Recently, I came across a story on ‘6 Women Help Award-Winning Weavers Across India earn Rs 60 lakh in 2 Months’. By the time of writing this column, the amount raised had already gone up to Rs 75 Lakh. The story by Rinchen Norbu Wangchuk and edited by Vinayak Hegde appeared on an Indian digital media platform, The Better India, on 7 July 2021. The report focuses on the efforts of the ‘Weaver Resource Bridge’ in helping nine award-winning master weavers, including a Banarasi and a Pashmina weaver, sell their work online during Covid-19. This was my first introduction to thebetterIndia.com which claims that it wants to showcase everything that is working in India. By using the power of constructive journalism, they want to change India – one story at a time.
The Weaver Resource Bridge ([email protected]) comprises six volunteers at the moment. Talish Ray (a Delhi-based corporate lawyer) Meenakshi Vashisht (heritage specialist), Mani Tripathi (homemaker from Lucknow), Namrata Varma Kaul (real estate professional), Shruti Mathur (IT consultant living in Melbourne) and Monika Srivastav (a homemaker). The initiative was started by Talish Ray after serious family exposure to Covid. She found a partner volunteer, Meenakshi, on the social media site, Facebook. The others too joined the effort as volunteers.
Being a heritage specialist, Meenakshi was ideal for an effort to help set up a resource bridge for struggling weavers. They reached out to a highly skilled craft professional with over 40 years of experience, who had earlier worked with the National Crafts Museum in Delhi. He apprised them of the bad financial situation of master weavers, suffering due to virtually no sales over the last year of the pandemic. As the pandemic raged across India and the world, lockdowns and work from home have increasingly been the norm in most countries. As people are confined to their homes, they have taken to dressing in casual comfort wear. The exquisite art and skill of the master weavers have gone unappreciated in the process. The volunteers offered to find donors or buyers for the inventory of the master weaver they had first contacted, but being proud of the craft, the master weaver did not seem to want charity. Nevertheless, they were able to get the contact details of 20 other master weavers whom they approached. Eight of them decided to come on board. Another master weaver came on board shortly after the initiative went live. The group included two award-winning Banarasi weavers, a hand block printer from Bagru, Maheshwari weaver from Madhya Pradesh, Kota Weaver, Chanderi Weaver, Chikankari craftsperson from Uttar Pradesh and a Pochampally weaver from Andhra Pradesh.
In order to ensure that products made by these master weavers and put across by the Weaver Resource Bridge were of high quality, the women first bought a variety of pieces from all the eight weavers themselves and found the quality to be impeccable. Their faith has been rewarded by repeat buyers as nearly 60% of those who engaged in a transaction are repeat buyers.
The volunteers see themselves as a bridge between the craftspersons struggling to find a market and those willing to lend a helping hand or otherwise in need of buying the beautiful creations of these master weavers. They reached out to their network of friends through social media. Once approached by a prospective patron, they ensure that the person commits a minimum buying amount, promises not to haggle and is aware of the need to respect the dignity of master weavers. They also screen the craftspeople from curious onlookers who may be only interested in window shopping by linking up the prospective buyer with the specific crafts person sought instead of indiscriminately giving out the contact details of all the master weavers.
The Weaver Resource Bridge aims to touch Rs 10 million in sales for the nine master weavers by Independence Day (15 August). They will then close this initiative. The women involved have no commercial interest and their association with the master weavers is purely voluntary.
Later this month, the volunteers of the initiative will conduct a workshop for the nine master weavers to enhance their technological capabilities and improve their sales methodology. They also hope that through the workshop, master weavers would be strengthened with the necessary tools to advance further once the initiative of the Weaver Resource Bridge concludes. Most of all, the workshop aims to impart the spirit of creative dignity to the master weavers.
The pandemic has devastated not just lives, but also livelihoods. Our hope of recovery depends also on each one of us extending a hand in whichever way we can. One hopes that the Weavers Resource Bridge would not conclude its efforts but that they would take up another set of craftspersons to assist. One also hopes that many more such initiatives will come forward to build a better India and a peaceful and prosperous world.