Ethicus and Samarth teaching women how to weave in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu


How sustainable sari brand Ethicus and government program Samarth are helping women in Pollachi learn new skills and regain their identity

How sustainable sari brand Ethicus and government program Samarth are helping women in Pollachi learn new skills and regain their identity

Hand in hand, the women dance the kummi around a mortar and pestle, next to a large peepal tree. As they sing, two of them crush a coconut, scattering pieces everywhere. Song and dance is to celebrate the completion of a 45 day weaving program at Appachi Eco Logic Cotton, Pollachi, Tamil Nadu.

Then, inside a well-lit room, surrounded by weaving looms where they learned warp and weft, the 47 women await their defense. Examiners from the Salem Weavers Service Center (under the Department of Textiles) and an examiner chosen by the Union Government question them about twill weaves and yarn counts. “I could answer most questions,” rejoices J. Benazir Banu, 23. She is the most recent graduate of Samarth, a skills development program for capacity building in the textile sector.

Women of Samarth at Appachi Eco Logic Cotton in Pollachi

Women of Samarth at Appachi Eco Logic Cotton in Pollachi | Photo credit: special arrangement

Women transcend caste, community, age and education. The youngest is 21 years old and the oldest 57 years old. For some like Mr. Shahida Banu, the Samarth program (which started on April 4) was an opportunity to learn something new. “None of us had seen a loom before and had no idea about weaving. Now I go to a store and demand to know the thread count of a cotton saree,” s amused the 32-year-old, who lives alone with her mother-in-law and child while her husband works in the Gulf. She is proud to have proven to everyone that she can learn a new skill. For d Others, it was an opportunity to get out of the shackles of daily wage labor or patriarchal oppression at home.“I was earning ₹200 a day doing hard labor from 8am to 2pm,” says R. Bhuvaneswari, who signed up because she would not only earn a stipend of ₹13,500 at the end of the program, but also learn a skill that provides a stable livelihood.

Why Ezhuchi will spread joy

Mani Chinnaswamy and his wife Vijayalakshmi Malani Nachiar are helping women achieve this. Directors of Appachi Cotton, they are also the founders of Ethicus, India’s first fashionable farm brand (they grow their own cotton). Over the past 12 years, the enduring brand has not only created uniquely handcrafted sarees, but also given identity to its weavers. (Each Ethicus saree comes with a tag showing the weaver’s photo, name, age and time it took to weave. They were the first in the country to introduce this concept.)

Vijayalakshmi Malani Nachiar and Mani Chinnaswamy from Ethicus

Vijayalakshmi Malani Nachiar and Mani Chinnaswamy from Ethicus | Photo credit: special arrangement

“These women are the first batch, and we hope they will be catalysts for a social movement we call Ezhuchi [meaning ‘arise’ in Tamil]says Nachiar, who has in the past organized cotton trails for names like Donna Karan, the American designer, and Jurgen Lehl from Germany.

The seed for the idea was planted after years of struggling to maintain handloom. “We heard the looms go silent one by one as the weavers started to desert the work,” she says, echoing the reality seen across the country – a reality where the children of weavers seek employment elsewhere, resulting in a deterioration of skills. in existing clusters. So when they saw an opportunity to make a difference with the central government’s skills development programme, they took it. “The program enables the sharing of knowledge that was the preserve of specific communities,” says Chinnaswamy, explaining that Ethicus weavers educated the women.

Women participating in the Samarth program

Women participating in the Samarth program | Photo credit: special arrangement

Watch out for each other

The women’s stories give hope. “Ezhuchi has given us something more lucrative and sustainable, but also something that gives us dignity and identity,” says 23-year-old N. Nivedita, who, despite having a degree in computer science, had failed to find a job. Before enrolling, she sold milk while her mother made brooms.

Kavitha Marimuthu tells how she struggled to convince her overprotective parents to let her participate. Her mother, Veeramani, joined the class just to keep an eye on her daughter! Today, both of them know the structure of the loom and have mastered three basic weaving techniques.

And then there is the eldest, K. Tamizharisi, with a glistening mukkubottu (nose pin) on either side of her nose, who ran a petti kadai (a small shop) in the village of Athu Pollachi about 11 kilometers away . “I have a piece of land near my house, and I offered it to anyone who wants to set up a shed and weave there. [only those who own 300 sq ft of space are eligible for a subsidy of ₹2 lakh].”

That’s what women do, says Nachiar, adding that they work hard and are willing to share generously.

K. Tamizharisi with a charka

K. Tamizharisi with a charka | Photo credit: special arrangement

With jobs in mind

The problem with programs such as Samarth is that they are often misused. Although there is no official data on the number of people who live with it, the Pollachi program has a good chance of succeeding thanks to Ethicus, its network of contacts and the support provided by industry stalwarts. southern textiles. (Nalli Kuppuswami Chettiar of Nalli Silks, PK Arumugam of The Chennai Silks and others signed a memorandum of understanding pledging their support.)

Chinnaswamy and Nachiar have already offered jobs to some of the women – who have since formed the Ezhuchi Women Weavers’ Producer Company. They have also approached companies and other institutions to see if the products made by the women can be used as corporate gifts etc.

Upskilling with Samarth

A central government program for capacity building in the textile sector, it aims to train 10 lakh Indians over a period of eight years (2017-2025). Tamil Nadu is one of 18 states to have signed up. Each successful graduate is eligible for a loan of ₹50,000 at 6% interest and another waiver of ₹10,000. If they own 300 square feet of space, they are entitled to a grant of ₹2 lakh, a shed and a loom. According to C. Muthusamy, director of the Salem Weavers’ Service Center, the Pollachi program was the first all-female program and the first time a producers’ society had been formed.

The Ezhuchi movement also aligns with sustainability. Rahul Kiran and Shakti G., two designers from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and Kurukshetra respectively, came up with designs for table runners, tablecloths and rugs that women can weave.

The yarns (made from recycled banyan tree waste) come from Tiruppur, the knitwear capital of Tamil Nadu. “The perfection of the finishes, the quality of the product and the prices are what will convince buyers. The stories of these women will be the icing on the cake,” says Nachiar.

Meanwhile, the pieces of coconut under the peepal tree are collected in a basket. They will be cut into small squares, polished, printed with a QR code, ready to be tagged on the products. “Cracking the coconut represented women emerging from the shells in which they lived. The shells they came out of will now carry their story,” concludes Chinnaswamy.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Coimbatore.


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