Show your love for the Kasavu mundu
Mumbaikars, known to fight adversity with grace, find a way to help a famed weavers' collective, whose looms were ravaged by the floods that hit Kerala, get back on its feet
Ramesh Menon, an Andheri-based events and media consultant, like any true Malayali, is a Mumbaikar with his heartstrings tied to Kerala. He has been busy for the last few weeks strategising on bringing a cluster of famed weavers from his home state back on their feet.
When Kerala faced its worst natural calamity on August 8, a weaver's collective in Chendamangalam, 36 km from Kochi, was badly hit. Framed by three rivers, seven inlets and hillocks, Chendamangalam is one of five weavers' cooperatives in the state to hold the GI (geographical indication) tag for its long-established handloom tradition. Known for creating the Kasavu mundu, handwoven sarees, dhotis and towels in super-fine cotton, the weavers, 90 per cent of them women, lost their only source of livelihood.
The wreckage at the Chendamangalam handloom cluster. Pic/Dinesh Madhvan
An estimated 273 looms were damaged, and a workforce of 320 affected. That the timing of the deluge coincided with the harvest festival of Onam hardened the blow. TS Baby of Paravoor Handloom Weavers' Service Co-Operative Society, said in a media report, "Around 80 per cent of sales for the handloom sector take place during the Onam season. The famed Chendamangalam Handloom could achieve sales of Rs 7 crore during the last Onam season. This year, the sales couldn't even touch Rs 1 crore"
Menon, 44, whose parents and sister live in Kochi, is a consultant with the Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI). He tells mid-day, "The weavers and their families fled from their homes around August 15, and returned 10 days later to find unimaginable damage. There was stinking slush across their workshops and homes. Only the basic frames of looms survived. Yarns and stocks were destroyed."
Menon approached chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan's office but realised that a citizens' collective would offer quicker relief given the burden government agencies were under. "The struggle of 300 weavers happens to be small when you compare it to a million others who were also affected in the floods," Menon says.
Mumbai-based, head of fashion - IMG-Reliance, Jaspreet Chandok has personally sponsored a loom
Together with Poornima Indrajith, who anchored a citizens' effort named Anbodu Kochi during the 2015 Chennai floods, he connected with weaver families to document the destruction. Save the Loom (savetheloom.org), a platform to raise both, awareness and funds, was his next step. "We're in the midst of uploading a chart that collates the names of weavers, the damage each of them has suffered, and the funds needed to get them back on track. Once the funds are allotted, we hope to have a minimum of 50 looms running by October 2," he says.
"Come and own one Kerala saree, even if it's for charity," appealed designer Sreejith Jeevan of ROUKA when the disaster struck. Along with Kochi designers Shalini James, Indu Menon of Kara Weaves and retailer Tracy Thomas, he travelled to Chendamangalam on August 28 to visit weaver homes and stock rooms. "We saw 3000-odd pieces worth about Rs 40 lakh that were damp but retrievable. We handed the lot to dry cleaners, and sold it online to raise funds," says Jeevan.
Menon and Jeevan connected with IMG-Reliance, the organisers of Lakmé Fashion Week, and appealed to designers and retailers to raise funds for the looms and buy salvaged stock online. FabIndia, GoCoop, Aza Fashions and Titan's Taneira have showed interest, we hear, while Jaspreet Chandok, Head of Fashion, IMG-Reliance, personally chipped in to sponsor one loom (it costs R50,000 and six months to set up one framed loom). Ironically, while indie designer labels like Amrich by Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav and Samant Chauhan have concerned enquiries about the saved stock, the big fashion players are yet to show support.
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