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Why Handloom is Still an Attractive Industry for Startups? Handloom weaving constitutes one of the richest and most vibrant aspects of the Indian cultural heritage

By Vinutha Subramaniam

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"Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced' – Leo Tolstoy

Indian handloom not only depicts our rich culture and heritage but also describes the imagination and experience of artisans carved on a blank canvas. Indian handloom has gone through tremendous revolution in terms of innovation and modernization. Today, the handloom sector is considered to be one of the largest unorganized sectors after agriculture and forms an integral part of the rural and semi-rural livelihood.

Handloom weaving constitutes one of the richest and most vibrant aspects of the Indian cultural heritage. Handloom is known for flexibility, versatility and innovativeness. The strength of handloom lies in ease of introducing new designs, which cannot be replicated by the Power loom sector. The advantages of the sector include less capital intensive, use of minimal power, eco-friendly quality, flexibility of small production and adaptability to market requirements. It is a natural productive asset and tradition at cottage-level, which has sustained and grown by transfer of skill from one generation to other.

Handloom weaving is largely decentralized and the weavers are mainly from the weaker sections of the society, for whom this is the primary and for some the only source of income. Handloom weaving is spread across many states in the country and is at a considerable decline in some of them.

The level of artistry and intricacy achieved in the handloom fabrics is unparalleled and certain weaves/designs are still beyond the scope of modern machines. It is ironic that we ignore this existing goldmine, for this is precisely the sector that could make the "Make in India' and "Skill India' initiatives work. For lack of equal opportunity, the weavers are leaving the sector in droves. And today if the handloom industry is attributed as "sunset industry' then it's solely because of our failure to protect it. In other words, we are staring at a landmine where the handloom industry is concerned and it is time to hear the alarm bells!

As per a report on handloom by the Ministry of Textiles released in 2015, the industry currently employs 4.3 million weavers, with 75% of them being women. This is a sharp decline from what it was in 2009. But things are definitely looking up. There has been a definite surge in demand of handloom products in the last few years. As per a report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), US was the major importer of Indian handloom products, with estimated purchases of US$ 100.08 million, followed by the Italy, UK and UAE at US$ 19.65 million, US$ 18.45 and US$ 18.18 million, respectively. Spain, Germany, France, Netherland, Australia, Japan, Sweden, South Africa, Greece Thailand, Chile, Sri Lanka, Belgium, Canada, Denmark and Norway were some other key export destinations.

Strengths of the Handloom Industry:

95% of the international handloom market is fed from India. With Make in India, Skill India development, and weaver initiatives and cluster building, the supply status looks promising, though the journey is going to be long and arduous. Handloom industry had got a much needed shot in the arm, thanks to these three factors- e-commerce boom, government support and initiatives like "Make in India' and most importantly changing consumer preferences and their inclination to acquire unique fabrics and designs.

While handloom always will face threats and competition from the price aggressive power-loom industry, in terms of skill, aesthetics and delivery of certain very high-end sensibilities handlooms are unmatched. The weavers are also constantly re-inventing themselves and providing value addition to make their products more and more relevant to the modern consumer behavior and needs. This is apart from the more obvious advantages of low set up cost, low and minimal use of power, large design database, easy training of skill due to the family based business model.

One of the greatest boons to the Indian handloom industry, is the "new Digital India". Social media platforms have managed to do bring together, the discerning, socially conscious handloom-users worldwide giving them a platform to interact, post pictures, flaunt, discuss and showcase their beautiful handloom products thus building awareness and interest in the product. This naturally leads to an increase in the demand for the products, apart from the enthusiasm to safekeep heritage handloom saris. Active social media users are quickly turning influencers and collaborating, and having a substantial impact on the market demands.

The E-commerce Impact :

The largest impact on the handloom industry would be the ability to service the market demands. With Indians proliferation all over the world, and with the whole world becoming more of handloom users, the Indian e commerce Industry is the answer to making handloom available to every discerning customer's door step.

Currently, the e-commerce and physical retail space for handlooms is rather fragmented, with no real single big player owning the space. This would mean two things — the industry and the market conditions have enough space for many small players to build their niche and grow, and the consolidation is certain to happen, in 2-3 years' time.

Vinutha Subramaniam

CEO, Director of Parisera

Being a part of first batch of Foundation course and passing CA with flying colours, Vinutha’s passion for handloom prompted her to set up Parisera. Previously, Vinutha has been associated with organizations like- Philips, SAP and PKF Sridhar and Santhanam.
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