India is one of the few countries that still have a significant sector which employs artisans who weave for a living
India has always had a strong legacy of unique hand-crafted products. As per recent research reports, handloom and handicraft contribute sizeable revenue to the Indian economy and employ 130 lakh artisans in rural and semi-rural locations. The industry is expected to employ 17.8 million people by 2022.
Indian handicraft is also witnessing huge demand in domestic as well as international markets, with exports alone amounting to $3.5 billion in FY17. Also interestingly, India is one of the few countries that still have a significant sector which employs artisans who weave for a living and produce almost 40% of the cloth in the country.
The Dwindling Art of Weaving
Weavers have traditionally been organized into communities that have sustained their art and skill by preserving their traditional knowledge through oral traditions. Their craft is both an artistic tradition and a source of income and livelihood.
The weavers and the workers who engage in this art are traditionally skilled and have been doing the same work for generations pushing their cultural cart forward. Handlooms are estimated to employ over 6.5 million families. Each state has its unique weave, style, pattern and material that they produce with pride. Even within states, there is a host of varieties due to different communities that reside within.
Sunita Budhiraja, the Founder of the campaign #SixYardsAnd365Days, noticed the change in choice of clothes of the current generation, which had created a gap between style and the weavers’ livelihood.
She says, “Last few years, it pains me to a great extent to see the dwindling art of weaving. Today, the weavers’ craft is threatened with extinction due to power looms which offer a cheaper and faster way to produce the similar goods; it can take the weaver weeks to create what the machines can produce in a day.”
Birth of an Idea
What bothered Sunita and her friends was that the younger generation was moving away from the saree. She strongly felt that if a demand is created, it would have a positive impact on the lives of weavers. In fact because of the decrease in demand, our weavers, too, have gone on to choose better-paying avenues and moved to cities. Hence it was imperative to do something about it. That is how the idea of this campaign was formed.
An idea that started as facebook campaign #SixYardsAnd365Days with a cause “to uplift and benefits the handloom industry & weavers,” has become a brand, known for its hand-woven sarees and for keeping the tradition alive through facebook. The group which was founded by Sunita Budhiraja with just 3 more members has already crossed 25,000 members across the globe.
The Union government's Digital India initiative helped Sunita Budhiraja to take the social media path to connect with women who wear sarees.
Sunita says, “The primary aim of the campaign is to create demand for handwoven sarees by wearing them all the 365 days of the year. Besides just wearing sarees, the group has inculcated knowledge about the traditional unstitched attire--sarees among the younger generation. Members of the group have directly associated themselves with the weavers of Banaras, Chanderi, Maheshwar, Baluchar, Maniabandha, Nuapatna, Vishnupur and Assam besides picking up their handloom sarees from other sources. This movement not only supports weavers directly but also generates employment opportunities for many.”
Artist Meets Art
Sunita says, “We invite weavers, designers who work with artisans, apart from renowned classical dancers to share their experiences with members so that they can also adopt some weaves. We now plan to conduct exhibitions and conducting workshops on how to drape sarees in different styles.”