6 Ways In Which The Yali Store is Giving Back The Power To The Weavers
Back to the future!
The Registry of Sarees is a research and study centre that’s dedicated to addressing the value and growth of weaving communities. Marking its digital presence it has started an e-commerce handloom store, Yali. Its introductory collection, Hosa Arambha was conceptualised by Kshitija Mruthyunjaya.
An architect by training, she was introduced to the weavers from Kodiyala through the social welfare organisation Shreni’s Trust. While there are many revival projects doing the good deed, this initiative is special because the weavers aren’t just employees, they are equal collaborators who are given a seat at the table. A fact discovered after an insightful conversation with Kshitija and the lead weaver Shreedhar, who spoke about the different ways in which this program will uplift the weaving community.
Homecoming Of The Weavers
Hosa Arambha was an attempt to reconnect the Kodiyala weavers (a village community in the Mandya district of Karnataka), to its ancestral roots, and transition the local weavers back to handloom from power loom. Kshitija explained further, “The idea was to provide them with a sustainable platform to come back home, these weavers were on a minimum daily wage module, while working in power loom. They were working with materials like polyester and synthetic fibers which ultimately contributes to the fast fashion market, and contradicts their authentic craft. These are original cotton weavers and we wanted to bring them back to their roots, as only 4 out of 400 families were still practising the craft when we started the research. Using design as a medium of empowerment and collaboration as a basis, the aim is to create basic infrastructure, and a community organisation for their gainful employment.”
Progress In Pandemic
As the pandemic brought the functionality of the fashion world to a halt in 2019, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Kodiyala weavers. Many of them lost their power loom jobs, but as the phase one of Yali’s debut collection was already set into motion, the weavers found work even during the uncertainties of the lockdown. Chiming into the discussion, the head weaver Shreedhar added, “I have grown up around the community of cotton weavers, but over the time, due to economical losses, everyone left the art form. I was thrilled to be back, as it connected me to my history, while also providing me with work during such a difficult time. Although, we worked lesser hours while maintaining social-distancing, it didn’t affect us economically, as we were getting paid. In addition to all the safety measures we were taking, time and again the government doctors were checking in on us to make sure our health was fine” (Translated by Kshitija).
The Yali store plans on slowly expanding this project by transitioning through phases, as it will help the weavers to keep-up with the process and understand their long term plan. “Since the weavers have been working in power loom for a very long time, this had to be a phased intervention. They did not have the experience to work with hand spun yarn, so we had to begin with mill-spun yarn. For the next phase, our production head Laxman Rao is training the weavers to work with amber-charkha spun yarn, and then we will move on to the Gandhi charkha. Similarly, we are currently using azo-free dyes, but slowly as the weavers will pick up on the process, we will move on to natural dyes. We are bringing back what initially existed in Kodiyala, from a natural dyeing unit to a warping unit, and generating more and more employment along the way” Kshitija said.
Integration Of History In Design
Contextually relevant designs were developed with the weavers to integrate the community’s identity in the project. Kshitija further shed light on how this initiative was rooted in their heritage. “The current design theory is generally borrowed from other clusters. From generic peacocks, and parrots to the mango motifs, it all caters to the mass market. What we did from the start was infuse the mythological history of the Padmashali community (origin of the weavers) and converted them into seven key motifs along with hints of ancient Telugu scripture. These motifs were then used in the borders and the pallus of the saree.”
Coming Together Of The Urban And The Rural
The two beautiful muses of this campaign belonged to two different stratas of the society, bringing them together further strengthened the original stance behind this project. “It was all about inclusivity for us. Right from the beginning we were sure that this had to be a collaborative assignment between equals. One of our muses is Mala, our head weaver’s wife; she can wear the six-yards in the rural setting. On the other hand, Rukmini Vijayakumar is a classical performer who can wear it in an urban set-up. It’s a versatile saree that can be style by different people on various occasions. The saree we make is for everyone, hence the contrasting choice of muses made sense for us.”
Digitally Connecting The Wearer To The Weaver
As the contemporary world is learning more and more about heritage handcrafts, it’s only fair to give the weavers the same opportunity and educate them about the e-commerce side of the business. “Right now, there’s a huge disconnect between the wearer and the weaver. The weavers don’t know who their customer is and vice-versa. Circling back to making this a collective effort, we innovated a design element on the saree to create that transparency. A pin code is woven on the saree, which will give the consumer details about the weaver and the place it was woven in. Marketing and online retail has been a confusing concept even for the weavers, therefore we are conducting workshops where we teach them about digital processes and make them familiar with the clientele that is purchasing their work.”