WomenWeave Charitable Trust

WomenWeave is a Charitable Trust registered under the Mumbai Sarvajanik Vishwavyavastha Adhiniyam 1950 Registration Act of 1860. The registration no. E-21094 is dated June 30th, 2003.

WomenWeave  holds a certificate of importer and exporter code (IEC) number 0304042374 issued on September 9th 2004.  

WomenWeave is also registered as Manufacturer exporter in The Handloom Export Promotion Council, Chennai bearing the registration no. HEPC/R-6783/M-RTE-14798/11-12.

WomenWeave has supported the role of women in handloom weaving since its inception in 2002, working toward making handloom a profitable, fulfilling, sustainable and dignified income-earning activity particularly for women in rural areas of India.

About WomenWeave

WomenWeave, a registered Charitable Trust based in Maheshwar, MP, has supported and developed the role of women in handloom weaving since 2002. WomenWeave (WW) WomenWeave’s mission is to work towards overcoming the vulnerability of women who weave on handlooms (either part-time or full-time) and work towards making handloom a profitable, fulfilling, sustainable, dignified income-earning and life-improving activity.

The primary role of WomenWeave is to serve as a bridge to better lives (oecdbetterlifeindex.org) by

  • Creating a community of weavers and connecting them with potential customers;
  • Providing craft skills training, and organizational and design assistance;
  • Valuing and integrating traditional design and cultural heritage to realize more marketable products;
  • Generating selling opportunities and market connections in India and abroad that would otherwise be inaccessible.

WW is developing principles to further implement fair trade/fair value for labour, environmental restoration, socio-cultural vitality via long-term integration and collaboration with local and global apparel/fashion markets.

It has come to be understood that as valuable and necessary as charitable organizations are, that social entrepreneurism may offer equal or better alterative routes to progressive social development. Therefore WW, which in the big picture operates within a commercial arena, is working to develop a locally relevant production and sales model in which programme participants are trained in commercial and entrepreneurial logic and effectiveness.

WomenWeave teaches the women hand spinning and weaving, thus giving production level fluency. However, it has also been realized that better and active participation of project beneficiaries is the key for sustainability. Therefore it has been decided to form an Artisans Board for Community Participation to facilitate decision-making and future direction. The board has been formed through the women working with the project in various activities like weaving, spinning and preparatory work. The women are representing the project beneficiaries in decision-making. The board is responsible for taking the decisions on annual wage revision, approving new training programmes, appointing new weavers, social security programmes for project beneficiaries etc. The board meets at least once per month and the meetings are conducted in the project villages/units on a rotation basis.

At the next phase, trained women will be mobilized and trained to form collective business enterprises, following, model that would give some advantages of economy of scale, safeguard against internal and external threats, yet preserve, enhance, and benefit from the core and rising values of handmade objects. At this stage, WW will continue with its design and marketing interventions and work as a mentor.

Ideally, woman associating with the WW’s projects will be enabled financially and technically in the period of three years to become a part of collective business enterprises.

Major ongoing programmes

  1. Gudi Mudi Khadi Project

Through the Gudi Mudi Khadi Project, WomenWeave links organic and non-organic cotton farmers of Central India with formerly unemployed local women of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh to create unique, contemporary khadi textiles for fashion products and home furnishings. The fabrics are handspun, hand-woven and much of it is naturally dyed with earth-friendly processes.  The objective of this linkage is to ensure sustainable income and better lives for the weavers in the area in spinning and hand weaving of the local cotton.

Nimaad, the region in which Maheshwar is located, is a cotton-growing belt of central India. Although cotton is the primary type of yarn which weavers use in handloom weaving in Maheshwar, the regionally produced cotton has no direct consumption relationship with local weavers, other than with the Gudi Mudi project, because the vast majority is shipped for processing to other regions. About 3000 weavers live in Maheshwar; their products are primarily made with cotton, silk, and jari, in combinations which widely known as Maheshwari saari and dress materials.

The entire raw material chain, including cotton yarn, silk (from China) and jari (metallic thread) which has found its way from southern and western India to Maheshwar may be considered as a weakness for the Maheshwar handloom industry due to potential disruptions from policy changes by the government, relationships with China, market shifts away from global and opaque production modes, etc.

Hence, the project has been activated to sustain earth-friendly, tightly verticalized production that makes sense for Central India’s cotton growing area, India’s unique craft heritage, and growing international fashion consumer preferences for localized production and transparent supply chains. In this regard, WomenWeave’s  Gudi Mudi project could be seen as a leader of the global slow fashion movement.

Since its inception in 2007, more than 160 women have been trained by the Gudi Mudi Project—80 in weaving and 80 in spinning. In the selection of women for the Gudi Mudi project, WomenWeave has favored toward divorced, widowed, separated, handicapped, and agricultural laborers with no family income. Thus the project has been empowering the weakest and poorest section of women of the area.

