KOCHI: The weavers’ village of Chendamangalam in Ernakulam district, which is known for its fine fabric pattern, has come back to life from the verge of extinction. When the century’s worst floods inundated the houses of hundreds of weavers last year, they had to flee with whatever little they could take.
But when the state is facing another spell of floods and rain on the first anniversary of the August 2018 floods, the handloom village remains active. The handloom societies which were fully damaged have restarted their operations and could even contribute relief materials to the worst flood-affected northern districts. The revival of the village and the century-old craft can be an object lesson for crisis management experts.
Chendamangalam handloom, which possesses geographical identification tag, has become an internationally acclaimed brand with bodies like United Nations promoting it. The Chekkutty dolls, the miniature dolls made from the damp handloom clothes, introduced by fashion designer Lakshmi Menon and Gopinath Parayil, have become the mascot of rebuilding Kerala. International organisations have adopted Chekkutty dolls as a powerful role model on how communities can survive extreme natural calamities. The money collected from the sale of the dolls is being handed over to handloom societies.
“More than 50,000 volunteers from across nine countries have been engaged in making Chekkutty dolls and hundreds of workshops on doll -making were conducted in different countries. A society named Resilient Community has been formed with seven weaving units and the ownership of Chekkutty brand belongs to them. Gopinath and I will function as mentors,” said Lakshmi Menon.
“The damp stock of clothes is yet to be completely used. We still have soiled clothes which will be used for doll-making. Plans are afoot to introduce more value-added products like organic baby clothes under the brand name ‘Chekkutty kuppayam’,” she added.
A total of 260 looms in Paravur taluk and 14 looms in Kochi taluk have been completely damaged. Apart from looms, sheds, huge stock of raw materials like threads and clothes were inundated. The total loss was estimated at Rs.15 crore. More than 300 people lost their means of livelihood. The cost of a loom is Rs.75, 000 while the total cost for setting up the unit, including the shed and allied facilities, is Rs.1.5 lakh.
“The handloom sector has received enormous support from different parts of the globe, which no other industry got, in the area. Representatives of national, international organisations, NGOs, actors, members from judiciary, PSUs, private companies, ministers, district collector and top officials visited the village and extended their support. Several fashion designers from across the country helped us to sell the damp and soiled stock and in reviving and repairing the damaged looms and yarns,” said T. S. Baby, president of the Paravur Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society and state committee member of Kerala state Handloom Workers Union (CITU).
The representatives of NGOs and known fashion designers stayed in the village for several days. They visited weavers’ houses, most of them women, and provided support in reinstating the looms as per their requirement. These women have been earning their daily wages through weaving for the last few decades.
Kochi-based designers like Shalini James and Sreejith Jeevan, and actor -designer Poornima Indrajith have taken to social media platforms, requesting designers and the public to salvage the soiled clothes and to help weavers.
“The revival of the handloom sector has been done in a very short time. We could inaugurate 46 looms, restored after the floods, by October 2 itself. By December, all looms could be made functional. Interestingly, many weavers, who left the profession for various reasons, returned,” added Baby.
Many societies have introduced value-added products which have many takers. “We have woven 39 designer dupattas, inaugurated by Manju Warrier, as an experiment and most of them were sold even during the inaugural day. we are hopeful of having good business through product diversification,” said C.S. Saritha, secretary of Kuriappilly handloom unit.
Though floodwaters entered many weavers’ houses, they could shift looms, yarns and other raw materials to safe places well in advance. However, production has been affected hitting the weavers who were looking at the Onam festival season with high expectations. More than 75 per cent sales of handloom products takes place during the Onam season....