The handloom industry forms an integral part of India’s rich cultural heritage. It not only reflects the country’s traditions, but also embodies the spirit of the people. Skills and knowledge of this craft is usually passed on from one gernation of weavers to the next. But of late, due to low profits and the next generation moving to the cities in search of work and a modern lifestyle, this craft seems to be in jeopardy.
Many brands are coming forward to change the situation by providing work for the weavers, introducing them to modern designs and helping them out with marketing of their products to increase profits. One such brand is Ravaiti.
Launched just last month, Ravaiti is an online store that offers you the best handloom products from different states in India. Ramandeep Kaur Virdi, founder and CEO, Ravaiti, says that she started this venture with an aim to build a platform for the weavers to reach out to different markets.
Formerly a public relations professional, Virdi shares how she has always been inclined towards fashion and the preservation of the environment. Her passion for these two encouraged her to explore how she could market sustainable fashion. Says she, “I decided to start this venture after I realised that there are very few people who are into handloom. Over time, I realised that it was not just about the environment or the designs, but it was largely about the weavers not being paid appropriately for their hard work. Hence, I decided to create a platform through which these weavers can reach out to new markets.”
Ravaiti currently offers a range of products including handwoven kurtas, stoles, dresses, pants, coats and more.
Designing the apparel, saving the environment
She adds, “Post making the connections with the weavers, I shared some outfit designs with potential customers, and I received a positive feedback. I was assured that apparel designs are working out well and that customers want to wear such outfits for an outing with friends or family, or even to work.” Virdi shares that she is a self-taught designer and is still in the process of learning the art.
Pune has a growing market for sustainable fashion, says Virdi, adding, “But my competition is not with other handloom businesses, it’s with the brands that make fabrics which result in environment pollution. So I aim to make Ravaiti more of a lifestyle brand, rather than just a handloom and sustainable fashion label. Also, people have often asked me if I have an online store and a social media presence. So I decided to start by making my collection visible online for people to browse through it, and I recieved a few orders. Then I tried to reach out to exhibitions for sustainable fashion and tell them about my brand. Once I have a good foothold in the Indian market, it will help place my products internationally, without losing the motive behind why it was started. I plan to go global in the next two-three years because handloom fabrics have a good demand abroad.”
Reaching out to the weavers
Venturing into the handloom business is not easy. It involves getting in touch with organisations and closely working with the weavers in various interiors of the country. More than the market and customer study, it is vital to get the weavers under one roof. For Virdi, it took about a year to build a connection with weavers, which is a challenging task. Speaking about the entire process of reaching out to them, she says, “I researched online for NGOs who are working with weavers and they helped me to get in touch with them. I got to know that WomenWeave, United Artisans of Kutch and Kala Swaraj Foundation are some organisations that are genuinely working towards providing better opportunities to Indian weavers. I also referred to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF) reports, India Handloom Brand (by Govt Of India), Indian Industry Stat, Sahapedia and other media articles.”
Virdi then visited Rajasthan and reached out to the weavers and understood the market there. “I visited local markets and also Sanganer, a town situated in Jaipur district, known for hand block printing. There I met many weavers who were working from their homes. Sometimes I was also approached by the weavers,” she says, adding that she also visited places like Kutch, Raipur and Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh) to meet weavers.
Talking about WomenWeave, a charitable Trust that markets accessories woven by over 100 women in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, she says, “They run a handloom school that helps weavers learn details of the craft such as colour schemes, patterns and so on. I also got in touch with a handloom aficionado called Debal Benerjee, who runs a YouTube channel and an Instagram page called Handloom of India, to educate audiences about authentic handloom in the country.”
Apart from this, she also connected with weavers through handloom exhibitions. Currently the brand works with weavers from Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Punjab.