they were not left handicapped when it came to cash flows, says Mansi Gupta, Founder & CEO, Tjori, an ethnic brand.

Deepa Naresh from Loomfolks says that a few weavers, especially from Bengal, had approached them during this period, mentioning that their daily livelihood has come to a standstill as all the market places & retail shops where they used to supply their produce have been shut down, posing a great challenge to their Survival.

“Before the pandemic, we also used to provide cash on delivery and prepaid modes of payments. Our processes have changed now as we are accepting only prepaid orders,” Naresh adds.