A part of the ‘Gen Z experience’ is being aware of the artefacts of the previous generations, but not being engaged with them. This fracture seeps into every corner of our lives - from the food we eat, to our language, from what we read and watch, to the very clothes we wear. For me, it has been an instance of observing the past while being anchored in the future. And so, if you asked me what handloom meant to me in 2019, I would have shrugged it off and giving a generic, perhaps non-committal answer. Today, I see things differently.
To me - a 20-something college student - the word “handloom” always signified elegance, and a tradition that seemed to be out of my reach. It was something that “grown-ups” treasured, something that belonged to a bygone era. Drowned out by the din of fast fashion and consumerism, handloom seemed to be trapped in amber - beautiful, yet out of my grasp.
At Shrenis, my first week was spent in familiarizing myself with the sectors that we worked in. With me were more associates around my age who had had similar brushes with handloom, While we’ve all worn our mothers’ handloom sarees, we ourselves delved deeper into the world of weaving only once we joined the team. Working directly with weavers on the ground was an experience that transformed our outlook towards handloom. Abdul, an intern at Shrenis, had an interesting thought - “There are handloom weavers having over 45 years of experience, with whom I was fortunate to interact. So if you’re wearing something that’s handloom, you could be interacting with something of more than material significance, something that is older then you are, and that is mind-blowing.”
Kondadaraman, Jyestha weaver from Arni, Tamil Nadu
The kind of stories that we heard on the ground were extremely fascinating, but also jolted us back to the harsh reality of our times. The current economic setup and growing trends are putting handloom in danger. They cater to modes of production that promise the fastest returns, without considering the sustainability and ethicality of the process. Indian handlooms, in particular, are facing issues of fair returns on labour, reaching newer markets, and competing with less labour and time-intensive ways of production. In a conversation we had about the state of handlooms today, Yogita, our intern had some concerns - “Handloom in India needs help, and its workers need financial protection and better living conditions. It is the only way to preserve the historical art form of handloom weaving and keep its stories alive.”
Our experience at Shrenis has taught us that even in the face of the adversity that the handloom sector faces, there is hope, space for growth, and for bettering lives. Our seniors at Shrenis have worked tirelessly to set up networks that can aid not just the handloom sector, but also other artisans like wood inlay and wood carving artists, wooden toy makers, beauticians, and so on. Their work has already helped boost the trust of weavers in their own craft and instilled a sense of pride in their traditional professions. For us, engaging with handloom means taking the forward the ethos of Shrenis - to look at what people need, and to become instruments and channels through which their needs can be fulfilled in ways most beneficial to them.
This National Handloom Day, as the youth at Shrenis, we are proud to be a part of this sector in our own way and proud to be associated with a name that evokes trust from those we work with.
Team Shrenis is celebrating this National Handloom Day by recognizing the rich heritage of handloom weaving in India. Our work with South Indian weaving clusters has opened us up to undertaking revival programs across the states. -By Shivani L, Associate @ Shrenis