When Vijaya Switha graduated from IRMA (Institute for Rural Management, Anand), she had the experience of working with craftspersons. The challenges they faced to produce and market led her to the one question, “What do rural enterprises in India need the most?” The answer was development of skills, enhancement of knowledge and market access. Vijaya found her cause—working with the artisan rather than engaging with the art.
Chitrika Foundation was established in 2005 to revamp weaver producer enterprises into business enterprises. It provides turnkey solutions and assistance to the handloom weaving sector, India’s second largest employer after agriculture. Chitrika works directly with weavers to establish weaver-owned, weaver-managed and self-sustained production companies under the progressive and pro-community APMACS Act, 1995 (Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Act, 1995).
In Chitrika’s model, a majority stake in the production company is held by weavers’ enterprises and the remainder by other stakeholders. Each weaver’s enterprise has its own support units for raw materials, dyeing, printing and garmenting.
Production companies empower weavers to procure finance, negotiate for raw materials, innovate designs, ensure a fair price for the product and undertake marketing. The centralised pre-loom, on-loom and post-loom model is a first-of-its-kind in India and offers increased income to the weaver. Currently, Chitrika works with two production companies in Srikakulam and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. Vamshadhara Weavers’ Producing Company, in Punduru (Srikakulam), has 500 members. It started as four cooperative societies that merged in 2014. Srikakulam is well-known for khadi and traditional designs.
Godavari Women Weaver’s Services Producer Company, formed in 2014 in Mandapeta, in collaboration with ALC-India, is India’s first women weavers’ producing company with 247 members. They aim to reach 3,000 women weavers, the mainstay of the weaving industry in East Godavari, since men have moved away to nearby towns for employment. The centralised process has given weavers the advantage of training programmes and access to buyers’ feedback leading to design innovations with inputs from a design consultant. Members have looms at home and weaving is a family activity. On an average, three members of a family are involved in the various weaving processes. Each loom changes designs every year. Dyeing is now a mechanised process. The weavers are introduced to technology in marketing, production and inventory management.
The producer companies are now in charge of their marketing efforts. Apart from handloom exhibitions all over India, the fabrics are retailed through Fabindia and Jaypore. A gratifying development is that 10 young, educated weavers are now involved in the production companies.
Recent milestones for Chitrika’s efforts have been a 100% increase in incomes at Vamshadhara Weavers’ Producing Company and 100% change in product portfolio in these producing companies in the past five years. Chitrika is a lean organisation with 12 people. They recently received a grant from Ford Foundation. Other sources of income are the consultancy projects they undertake in artisan support organisations. Some funding partners include the Government of India, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Rang De, Friends of Women’s World Banking, Ratan Tata Trust and Access Livelihoods Consulting India Public Ltd.
As Gandhiji wrote in Young India in 1920, “I feel convinced that the revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and the moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture. Spinning was a cottage industry years ago, and if the millions are to be saved from starvation, they must be enabled to reintroduce spinning in their homes and every village must repossess its own weaver.”
Nearly a century later, Chitrika’s work with the weavers of Andhra Pradesh shows Gandhiji’s words coming to fruition, in no small measure. All donations to Chitrika are exempt from income-tax under Section 80G.
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