Rising raw material costs, declining wages and a fall in the number of craftsmen weave trouble for the century-old art
Increasing cost of raw materials, declining wages for weavers and the consequent steep fall in their number are posing a threat to the century-old legacy of Pochampally Ikat. The intricate tie-and-dye craft of silk and cotton weaving had received geographical indication (GI) status in 2005.
Pochampally, a cluster of 80 villages within a radius of 25 km in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, was until two years ago home to more than 10,000 weavers — a number that has since been halved.
“Increasing raw material costs is one of the main reasons for the crisis. Yarn (cotton and silk) prices are increasing by the day. Prices of silk and cotton have almost doubled within the past six months. The price of a 5-kg bundle of cotton, which was Rs 800 six months ago, is now Rs 1,100. Silk prices, too, have increased to Rs 2,400 per kg, from Rs 1,400 per kg during the same period,” said S N Das, production manager of the Pochampally Handloom Park.
Further, prices of zari (which is used along with the silk material), colours and chemicals have also doubled in the last six months. Weavers procure raw materials – including cotton – from Andhra Pradesh and silk from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The cost of transporting raw materials from neighbouring states is another worry for weavers, Das added.
Wage rates have come down, depending upon a weaver’s skills. A weaver’s remuneration ranges between Rs 3,000 and Rs 6,000 per month.
All these factors have affected the design and quality of the product. According to I S Naresh – director of handlooms and textiles, and development commissioner of Apparel Export Parks – the designs used by most weavers are outdated and most of the products do not meet international standards.
“People are getting better products from powerlooms and a lot of duplicate material is coming into the market,” Naresh said. The overall business has come down by 25-30 per cent in terms of volume, he added.
The number of weavers has declined to less than 5,000 from 10,000-15,000 two years ago. “Nobody in the new generation is adopting weaving as a profession, as it is no more a profitable business. People are rather opting for other jobs like security guards and attendants and moving to cities for a better living,” he said.
The state government has taken up various initiatives to retain this tradition and had identified two clusters – Pochampally 1 and Pochampally 2 – in the area in December 2010, to provide a common weaving facility centre for the locals, Naresh said.
The state government has earmarked Rs 60 lakh for each cluster to implement the project in a phased manner over a period of three years and to form a consortium of 500 weavers in each cluster.
“We have appointed designers to provide assistance in contemporary designs. The cluster will organise exhibitions, trade fairs and initiate other promotional activities,” Naresh added.
“Fashion will never die for handloom products. But in the case of Pochampally Ikat, the problem is that production is not matching demand. Demand is increasing by the year, and mainly comes from international buyers,” said Sridhar K, head of Pochampally.com, an online retailer which has 5,000 direct customers, 90 per cent of whom are based abroad, mainly in the US.