The Feminist Times
Looms of Ladakh: weaving the future of conscious fashion.
In India's booming startup industry, Indian women entrepreneurs are making a splash for themselves. Abhilasha Bahuguna and G Prasanna Ramaswamy founded a farm-to-fashion collective to help native women earn a living, in Ladakh.
Prasanna came up with the idea for the collective while on a routine tour of the district (as Deputy Commissioner of Leh) in 2015, when he came across a self-help group of women in the remote and troubled Chumur village. The group showed their handcrafted woolen wears in the hopes of making a sale. In essence, the plan was to teach the local women how to do what they already knew. Abhilasha had come up with the idea for democratising the premium pashmina sector after seeing Kashmiri sellers hawking their wares in a Delhi area one hot sunny afternoon in 2012. During their courtship trips in 2015-2016, they had also witnessed and discussed the non-participation of the source region Ladakh at platforms like Dilli Haat. They both decided that the project would be their first child when they married soon after! Abhilasha's approach, creativity, and experience working with CentERdata came in handy while recruiting partners for the project. She was also in charge of developing the organisational framework for the new institution.
Looms of Ladakh were selected to represent Ladakh at the Dastkaar Design Fair in January 2017 and the Textile India Fair in Gandhinagar in June 2017.
Some of the key challenges a handicraft industry faces in this region are 1.High pricing 2. Lower skill levels 3. Lack of innovative technologies 4. Absence of coordinated efforts 5. Poor economic conditions of wool growers who are largely illiterate 6. Lack of awareness about traditional management practices 7. Inadequate processing facilities 8. inadequate post loom facilities 9. Inadequate testing facilities and quality control measures 10. Lack of operational and technical benchmarks 11. Lack of research and development for value addition.
In the past, the Textile Cluster in Ladakh, like other textile clusters in India, did not receive economic support. It has generally been utilitarian, like in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand's Himalayan belts. As a result, there hasn't been a mechanism in place to transfer skills from master craftsmen and artisans to the next generation. Identifying traditional master artisans and persuading them to share their knowledge will be a valuable learning experience that will necessitate a great deal of patience and planning. a) The artisans are less confident in the commercial acceptance of their traditional textiles due to the practical nature of the skills. b) Working with luxury fibers such as pashmina, yak, and camel for the international market necessitates ongoing skill upgrades for the same group of workers on new frame looms. The cooperative will need to continue to focus on continuing to upgrade the skills of first-generation frame loom weavers, as well as increasing the number of weavers for increased production efficiency, through training programs.
c) For the end product to remain competitive in its niche international market, R&D at the yarn and textile stage is required without sacrificing authenticity.
Multiple Skill Development Trainings in Ladakh - As a result of the increased interest in Ladakh, many training programs in various disciplines are being conducted with the same set of beneficiaries. Stipends and fees are given to beneficiaries instead of incentive as the basic foundation of any intervention to meet the training requirements in a fiscal year. The recipients of Looms of Ladakh's seed project were not paid a stipend. The trainees were inspired to bring their own raw materials and learn so that they may earn more money in the future. In the first four years and the first year with community ownership, delayed satisfaction and respect for the effort helped keep Looms of Ladakh afloat. However, today the members have an opportunity Cost which Looms of Ladakh will have to take into consideration.
Well being a working woman in a patriarchal society is never easy and here’s what the women of Looms of Ladakh have to say, “It is very satisfying as it is an opportunity to experience the innate goodness, industrious acumen and collective judgement of people.
It is a strategic philanthropy for me to work on what I believe can be the solution to the Indian Textile handloom industry woes. I want to see the designer and the artisan clusters running these autonomous and democratic global luxury brands and share profits.
On a personal front because I am not earning from this endeavour and I need to spend 24x7x365 since the last few years on this movement along with family responsibilities, not everyone understands it. Thankfully my family supported in raising my 1.5 years old son. Same is the case with the elected herder and artisan women leaders of the cooperative. They have to milk their cows, cut grass for them, take care of their fields and family, along with meeting production timelines and business planning. There was a time when I was told that rural women will not be able to run the management and that they should work for educated individual entrepreneurs. Our women have come a long way from being beneficiaries to business planners. Looms of Ladakh, the cooperative luxury brand is in early growth stage in its fourth year. It’s a long way to go. It’s possible.”
- Abhilasha Bahuguna and G Prasanna Ramaswamy in conversation with Dhanushya.