The final thread

The effort to revive a marginalized weave is finally coming full circle thanks to the efforts of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a not-for-profit. A little more than a month ago, its Chanderiyaan project in Madhya Pradesh, run for the benefit of about 3,500 families of Chanderi weavers,saw the launch of Chanderiyaan.net, an e-commerce website. Through this, weavers can bypass middlemen and sell their products directly online.

At the moment the site only sells saris, stoles and dupattas, but plans are afoot to introduce salwar-kameez, home furnishings such as curtains and cushion covers, accessories like photo frames and wall hangings, and a section for men’s garments. “The photo frames and wall hangings will be made from leftover sari weaves or even designs that have partially gone wrong," explains Shahid Ahmad, project director, Chanderiyaan, DEF.

Ahmad, who has been associated with the project since it started in 2009, says they have tied up with delivery services all over the world to ensure that their products can be accessed anywhere. Within India, buyers will have the option of paying cash on delivery. Originally the Chanderi weave used silk on silk thread, but Ahmad says silk on cotton is more affordable and better suited to modern times. The zari used is usually gold thread sourced from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

The Chanderiyaan project is an example of how digital intervention can change the lives of communities dependent on arts, crafts and handloom for a livelihood. These communities face challenges such as outdated designs, debt or middlemen taking a larger share of the profit. “We wanted that the weavers become independent and be able to understand and use technology to their advantage, not just in their personal lives but also in work," says Ahmad.

This initiative, funded by the Union ministry of communications and information technology till 2011 and now on its way to becoming a self-sustaining entity, imparted basic English-language classes, taught a few weaver-designers computers skills for design purposes, made the area Wi-Fi enabled and introduced the community to social networking media. “Earlier the designers of these weavers used to sketch out patterns on graph paper and this often meant that they could not get an idea of the finished product. After being able to use digital technology, they know what the final product can look like, how to avoid wastage, etc. Technology has helped them double the time used for weaving and that has meant an increase of almost four times as far as their monthly income goes since 2011," explains Ahmad. He is also helping weavers to use computers and recreate their patterns on the Jacquard loom, again a time-saver.

“One of the reasons why weavers resisted using new designs is that it takes 15 days or so to upload designs on the Jacquard loom and they are not paid while this happens. Using the computer, we can finish this work in 2 hours, so the weavers are now willing to try newer patterns regularly," says Ahmad. Also, they can now try out many permutations and combinations with patterns, motifs and colours.

“This cluster of weavers today has access to Wi-Fi; more than 70% of the young in these weaver families are digitally literate, and the e-commerce portal connects the weaving entrepreneurs with national and global markets—a way forward for communities who inherit our legacy of arts, crafts and handlooms and are dependent on it for livelihood," says Osama Manzar, founder and director, DEF.

Stoles start at 550, dupattas at 1,350 and saris at 2,363. To order, visit Chanderiyaan.net. For details, call 07547252150

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