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With Kara Weaves which supports local weavers and artisans, Indu Gopalakrishnan seeks to revive the handloom industry in India.
The handloom industry in India is undoubtedly an integral part of our heritage. But with industrialization and mass production, machines are fast replacing people and it has become increasingly difficult for local weavers to sustain their livelihoods. We talk to the innovative woman entrepreneur, Indu Gopalakrishnan, who along with her talented team of close friends and relatives started Kara Weaves in 2008, to combat hardships faced by artisans of the handloom industry in India.
Innovation being the buzz word at Kara Weaves, it uses traditional thorthu from Kerala to create handmade and contemporary home furnishings. Kara Weaves’ products have been featured in Martha Stewart’s Gift Guide and leading blogs such as Design Sponge and Daily Grommet. As a creative venture with a social cause, Kara Weaves strives to bring about a change in the lives of Kerala’s weavers.
Piya Jayarajan (PJ): From an anthropologist to an agent of social change, what triggered this journey?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: An anthropologist is someone who studies contemporary society and its evolution, thus rendering a good understanding of the social fabric. The subject sensitizes one to the social issues around you; so being an anthropologist is always an added advantage for being an agent for social change.
My personal journey started like any entrepreneurial venture. I did not find enough support for this fabric and form of weaving in the market, so I started Kara Weaves as a solution to that. During my tenure as a social anthropologist at IIM, I had co-authored a book on Women Weavers of South India which provided a natural segue for me into this project.
PJ: In your opinion, what is the biggest hurdle that the handloom industry in India is facing today?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: From our experience of working with the Govt. Weaving Co-operatives, we’ve realized that prompt remuneration to the artisans; new marketing strategies and product design/development are some of the areas that plague the handloom sector in India. This cannot be solved overnight as it requires a comprehensive re-structuring of the industry.
In our small part, we’ve intervened by pricing the products fairly and creating a line of products that fit into the contemporary lifestyle of a socially-responsible customer.
PJ: How did you convince the common weaver about this venture? Did you face any resistance?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: We had almost no resistance in initiating this dialogue with the weavers as they were in a bad shape professionally and were willing to go along with us to experiment with the product. The few concerns they had were about the prompt financial remuneration which we addressed immediately by procuring advance payments, premium prices for the fabrics and maintaining a punctual payment roster with them. This has paved the way to a mutually trusting and fruitful partnership over the years.
PJ: But why the thorthu? Why not something more extravagant like silk?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: Two reasons why we chose thorthu:
Familiar and local – It is a Kerala fabric which has been used for generations, in my own home as well. Seeing the plight of our local weaving co-operative, I felt they needed some impetus to flourish, else this art form was going to die out quickly. Having them in proximity to my home and having something to offer them in return, I felt this was the next natural step.
Multi-use – The utility of this fabric is infinite, quite literally. We knew this would appeal to people the world over, not just in Kerala and sharing this with everyone is something we love to do! Silk and other materials are already putting India on the map, so we thought why not this often overlooked yet beautiful fabric too?
PJ: What is the impact that Kara Weaves has had on the lives of the weavers?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: Prior to initiating our collaboration with the weaving co-ops, one thing we were very firm about was prompt payments and a constant supply of orders to the weavers. We also buy all the fabrics from them at a premium price and give them advance payments on orders. With the response we’ve had to our products, and with these measures, we have been able to ensure that our small group of weavers are never in short supply of work or proper financial remuneration. As we grow, we hope to set up a weaving learning centre where we hope to bring more youth into this profession.
PJ: As an example of sustainable development, what challenges, if any, do you foresee in replicating this model for other traditional products across the country?
Indu Gopalakrishnan: Anyone with an idea on their minds and passion in their hearts is welcome to give this a shot! The challenges to replicate this model, from my experience, will be in developing a sustainable marketing strategy, keeping the design and utility of the product always in mind. One has to constantly innovate, think out of the box to stay ahead of all the products the marketplace has to offer. With my team, we are always finding ways to connect with our shoppers, and create products that are not only useful but also carry a story with them. And yes, we do hope we can inspire others to take up social enterprises for traditional products across the country!
Indu Gopalakrishnan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can also stay connected through their Facebook or Twitter page.
A marketing and communications professional for over 3 years, Piya Jayarajan is passionate about the
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