Treading a Trendy Path, Promoting Weavers

Thiruvananthapuram: Afternoon light gleamed in through the mesh roof of the inner courtyard illuminating a hundred little brass bells attached to it. “It was an old delivery room converted into an art studio,’’ Sobha Ashwin, designer and co-founder of Weavers Village in Thiruvananthapuram said, pointing towards an elongated corner room on the right which showcases life-size artworks of reputed artist Sajitha R Shankhar. Drawing our attention further to the railings around the courtyard, she adds, ‘‘those were gifted by Raja Ravi Varma.”

This 150-year-old Rosscote Bungalow with wooden attic forms the facade of the Weavers Village, while the passion to revive the centuries old dying art of handloom remains its foundation. Sobha launched the brand four-and-a-half years ago as an experimental section inside the famed ‘Karalkada,’ and two-and-a-half years later, she opened the present homely shopping space with her NID-trained co-founder, Sreeramya Sambath.

“Weavers Village is made possible by channelising the myriad talents and high spirits of many women, right from my inspiring grandmother to the skilled women weavers to the young people who wanted to be a part of the tradition through their innovation,’’ said Sobha.

“Three months into my marriage I happened to visit the weaving factory of Karalkada. On the floor where over 5000 people worked in the past, there were barely 500 to 800 weavers. Decay had begun setting into the looms and a sense of despair and utter lack of hope pervaded,’’ Sobha recounts. Having freshly returned from a job at a colossal brand like Hidesign, Sobha was taken aback by the plight, and she felt that no more reasons were needed to take charge of the situation.

“Karalkada had the trust, but there was nothing for the new generation to shop and that was where I identified the market,’’ said Sobha who started off with a line of trendy handloom bags that ‘sold like hot cakes.’ Sobha soon became keenly aware of the glaring demand-supply gap and realised that her opportunities lay in value addition.

“We strive to achieve the triple bottom line of ‘People, Planet and Profits’,’’ she said. With a vision to transform the way the world wears handloom clothing, she has been imbuing it with the essence of the changing times and the freshness of the new-age women’s thinking. The space set up by the two young women also boasts of a fierce sense of independence when they proudly say they funded it on their own and are happy growing organically despite investment offers. With talks, art exhibitions and upcycling (here, fabric waste becomes jewellery), Weavers Village is an oasis for art lovers.

“Handloom clothing is one product which can go to Milan and Paris, and with our quality and the innovation of ‘Bodha’, our wellness clothing range using natural dyes developed by Sreeramya, we can definitely do it,’’ Sobha sounds confident. She said the coming year will be a busy one and the journey ‘‘must begin with the Amazon India Fashion Week.’’

“We are soon launching ourselves at select multi-retail showrooms. In our own showroom, we stock 20 per cent products from outside, thereby becoming a platform for other young brands,” she added.

“I am also planning to make Weavers Village a space for product and process, and a pit loom has been installed for the purpose. Someday in future, when one looks at the map of India, it should have a clearly marked village of weavers, dyers and designers practising the traditional art with pride, and getting good remuneration. I want a village like that to come up and it should be on the ‘must visit’ list of anyone out to explore India. For all this, we need government support, too,’’ she says.

The story of Weavers Village is that of women, young and old, armed with different expertise, complementing each other. It is also the story of the new age woman who speaks of profit and a creative economy – of exploring opportunities in the passions of the mind. With a transformational leadership and a strong vision of empowerment, the Weavers Village could bring out chic cloths for the global stage.

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