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Friends of Chendamangalam: Helping Flood-hit Weavers Stand on their Feet

In August this year, the craftsmen of the weaving cluster of Chendamangalam at Paravur, a village situated 36 km from Ernakulam, stared at the possibilty of major losses when the floods destroyed their looms and Geographical Indication (GI)-tagged textiles that were specially created for the Onam season. That is, till Shalini James, Founder, Mantra, put

In August this year, the craftsmen of the weaving cluster of Chendamangalam at Paravur, a village situated 36 km from Ernakulam, stared at the possibilty of major losses when the floods destroyed their looms and Geographical Indication (GI)-tagged textiles that were specially created for the Onam season. That is, till Shalini James, Founder, Mantra, put up a Facebook post highlighting the predicament of the units and the 600 weavers attached to them  in early September.

Shalini James, with her friends from the designer community, formed an online group, Friends of Chendamangalam, to revive the flood-hit handloom sector

Out of the 113 looms (units) functioning under Chendamangalam Handloom Co-operative Weavers Society Ltd., 108 were badly affected. Raw materials and stocks worth Rs. 20 crore were destroyed. “I had read about it in the newspaper. Sojan P A, Secretary, Chendamangalam Handloom Co-operative Weavers Society, had appealed to the public to revive their looms. I was shocked when I visited the place. The godown was half-drowned in water leaving the stock in the lower racks completely drenched,” said Shalini. “The stock in the upper racks were affected by fungus but we managed to retrieve those. I then purchased materials worth Rs. 40 lakh and with the help of Allure Dry Cleaners, dry cleaned the materials, giving them a fresh look.”

It was the realisation that her initiative alone wouldn’t solve the problem completely that led to the Facebook post. To her surprise, people started responding in no time. Later, Shalini, along with her friends from the designer community – Sreejith Jeevan (Rouka), Indu Menon (Kara Ventures) and Tracy Thomas (The Wardrobe) – formed an online group, Friends of Chendamangalam, to revive the handloom sector there. Overnight, Chendamangalam became everyone’s focus. Shalini had also posted pictures of a range of Chendamangalam products on Mantra’s e-commerce platform, offering to ship the products to anywhere in India.

“It was an unusual response to an unusual situation. I took more products to the dryclean plants and the weavers also began to trust us as they found that our initiative to support them was genuine,” she said.

Mumbai-based Aza Fashions purchased products like mundu, saris and thorthu worth Rs. 5 lakh to give as corporate gifts to their clients. Kuwait Airways too bought 400 double mundu as gifts. Small boutiques in Kochi came forward to help the crestfallen weavers. Actor Aishwarya Lekshmi opted for a sari created by weavers in Chendamangalam to wear to the South India International Movie Awards (SIIMA).

The Mantra team came up with ‘Looms to Life’ and sent a proposal to the corporates, as the looms had to be revived in the second phase of the project. The CSR team of Bajaj Electricals came forward offering to revive the affected 108 looms, with the support of the State Government. Phase three of the project intends to ‘build the brand’ by breathing  fresh life into the existing brand and giving it an elevated positioning. “The weavers belong to the 30-plus age group. So, it will be hard for them to accept any changes. We need to convince them about bringing positive changes. But implementing them will be a challenge,” said designer Sreejith Jeevan.

“We had representatives from the UN and Lakme Fashion Week visiting our looms,” said Sojan. Help is still pouring in from around the world. “This was an emotional rather than a practical response. That is why I believe that my staff and well-wishers could do more through a collective effort,” summed up Shalini.

 

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