Currently the project is also focusing in the scale-up of khadi in villages surrounding Maheshwar by approaching first those villages that have no weaving tradition but grow cotton. The first such unit has already been established in Itawadi village (5 km from Maheshwar) and is giving employment to 18 women who were formally employed only as wage laborers in the agricultural fields. Initiating weaving in the villages is important as it creates additional employment opportunities, empowerment, and contributes to the sustainability of the handloom weaving tradition of Maheshwar. It has been noticed that in general the younger generations of the traditional weaving families (with four, five, or more generations of weaving heritage) are not usually very much interested in weaving, nor do their parents seem interested to involve the younger generation. Hence such outreach units in villages will ensure the sustainability of the craft in future. 

Now the project will focus on the backward integration of the value chain by establishing micro units for raw cotton processing in Maheshwar and surrounding villages where the raw cotton will be procured from the marginal farmers, preferably from the farmers of the tribal community. Young people from the same community will be trained to operate the units. This would help to achieve improved financial self-sufficiency and demonstrate additional examples of social-entrepreneurship at the core of the overall project, as well as demonstrate potential opportunities for self- reliance of the handloom industry of Maheshwar and beyond.

  1. KhatKhata Project

Handloom history in India can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization. Several eras of Indian history are founded on the flourishing trade of some of the world’s finest textiles. But in more recent decades, large scale industrial weaving, power looms, insufficient financial infrastructure, difficulties attaining raw material, as well as exploitation at the hands of the middlemen, and corrupt practices in the handloom cooperatives have imperiled the livelihoods of the handloom weavers in various handloom clusters of India. The Dindori district in MP is one such cluster. Today, the weaving in this area is limited to fewer than 15 villages with not more than 10 weavers per village.  Earlier, handloom weaving was the major source for livelihood for the families of Panika (OBC), Jhariya (SC) and Chandrawanshi (OBC) communities of this area.

WW’s KhatKhata project was started in villages identified has having very old weaving practices. Their handlooms and other equipment like reeds which are as old as the textile weaving technique. Weavers were using 10 count mill-spun cotton yarn both in warp and weft. Only men were doing the weaving and women were helping in the preparatory work without knowing how to weave.

They buy the raw material from the local traders of Bajag and from the market of Gadasarai. They sell the finished products to the local traders who eventually sell the products in the weekly markets, haat, of Chada, Dhurkuta and Padripaani of Bagiachak. All of these markets are within or near the weaving villages. Traditionally, the Baiga tribe is the major buyer for all the woven products by the local weavers, but in recent times they have been only buying these hand-woven products at the time of marriages and other important rituals. This has caused a great decline in production from the weavers’ side. Along with this situation, low financial liquidity of weavers with no access to yarn on credit purchase has also hampered the overall production. These conditions resulted in only two months of weaving work in a year. During the remaining months of the year they work as agricultural labourers, which is less well paid per day than handloom work. These traditional weavers use a poor quality of cotton yarn to reduce the cost of production, but this practice restricts them from entering the growing high value market for handwoven textiles. Also problematic is that their dyed yarns have poor colour fastness.

WomenWeave has initiated a handloom weaving revival project to create economic opportunities for artisans where the handloom craft is in marginal or at risk stages. WomenWeave started this first revival project in February 2010 with 40 weavers in the Bajag area of Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh along with the hand spinning intervention.

More than 35 traditional weavers have joined the project since its inception. Various interventions have taken place in terms of exploring weaving possibilities, new products development, introduction of varieties of yarns in finer counts and better dyes, etc. Through this development it has been decided through a cooperative and community-based process that the weaving skills and aesthetics of the traditional weavers, i. e. Ochha, particularly the unusual technique of floating warp and weft threads will remain at the center of all the developments.

It has been noticed that some men were leaving the weaving profession whenever they found other work—even less well paid jobs—as weaving requires full days of sitting in once place and these men prefer more mobility. Therefore, the project started involving women in the weaving: this progression is the first time in the weaving history of the area where women are also weaving.

A hand-spinning unit has been also initiated with 13 women of the tribal community so that more people can receive regular employment. Importantly, the area has been identified as one with high migration to urban locations. Re-establishing the handloom weaving sector here can have significant impact.

WW and the community aim initiate natural dyeing, which is currently viewed by customers as a high value textile characteristic, in this district, as the entire area is forested so that dye substances can be sustainably harvested. Also many tribal farmers cultivate Mulberry trees for raising mulberry silk moths which can become a good source of fiber for yarn that could be used locally by the weavers and thus greater synergy between the farmers, spinners and with weavers can be established.

  1. Synergy Programme

The Synergy Programme is supports design and marketing assistance for traditional weavers and hand block printers so that they can create higher value products with contemporary designs and a fresh approach to the traditional aesthetic. This programme helps weavers and hand block printers to meet consumers’ desires for innovative fabrics, especially in higher end fashion markets. This ongoing intervention encourages very productive new working relationships amongst weavers, block-printers, dyers, designers, and retailers.

WomenWeave impacts traditional weavers of Maheshwar and Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh and Kota in Rajasthan. WomenWeave also has an informal partnership with handloom promoting NGO's in several states of India for design and marketing of a variety of weaves.

