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May 21, 2024

Indian handloom has tremendous potential to boost India’s economy, says ARTISANS’ Radhi Parekh

Riddhi Doshi

In 2011, when Radhi Parekh opened ARTISANS’ in Mumbai, country’s first-ever gallery and shop where art, crafts and design converge, it invigorated the cultural scene in the metropolis. Over the years, the talks, exhibitions, workshops and projects at this NID graduate’s space, shaped and transformed many weavers, craftsmen and designers’ careers, and made so many more fall in love with Indian textiles and crafts.
On National Handloom Day, today, we ask some very relevant questions to Parekh about the future of handloom in the country, the role it plays in the Indian fashion industry and its economic potential.
Radhi Parekh
Radhi Parekh
What role does handloom play in Indian and international fashion?
‘Handmade in India’ is unrivalled internationally, for the diversity of materials and techniques of hand-weaving in India, practised today at the highest level of skill. Indian handloom weaves are sourced by the leaders and makers of trends in the world of fashion, as the world looks increasingly towards handmade, slow and small-scale, to support sustainable lifestyles. Millenials want to make green and ethical choices and are conscious of the power of a ‘green wallet’.
Raji Ben, plastic weaver, Artisans'
Raji Ben, first weaver to weave plastic.
Pic courtesy – Artisans’ Facebook
What potential does handloom have in helping the country’s economy and India’s fashion industry?
A force of four million weavers is directly employed in handloom, more than the equivalent of those in the IT industry. Yet, India’s share in the global handicraft industry is less than 2 per cent. This represents a tremendous growth potential, in a world where sustainable development based on human values, “integration of economic growth, social justice, and environmental stewardship” is not just the UN’s goals, but of today’s generation whose world is directly impacted.
Is handloom a luxury?
Handloom is regarded as a luxury in developed countries, where hand-weaving is a solitary art-studio practice, and time is the ultimate luxury. We are blessed with communities of weavers, whose deep-rooted traditions and market-led innovations, still keep these valuable practices alive. I believe that handmade should not be a luxury in India. Good design is democratic, and with renewed awareness, greater demand, fair and ethical pricing, handlooms can have a wider reach, to support dignified craft livelihoods. The maker needs to get at least equivalent to the minimum daily wage, if not more. We need to question models where high-profit margins are making handmade a luxury.
Why are many people not aware of handloom and handloom textiles?
Imitations abound, unfortunately, as technology is used to create look-and-feel-alikes, at a fraction of the cost of handmade. People have lost the ability to discern ‘real’ from imitation, by touch.
The impact of our economy opening up to global fast fashion, and the rise of celebrity designers, from the early 1990s, has desensitized a whole generation of aspirational buyers, whose values are informed by global luxury brands.
Nettle fibre weaving, Artisans'
Nettle fibre weaving in Nagaland, a project by Artisans’.
Pic courtesy: Artisans’ Facebook
What are the biggest challenges faced by handloom and the craftsmen today?
The current impact of COVID-19 comes upon a long string of adversarial economic, political and natural disasters that leave the fragile ‘Handmade in India’ enterprises struggling to survive. At every stage in the process from raw material to market, there is an urgent need for the kind of protection and support that only the government can give.
What can be done to extend more support to the weavers?
I envisage a powerful people’s movement to reclaim handmade. It is integral not only to our identity but to our most contemporary global challenge. It is a call to each of us to embody our response by wearing handmade in India.
What can the government do to help?
At the highest level of government, an immediate and strategic change in the perception, recognition, and protection of the craft industry, is needed to renew the legacy of handmade in India. Now, more than ever, it is imperative in our post-colonial, post-independent India.

Please tell us about Thebvo, a textile from Nagaland, which you have been actively promoting?


Indigenous women of the Chakhesang tribe from a remote Naga village in Northeast India, weave nettle shawls on back-strap looms. The fibre-to-fabric journey is local and self-sustaining.
Stinging nettle is foraged from the wild, once a year. The fibre is thigh-reeled and hand-spun into yarn, softened, bleached, and strip-woven on backstrap looms.
This utilitarian nettle textile is warm and waterproof. Originally used as body cloths and blankets, today the nettle shawl is a luxury, prized and reserved for ceremonial occasions.

Also read: Shakuntala Devi actress, Vidya Balan’s amazing collection of handloom saris.

Kareena Kapoor lends her support to Indian artisans.



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