The handloom industry of India has a long tradition of exquisite and incomparablecraftsmanship. It has a diverse and rich textile tradition, a wide range of textiles of varieddesigns, woven with different techniques as compared to other countries of the world.
We recently had an interview with Mrs. Antara Chiripal, an Investment banker turned entrepreneur. Here is her complete story –
“The specialty in the weave of the textiles in each region is developed based on location, climate and cultural influences. The weaves are often colorful, and fabrics are frequently worked over with incredibly intricate weave, print, hand paint or embroidery and so is my journey as a social entrepreneur and of “Maya Weaves”
I am an ex-investment banker who had left my job to pursue my true calling towards the world of craft. I started my journey with handloom and hand embroidery at a very young age, when I used to visit my grandmother during summer vacations in Kolkata, West Bengal. The ladies there used to do kantha embroidery, as their favorite past time. I remember helping them do hand embroidery on bed covers, quilts, pillow covers, table cloth, etc. which were essentially made to be used in their own households and the base of this embroidery were handloom fabrics which were handpicked and woven by the weavers associated with us for generations.
During my time in private banking, I came to Delhi and I started off with handloom and hand embroidered scarves, dupattas, sarees to create awareness about Bengal art and craft, among her peers, which later turned out to be her true calling. After working for a decade in corporate sector, I started my journey as a social entrepreneur, to work with the artisans, with different crafts of West Bengal. In Bengal, it is in the genes.
Everyone intentionally or unintentionally is inclined towards handloom products. I was raised among all of this so the inclination is very natural. I have personally done a lot of crochet work, embroidery, jute work, fabric paint etc.
I personally fo lot of oil painting and I am trained in classical dance as well. Maya Weaves, the name of my venture is inspired by my aunt who is a National Awardee Artisan. I consider my aunt and her love for the craft, the inspiration behind Maya Weaves. I bootstrapped my business and has been investing the profits back into the business for further growth.
The first big order for Maya Weaves, was from a from A&T, a renowned designer duo from Delhi. We have learnt a lot while working with them. From there on, our journey escalated well. We have since then worked with a lot of A-listed designers, corporates, budding designers, government emporiums and private buyers.
Speaking about our products we make handloom fabric with all-natural fibers; cotton, wool, jute, mulmul and many more. We make stoles, scarves, fabrics and sarees with handloom cotton, cotton silk, linen, cotton linen, khadi, wool. Our yardages/stoles etc. come with different counts. We make fabrics from zero to 500 counts in both warp and weft. We also make fabrics for home furnishings, upholstery etc. which are essentially thick. All our fabrics are recyclable and made, keeping in mind sustainable and ethical practices. We Work on Handspun yarns also, which is also done in-house. We use recycled yarns as well. These yarns are made of used clothing, which are cut in thin strips and then processed to make yarns, for weaving. We use azo free/natural /vegetable dyes for their fabrics. We also do ‘Jamdani’ fabrics which is an ancient craft of weaving where extra weft is used to depict motives on a fabric. These are like painting where art is woven in the base fabric backdrop.
We also do crochet work with wool, recycled Macrame cotton thread.
We also make terracotta artworks, planters, jewelry, kitchen ware etc.
We work under ethical working conditions where artisans are well aware about their rights,hygiene conditions, work ethics and fair wages. We are a group with a very low carbonfootprints and we reuse our water resources to the optimum level. Our looms are allmanually handled.
We started with a few artisans and now it has grown to 200 plus weavers and hand embroiderers, which has a majority of women artisans. We are like a little family. We talk about kids, education, cinemas, festivals and it’s a homely environment”. We provide the freshers with the required training in weaving, embroidery, batik, crochet, pottery etc. Once they are prepared and keen to work, we procure orders for them. Lot of these artisans are involved in our core team, who handle designing, marketing and a few of them along with myself are in textile innovation.
“The function of art is to struggle against obligation” – Amedeo Modigliani.
Speaking about the challenges faced, I think that the biggest one was the acceptance and acknowledgment of handlooms. Delhi, in India, from my experience, was one of the places where acceptance was not as much as it was in Kolkata or Mumbai. People here were not as enthusiastic about handloom and handicrafts back then, whereas foreign companies from Japan and Australia loved their work in Jamdani and Kantha embroidery. But I feel that our country too has come a long way now in acknowledging and appreciating handicrafts and handweaves.
Another challenge I have always been working on is keeping our products affordable and reasonable. I wish to have maximum number of people to use the handloom products so that sustainable fashion can be accessible to more and more people.
I also believe that optimum use of social media has helped in encouraging and spreading the love for the craft in younger generations. The responsibility is there on the designers as well to reach the masses with innovative and unique designs to influence the use of handmade fabric.
The handloom and handicraft sector are reeling in the world of Power loom fabrics and fast changing faces of fashion, which changes its color, cut, definition with every changing season. In India, this has led to mass migration of artisans towards cities, in search of jobs, leaving their age-old craft practices. Low payments, lower demand, lesser orders have left these artisans with no choice other than looking for other sources of income, and due to lack of education, they mostly land up working as house helpers, gardener, cleaners, cooks in urban Indian families. And this actually broadens the social inequalities.
For me, being born in an educated Bengali family, my father who was engineer and my husband, who is a technology entrepreneur have always been pillars of my decision. My source of motivation is my daughter and my family. I believe in the Almighty for blessing every mother with the strength and motivation to take care of the family and pursue her dreams. I believe in the power of humanity, the power and pleasure of giving and that’s why I am also deeply inclined to do something for the planet, for a better tomorrow. Even if I can bring about just 1% change in the lifestyles/thought process of people, I shall be happy. With the objective to promote sustainable lifestyle, ecofriendly choices, slow fashion I am of the opinion that each individual should undertake the responsibility towards a greener Earth, for their children, if not for anything else.
“Future is all about sustainability and sustainable choices. Weshould make sure that a pandemic like the one we are facing currently should be avoided asmuch or at least mankind should be prepared to face them, with a greener planet, cleanerair, clearer water and ample working opportunities. Fast fashion, is one of the many factorsthat contributes majorly towards environment pollution, exhaustion of Natural resources,extinction of living species of plants and animals and we all need to do our bit to minimizeit. In the wake of the recent and ongoing crisis, it is imperative for us to embrace asustainable lifestyle, where we consume less and give more, reduce our carbon footprintsthis providing much needed respite to Mother Nature”.
Also, “Education is a must. Especially in a country like India, which is in the developing phase,You need to educate yourself, no matter what. There is a lot of avenues and opportunitiesfor learning. Education is your asset for life. Wherever you go, being educated, you wouldknow what to do next. You can guide yourself and others to make the right choices in life”.Sustainability is not a practice; it has to be a way of life. We as consumers, should bemindful of what we eat, what we wear and what we bring home. The virus, in a way, has allowed us a powerful pause, to explore and understand what really matters. May somesense emerge out of it. If not now, when?