A New Lease on Life
Apparel|December 2021
Meher Castelino speaks to Ramesh Menon, who is helping revive the dwindling handloom sector in Kerala through Save The Loom
Ramesh Menon

A lifestyle, fashion and human-interest journalist, Ramesh Menon wears many caps. As consultant with FDCI, mentoring talent and speaking for new voices, it enabled him to lend his expertise to start ‘Save The Loom’ to help the ailing handloom sector in Kerala.

“In 2017 I collected a few budding talents in Kerala and approached the government to do a program with weavers as their numbers had dwindled alarmingly in the past decade. With slow government response, I was stuck in the devastating August 2018 floods and got involved with voluntary work as part of rescue. I got to know of a weaving cluster not far from Kochi that faced the fury of the worst flood in over a century. On August 24, 2018, I went to North Paravur to see the impact, started a web platform – Savetheloom.org to spread the word and seek attention. This helped to bring recourse to nearly 300 weavers’ families in handloom, and 400 odd families in Khadi sector,” informs Ramesh Menon.

SAVE THE LOOM

Save The Loom, drives on 5 Cs - connect, collaborate, create, culture and community as part of the ‘Build Back Better’ program to provide resource to the craft sector.

“Initially it was all about retrieving as much material and fixing their looms and homes. As we went along, we also documented the misery in which weavers thrive – they were earning a measly `150. The weavers are mostly 96 per cent women, and 85 per cent are above 45. Working for the past 34 odd months, we have established a model space. Our built-in social impact philosophies revolve around 3 Ps- People, Process, Planet and 5 Es – Educate, Empower, Employ, Engage, with concern to Environment, followed by 5Cs as mentioned above that encompasses the ‘Build Back Better’ project.”

Kerala has over 600 weaver cooperatives, besides self-help groups and individual weavers. Over the past two decades and more, over 500,000 weavers have left the craft.

“We are working with self-help groups and cooperatives besides Chendamangalam where our core work is engaged with the best society in the district with over 165 weavers. Parallel to this restructuring units and training centres of the Gandhi Smarak Grama Seva Kendram 22 kms from Kochi, has different set of issues and problems and has close to 500 people directly involved.”

LOCKDOWN ISSUES

Long before the pandemic most of the handloom/ handicraft centres/clusters were prone to natural calamities. The first lockdown, weeks before the harvest festivals across India in mid-April, resulted in huge stockpiles as cash flow and work orders got cancelled. Delayed payments and supply chain issues continued through the last 16 months with multiple waves, lockdowns, containments, etc.

“We at Save The Loom, with our partners, ‘India by Hand’, led a revival of a cooperative with 35 odd looms in Kalna in Bengal. We also devised catalogues of the materials/products and circulated to push sales along with online mode during the festive season.”

Four metres of fabric can be woven per day provided the weaver puts in minimum eight hours of work. The irregularity in hours/days of work, due to varied reasons, leads to commitment issues. However, a weaver can produce about 10 cotton saris in a month. 100 saris in a year help them to make their livelihood.

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