Similarly, WomenWeave also work with the hand block printers of the Bagh-Madhya Pradesh, Ajrak (Bhuj)-Gujarat & Dabu (Jaipur)-Rajasthan.

  1. The Handloom School

Handloom weaving is not only an important cultural treasure, it is also the second largest source of livelihood to the rural and semi-urban population of India. India is also the largest producer of handwoven cloth in world. Today, the sector is at a critical moment in time in which it simultaneously faces stresses that threaten to obliterate it and unprecedented opportunities for innovation and revitalization.

Handloom weaving is not only an important cultural treasure, it is also the second largest source of livelihood to the rural and semi-urban population of India. India is also the largest producer of handwoven cloth in world. Today, the sector is at a critical moment in time in which it simultaneously faces stresses that threaten to obliterate it and unprecedented opportunities for innovation and revitalization.

On one side are broad problems such as national and international socio-economic pressures, cultural changes, poor financial and physical infrastructure, as well as more specific problems such as exploitative or inept master weavers, and untrained or uninterested youth.

On the positive side are numerous successful artisanal organizations and businesses that have measurably improved the quality of life for many thousands of people in handloom weaving communities during the past decades. These achievements have come about no doubt because of shared vision, commitment, and cooperation, but now more than ever—because of the internet, mobile phones, and other new modes of communication—the handloom sector has a chance to be part of the growing worldwide appreciation and re-valuation of handcraft’s symbolic and critical importance in building a healthier future. As such, India is in a distinctly unique position to benefit itself and the global community by nurturing its cultural heritage. One of the most important ways this existing knowledge and skills capital can be rescued and grown is by educating and training the younger generation so that they understand handloom weaving’s economic, socio-cultural, environmental, and aesthetic values.

With the launch of The Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar in January 2013, WW has built on earlier training programs in “barefoot” business, computer skills, English, and design, to begin a more holistic, progressive and formalized curriculum that will support and cultivate the next generation of handloom weavers and weaver-entrepreneurs.

So far, WW has trained more than 50 young weavers from Maheshwar, Chanderi, and Dindori in Madhya Pradesh; from Kota and Bikaner in Rajasthan, and Bhuj, Gujarat in short term workshops as well as year-long courses. The Maheshwar group has initiated an informal collective business named FabCreation with 18 young weavers and is already doing business with well-known designers and brands. On a parallel track, demonstrating that attitudes about handloom weaving may be changing quickly, a number young men from Maheshwar are pursuing or would like to pursue degrees in textile design and fashion from institutions such as National Institute for Fashion technology (NIFT).

As a result of the exposure and learning that these “sons and daughters” of older generations weavers have received from WomenWeave and THS, they are realizing that tomorrow’s handloom could have far greater value than today’s. WW aims, over a multi-year implementation plan and in cooperation with donors and advisors, to construct a permanent physical campus and intellectual environment to provide a progressive education that will produce artisans, designers, weaver-innovators, and entrepreneurs—in other words, the change agents—who will lead Indian handloom forward.

  1. Women, Child Care and Empowerment

See To Weave

Eyesight plays a very important role in the lives of weavers but eye care is commonly neglected. The ability to clearly see the loom, detect colours, and inspect the quality of very detailed work can mean the difference between success and failure for a business. Poor vision results in slower weaving time, headaches, and revenue-reducing mistakes. WW aims to improve the quality of life of weavers by conducting sight preservation camps in selected weaving centers. Under the See To Weave Programme, WomenWeave has organizing eye camps on a regular basis since 2003 in Kota-Rajasthan, Chanderi, and Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh.

Recently, WW has trained 5 staff members from the Maheshwar team through Vision Spring, a USA based NGO working worldwide to provide training, testing equipment, and glasses. Trainees team need not necessarily be well educated; they can be trained to work out eye screening activity and dispense the glasses at subsidized cost. Having now a trained WW team at the Maheshwar base, will enable WW to conduct eye camps in many weaving areas of India, which has critical value in and of itself, but these camps may also eventually become entry points for other projects like The Handloom School, the Synergy Programme, etc.

 Anaemia & Health Fitness Camp

WomenWeave has organized Anemia Awareness camps where the HB count of all the women at the Gudi Mudi centre was checked and a lecture on causes and cure for Anemia was given. Those found anemic were given preliminary medication. The women gained wisdom that spending on nutritious food decreases their chances of falling sick and having to spend on medication, and increases their ability to be self-reliant.

In 2009 - 2010 WomenWeave conducted the first of two physiotherapy camps with the 83 women weavers of Maheshwar. The objective of the programme is to make the women weavers more aware of their physical fitness, which plays critical role in their productivity and well-being.

Day care center & Child education Initiative

At WW’s Gudi Mudi weaving centre in Maheshwar, a simple day care centre for the children of spinners and weavers working with the Gudi Mudi project has been set up. The early childhood education of more than 130 youngsters is sponsored by WW. The centre is an effort to ensure that in their role as weavers, the women don’t need to neglect their role as mothers. Knowing that their children are safe, close by, and well taken care of enables them to work better as well.