This years flooding in Kerala has wreaked havoc and destruction across the state, of which I hope everyone is well aware. Among the millions of effected where the handloom weavers of Chendamangalam near Cochin. This cluster is home to five cooperative societies of more than 600 weavers. The high waters not only destroyed almost 300 looms as well as many raw materials and the entire yarn bank, but soaked and threatened to ruin crores worth of woven stock if not salvaged in the nick of time. Very quickly an incredible social media campaign was launched, spearheaded by Kerala based designers Sreejith Jeevan of ROUKA, Shalini James of Mantra, Indu Menon of Kara Weaves and Tracy Thomas of The Wardrobe. Through the speedy foundation and clever marketing of Friends of Chendamangalam, they succeeded in mobilising some major fashion houses as well as many local and international individual buyers to purchase the massive stock of woven goods before they were destroyed by mold. While the majority of stock has been salvaged and sold, there is much work to yet be done in repairing the looms, replenishing the yarn banks and somehow getting the weavers through the massive loss of income having missed the festival season which secures them 80% of their yearly income. As devastating as this disaster has been, Friends of Chendamangalam refuse to be a sympathy driven movement, demanding instead that the weavers supported and and their products purchased through respect and admiration of their craft and skill rather than a saviour complex driven charity.

I came across this quote by Jeevan which I found so incredibly poignant. It was made in specific reference to this situation but speaks wholly of a ‘charity’ driven approach to handicraft. I think it is an incredibly relevant and powerful statement which can be easily applied to a global attitude towards craft. It demands a shift in mentality from the modern urban consumers, a rethinking our approach and indeed our egos.

“A big problem that the craft industry in our country faces is that it is favour-driven. Designers feel we are doing them a favour by working with them. Customers sense their own halo when they buy a craft. And reporting about craft has a rather apologetic tone. Revivalism and protecting the craftsmen is a beautiful concept but not at the cost of making them sound like a species that is on the verge of extinction. In our ‘loom to life’ initiative, we connect you directly with the cluster so that you can give any financial support to them directly. I am almost left with no answer when asked if they know how to utilise money properly. Our obsession with wanting to pride ourselves for saving the ‘rural’ or the ‘uncapable’ is the problem. I have seen a beautiful system of working in the co-operative which by its nature works as an ethical fairtrade organisation. And in this case the ‘rural’ is way more democratic than the ‘urban’. We need to realize that we are not doing them a ‘favour’ by supporting them. By supporting them, we’re only giving them a chance to do ourselves a favour by upholding a tradition they they’re safekeeping on our behalf. I’d love to make some noise on behalf of the weavers. And reminding that they’re with us to keep the loom alive.” 

– Sreejith Jeevan, founder and designer of ROUKA and advocate of the Chendamangalam Handloom weavers cooperative Societry, Paravur, Kerala on Facebook, 19 September 2018.


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