--Aug 7 National Handloom Day

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--Aug 7 National Handloom Day

Sunday, 07 August 2022 | BINAYA BHUSAN | JENA

We celebrate the 8th National Handloom Day today to promote the handloom sector and millions of weavers upholding their tradition and occupation for thousands of years. Imagine the world before industrialisation; it was handloom that clothed the world. This indigenous craft has a rich heritage that has been persevered through time immemorial and always remained eco-friendly.

Since 2015, August 7 has been celebrated as the National Handloom Day to honour millions of weavers and to instill a sense of pride in them. The objective is also to generate awareness about the handloom sector and its contribution to the socio–economic development of the country and at the same time, to increase income of handloom weavers.

Undoubtedly, this historic decision to celebrate a National Day in the name of handloom has brought in a sense of belongingness, pride, respect, awareness and increased demand for handloom products in the domestic and international market. The handloom sector has seen many ups and downs throughout the history, but its role and importance has never gone down. Today, the sector offers an incredible opportunity for further expansion, growth and acceptance with rising consciousness about environment and climate change.

The handloom sector is the second-largest employment provider after agriculture in rural India, employing 35.25 lakh people including 25.46 lakh (around 70%) women according to the 4thAll India Handloom Census 2019-20. But unfortunately, there is a continuous decline of weavers’ population. Between the last two Handloom Censuses, more than 8 lakh weavers left their traditional occupation as weavers. This is an alarming situation. But surprisingly, there is an increase in the
number of handloom weavers' households during the same period.

The positive message is handloom production has increased quite significantly, despite the falling in weavers’ population that indicates an increase in the yield. Handloom production data is not available for the current years. As per the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, a total of 7,990 million sq meter of handloom was produced in the year 2017-18 which amounts to Rs 60,000 crore and handloom exports are close to Rs 2500 crore.

Historically, handloom is produced in almost every State with unique products, designs, motifs and names. So far, the country has registered 72 handloom products under Geographical Indications (GI). Last year, on the eve of the National Handloom Day celebration, Union Minister of Textiles Piyush Goyal called for increasing handloom exports to Rs 10,000 crore and doubling of handloom production to Rs 1.5 lakh crores by 2024. A year has gone and we need to evaluate our efforts and means in achieving these targets.

A vast majority of our handloom products exported are home textiles, rugs, mats carpets, durries, bed sheets, cushion covers, etc. We have tremendous potential for exports in other handloom-based value added products like fabric, readymade garments, stoles, scarves and of course, sarees, dupattas and dress materials for a colossal Indian diaspora living across the globe. The Government should take special measures for export-led handloom clusters in each State based on their uniqueness and competencies. There is always a question mark on us, as the country produces 95% of the handloom produced in the world, but we stand as the second largest exporter of handloom products in the world.

Consumers are responding now to the growing concern and urgency towards environmental impact and climate change. They are becoming
vocal about their choices for environment-friendly fashion and ready
to sacrifice more for eco-friendly products. Taking advantage of this rising appetite, a vast majority of brands are busy greenwashing and exaggerating their environmental efforts to woo the consumers towards their false green credentials.

Fashion industry is considered to be the second largest polluting industry in the world, responsible for about 10% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, produces 20% global wastewater and about 35% of the total micro-plastic pollutions. This data is echoing everywhere and radically transforming the fast fashion consumers to eco-conscious consumers; hence, creating an ever-rising market for sustainable fashion.

There is an urgent need to revamp the handloom ecosystem and make our policies and schemes more appropriate for this fast changing landscape. There is not a single national or State level organization of weavers in the country. For putting the handloom sector back on the track, making it a more lucrative sector for income generation and employment, we need to organise and educate the weavers first about the growing opportunities. There is a need for a national and State level association of handloom weavers to make their voices heard. On this National Handloom Day, attempt should be made to empower the handloom sector through formation of an all India association of weavers.

(The writer is Professor at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Bhubaneswar and Chairman of Textile Association of India, Odisha unit. The views expressed are personal)

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