Thiruvananthapuram: A tiny handmade doll made out of soiled and damaged fabric has become a symbol of survival and hope for a group of weavers, whose dreams and livelihood were washed away by the floods last month in Kerala.
A month after the deluge had ravaged Chendamangalam, a traditional handloom village in Ernakulam district, the weavers are pinning hope on 'Chekutty', dolls fashioned with handloom material spoiled in the floods, to rebuild their lives.
Demands are now pouring in from across the globe for these dolls, conceptualised and designed by two social entrepreneurs to help the weavers raise funds out of the damaged fabric stock through crowdsourcing.
With the support of hundreds of volunteers, they are now collecting sarees that had been left soiled and destroyed beyond reuse in the looms of Chendamangalam, post floods.
They chlorinate the textile, boil it to disinfect and convert them to Chekutty, the handmade dolls, Lakshmi Menon, a co-founder of the initiative, said.
She said the weavers had no option but to burn the severely damaged textile. But the same soiled stock is now expected to fetch them much more through the cloth dolls.
Cutting across geographical barriers, people are placing bulk orders through websites, Facebook and WhatsApp for these dolls after coming to know about it through the media.
A mobile app was launched in Silicon Valley on September 21 to take the desi dolls to a larger global audience. It would become functional soon, she said. One of the seven Chendamangalam weavers’ co-operative societies, with which the doll-makers are associated, has already received Rs five lakh through online booking.
'Cheru' means mud and 'kutty' means child in Malayalam.
So Chekutty can be read as the child who survives the mud and dirt of floods. It can also be read as the kid of Chennamangalam," Lakshmi told news agency PTI.
"Chekutty has scars...Chekutty has stains. But she represents each one of us who survived the floods. I am so happy to see that our doll has now emerged as the mascot of Kerala, which braved the devastating floods," she said.
The entire amount raised through sales of Chekutty would go to livelihood programmes envisaged by the handloom weavers’ cooperative society of Chendamangalam, said Lakshmi, who runs 'Pure Living', a social enterprise focusing on up-cycled and recycled products.
"A normal handloom saree may fetch Rs 1300-1500 in the market. At least 360 odd dolls can be made out of a six-metre saree. We plan to put it up for sale at Rs 25 each," she said.
"That means, dolls fashioned out of a single saree can fetch them up to Rs 9,000. That is much higher than they receive through the sale of saree," she said.
An active participant in the flood relief work, 42-year-old Lakshmi came to know about the plight of the weavers from her friend Gopinath Parayil, a tourism entrepreneur.
Ravaged looms and bundles of destroyed fabric, which were all ready for Onam sales and tears of hundreds of weavers who had toiled hard for months to make them ready persuaded the entrepreneurs to find out a sustainable solution for them.
"The scenes at the village shook both of us. We had no option but to think of something to bring back the smiles on their faces. Finally, we came up with the idea of doll making," Lakshmi said.
The weavers were also happy about the idea as at least their months' long labour would not go in vain.
Both Lakshmi and Gopinath shared the idea through social media platforms and invited interested persons to volunteer their services in doll making and the response was immense.
They also created a website, detailing the objective of 'Chekutty' dolls.
Lakshmi herself collected soiled sarees from the weavers and trained volunteers. She took many sarees home, chlorinated and boiled them to disinfect them.
"Even after chlorination and boiling, the clothes had that stink left by the murky flood waters. So we had to wash the fabric repeatedly to make them safe for re-use," she said.
The entrepreneur said the beauty of Chekutty dolls is the crowdsourcing.
"It's not made by one person or one organisation. No Chekutty would look alike. Other than the basic steps on making, the painting, touch-ups and decoration is all up to the individual doll maker, she said.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently came forward supporting the unique initiative.
The Kochi-based IT hub Infopark had adopted the Chekutty dolls' movement to support its sales.
The founders of Chekutty are now getting ready to trademark their unique doll before launching the product officially in the market on October 2 in Kochi.
"The original Chekutty dolls, made of Chendamangalam handloom, will have a trademark and a small write up attached to it. We plan to do the trademarking exercise with the support of over 500 volunteers at the Maharaja's College campus in Kochi on September 30," Lakshmi added.
The soft handmade dolls can be used as a key chain, wall decor or tied to a handbag and would always serve as a reminder of the sacrifices and resurrection of a state which was ravaged by a murderous flood, the entrepreneur added.
Ajith Kumar, Secretary, Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society, Karimpadam in Chendamangalam said they had already received Rs five lakh in their account through the online booking for the 'chekutty dolls'.
We have only helped them clean the soiled fabric. The other things including doll making and sales are being done by the entrepreneurs. The money is directly credited to the Society's account," he told PTI.
Chendamangalam is a traditional handloom weaving cluster located over 35 km away from Kochi....