Kashmir popularly known as paradise on earth has been very famous in the handicrafts sector for ages. Central Kashmir (Heart of Kashmir) including Srinagar, Gandebal, and Budgam is the hub for this sector. But unfortunately, Jammu and Kashmir have not been able to attract investment from the private sector and has remained an industrially backward state due to its unique economic obstacles arising out of remoteness and poor connectivity, hilly and often inhospitable terrain, poor infrastructure, sparse population density, shallow markets, and most importantly a law and order situation threatened by militancy. Besides such obstacles, Kashmir is very famous in handicrafts because of its unique design, cost, and quality of products.
Traveling to different lands As the ‘troubles’ overtook the Kashmir Valley, the sound of animated bargaining faded in the carpet showrooms in Srinagar, and most carpet and shawl dealers were forced to roll up their wares. “Delhi has become the main market,” says G.M. Masood, who once ran a thriving carpet business in Srinagar but now operates from a flat in south Delhi. “Delhi has become the main market,” says G.M. Masood, who once ran a thriving carpet business in Srinagar but now operates from a flat in south Delhi. Sitting in the Connaught Place showroom of Shawsons, one of the oldest carpet shops in Delhi, Nawaz tells a similar tale. “This used to be our branch office,” he says. “Now it’s our main business.” In fact, while a certain major percentage of weavers still work their looms in the Valley and the rest transferred to the plains, everyone else connected with the industry – the retailers, the exporters and even the carpet washers – now ply their trade in the plains (“in India” as they often put it). It’s because of such cut-throat competition, advanced technologies, and inaccessibility that these poor weavers move to foreign lands (anywhere outside Kashmir) to earn a living for themselves. Especially now when 370 was revoked, curfew days affected their business majorly. Possible and ongoing contracts with foreign buyers, to-be supplied orders, everything came to a sudden halt which made it highly difficult for these skilled artisans to do what was needed!. We don’t exactly know what holds for the handloom industry of Kashmir especially after revoking Article 370.
Are Handloom Weavers needed? In a country like India where young people are looking for employment with high income, the handloom sector provides a golden opportunity to earn handsomely. It can enable reverse migration possibilities, from urban to rural, and reduce stress on urban infrastructure. It employs 10 million artisans already and can employ more. It is possible that sometime in the future, a degree from IIHT (Indian Institute of Handloom Technology) may be more valuable than a degree from IIT! Handloom enables more varieties of design to be spun out. This enables a consumer to literally own apparel that is unique in the world and made only for him or her. This is an industry that employs 83 percent of women. There are not many industries or corporate or government institutions that have such an inclination towards employing women. As per a report on a 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 for handloom products in the last few years. As per a report by India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the US was the major importer of Indian handloom products, with estimated purchases of US$ 100.08 million, followed by 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.
What will be the state of the handloom industry now? 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. The handloom industry had got a much-needed nudge in the right direction, 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. Also, one of the greatest boons to the Indian handloom industry is the “new Digital India”. Social media platforms have managed to 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 safe keep heritage handloom saris. Active social media users are quickly turning influencers and collaborating, and having a substantial impact on market demands. It’s uncertain as to how the future is going to shape up. But we hope it is really bright, especially for our amazingly skilled and supremely talented handloom artisans!
From the IKF Desk for what holds for the handloom industry of Kashmir 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!