This Entrepreneur Practices Slow Fashion with a Strong Commitment to Fair Practices
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Women's contribution in India's economy has been astonishing, and they are only going from strength to strength. From Jashwantiben Popat who pioneered Lijjat papad to Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the Indian billionaire entrepreneur of Biocon Fame, contribution of women to the economic development of India has been remarkable. From textile to technology, Indian women have now established their mettle in all spheres of entrepreneurship.
Meet Darshan Shah, founder, Weavers Studio - a space for high quality Indian handcrafted textiles - who got into entrepreneurship by chance. She has been selling high quality Indian handcrafted textiles, and clocking a turnover of more than 10 crores annually. An early separation in marriage left her solely responsible for her six months old daughter. A job at the family-run computer business saw her through for some years. However, it was a sudden opportunity to curate exhibitions on behalf of organizations and individuals in her circle that Shah identified with her inherent passion and interest in textile.
The exhibitions became the talk of the town and Shah was encouraged to explore her sense and sensibilities in textiles. “My strength in Marketing was an added advantage and on 7th December 1993, which also happened to be my birthday, I gifted myself a 200 sq ft studio in South Kolkata,” recollected Shah.
Shah’s interest in eco-friendly natural dyed handcrafted textiles was a novelty at that time as not many fashion and textile businesses espoused conscious ethical sustainable textiles 25 years ago.
The Kolkata based entrepreneur initially started exclusively with weaves but soon went on to learn more. She dabbed in natural dyes and techniques of printing and value addition in collaboration with local communities and women's cooperatives engaged in Kantha and Sujni embroidery. “I started a printing and Batik unit in February of 1995. Within a short period I travelled to Japan, Indonesia and other South East Asian countries to learn and incorporate the use of Indigo Dyeing, and Shibori into our production and design repertoire,” shared the alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad.
The main aim and mission statement of Weavers Studio was to ‘use as many hands as possible’ and Shah has till date stayed away from artificial fibres, power-loom fabrics and also from fabrics imported from China
Shah’s enterprise supports slow and ethical fashion and the team of dyers, weavers, embroiderers, printers, tailors, managers and supervisors working with her have been trained and taught to believe in fair practices.
“The uniqueness of Weavers Studio is its handcrafted, ethical, eco-friendly sustainable contemporary textiles made using various local and international designs and techniques and the ease with which the communication and collaboration happens,” narrated Shah.
Weavers Studio also has a not-for-profit resource centre that supports a textile study unit where more than 2000 books and 750 old and rare textiles are readily accessible. The organisation also takes up difficult projects and cluster development and presents exhibitions, seminars, field trips, conducts workshops and more in Bengal.
“We are presently working on the revival of the Baluchari Saree and trying to revisit the Jala loom and use Malda silk and weave in the traditional style and design and document the same and hopefully will be bringing out the planned publication on the Baluchari textiles of Bengal in January 2019,” enthused Shah.
Weavers Studio is the mother company that retails and wholesales and has an export arm, Veda Commercial Pvt Ltd and a work factory, Rangeen. It has 60 people directly employed at Rangeen, 16 at Weavers Studio and eight at the export unit.
“After our master samples are made, the bulk production is done at various villages in and around Bengal. About 500 people are employed in nearby villages doing our weaving and embroidery and senior positions at Weavers Studio are mostly held by women,” divulged Shah.
The male and female ratio in the organisation is almost 50/50 and approx 50 percent is Hindu and 50 percent is Muslim, who celebrate diversity through festivals and cultural events.
Making a difference
“We work, educate and encourage our supervisors and crafts-persons to become entrepreneurs. Our Kantha embroiderers have started their own small businesses, our tailor master has set up his own factory and has initiated his children in the business,” she notified.
Markets for traditional weaving are currently getting a lot of attention as organisations are looking towards the grassroots to ensure employment and sustainability and ethical fashion. This has given traditional weaving and textiles a boost. The govt and private authorities are working very hard to encourage the ‘handmade’ in India as well.
Through consistency, ethics, values, principals, sales orders, export markets, mainstreaming craftspersons through exhibitions and awards, accessibility to archives and natural dyes and designs, Shah has been successful in making a tangible difference in the lives of the traditional artists.
“Our interns go and work on projects with artisans, take them for national trade fairs and exhibitions, get them to interact with the final customer and encourage them to practise family planning, educate their children, shun dowry, and develop skills. We continue to strive to collaborate and partner with our craftspersons,” asserted the textile exponent.
Many artisan schools and diploma courses and handloom schools have sprung up in India and the government is also encouraging and giving incentives to the children of weavers and dyers to learn and join the work. However, Shah admitted that there are challenges and the major downside is that the next generation has access to a lot more options for their careers and are choosing accordingly. This is due to the fact that the handcraft textile industry is labour intensive and many a times not so attractive or lucrative.
More weavers service centres, handloom and textile schools for artisans and their families, especially the grown-up children, better design sensibility and connection with mainstream and the emerging markets and end users are the way forward. “The government and the textile and fashion entrepreneurs need to come together to formulate programs and marketing initiatives to make the job of an artisan lucrative and attractive,” opined Shah.
Shah plans to sell the commercial part of the organization along with some of the real estate, downsize and focus on research, documentation, archiving, restoration, conservation, cluster development, teaching, exhibitions, workshops, seminars, documentary filmmaking, publications, heading textile tours, attending conferences, consulting.
“I am currently not really planning too much, rather taking one day at a time. The mantra is K Sera Sera,” she concluded.