Ethics Personified by Ethicus for Upliftment of Weavers of Pollachi
I really thank Craftmark for organising a Saree Festival from 2nd May to 4th May,2015 which I came to know through a facebook post of my friend, and my love for saree & its weavers took me to explore it. It was an eye opening experience for me; in a mad rush of fad fashion, short dresses,stylish dresses;watching so many educated people working for the cause for weavers who weave sarees, and not only this, they have dedicated their career for the upliftment of them. I met a lawyer from Maharashtra, who left his practice and metro life and moved to a small town with his family to revive Gadhwal weaving form of Andhra Pradesh. Then I met Mrs.VijayaLakshmi Nachiar of Appachi Eco-Logic Cotton Pvt. Ltd., who had beautiful cotton hand woven sarees under the brand name-Ethicus. From designs to detailing, from fabric to its feel;everything was an story itself. Ms.Nachiar was so dynamic and commanding; even being a owner she was handling everything of her stall by herself. Answering my questions and attending her saree collection querries simultaneously. She told that she tries to go to these exhibitions by herself, to see and have the feedback by the visitors. Wearing saree is being considered a tedious affair in today’s generations. It has limited itself to weddings, Pujas, or donning my NGO workers or politicians. So finding out ‘what works’ is very essential for her.
Following is an excerpt from our discussion about her work, weavers and her passion to make Ethicus reach a new level
Q. Please tell us something about Ethicus journey. How & when did this idea came to you.
VN. My love affair with textiles began as a kid. I come from a family that was involved in the cotton trade. With my roots in Kutch, it was normal for us to spend our vacations doing colourful embroidery. When it was time for me to choose my subject of interest I choose textiles. I have a post graduate degree in Textiles & Clothing from SNDT University, Mumbai.
I got married into a family also involved in the cotton business. Pollachi, where I live has a rich textile heritage. The famous Coimbatore Cotton Sari’s are woven in & around the villages in Pollachi. My husband & I always wanted to work with these handlooms & it took me 15 years to finally achieve this goal!
We were introduced to the concept of ‘Organic farming’ in 2006 & were shocked to learn that, Cotton, that was so central to who we were & what we did, was one of the biggest pollutant in our country! This led Mani, my husband, to become involved in the contract farming of Organic Cotton in Kabini near Mysore. We were in search of a handloom centre which could weave the very fine yarns that we produced. Our search took us to various places. We met weavers from Chanderi, Kota, Maheshwar & Bengal. We met illustrious people like Sally Holkar who have revived the whole Maheshwari weaving tradition.
But we realised that whatever we did would be sustainable only if it was locally made with local craftsmen! All the local weavers we approached for our sampling program were tied down to master weavers, we decided that the only way forward, for us, was to establish our own loom shed & design studio.
So with the desire to promote & help revive the handlooms tradition in our area by making innovative products as per today’s market needs, thereby utilizing & combining Mani’s skills in growing the cotton & my skill of value addition of Textile, we established ‘Ethicus’ in 2009.
Q. How many looms do you have and since when.
VN. In 2008, we bought old, solid wood, handlooms which were all dismantled from a once thriving handloom centre in Tamilnadu, because the powerlooms had taken over their business & set up a loom shed with 42 handlooms within our factory in Pollachi, Tamilnadu.
Q. How many weavers do you have. Please share some success story with us if possible.
VN. We work with around 60 weavers & helpers today.
When it was time to send our stock over to Mumbai for our brand launch, we called our weavers over to our stock room & handed over to them tags with their pictures on it. We asked them to pick out all the sari’s they had woven & told them to attach the tags on them.
The tears of joy, we saw on some of their faces made us feel so happy. On their faces we could see the joy & happiness that this little gesture of recognition had made.
In 2012, Ethicus, along with 9 other brands were awarded ‘the future shaper’ for our work in the promotion of sustainable textiles by Textile Exchange, an International Organic. We were the only brand from India. This was a proud moment for all of us.
Q.What kind of changes you have observed in Cotton industry, Saree industry in last few years.
VN. The biggest change is that we are increasingly wearing sari’s only on occasions like Weddings, Pooja’s, Party’s, or to official events.
A few years ago, Sari’s were identified by the place they originated from. eg. Chanderi, Kanjeevaram from Kancheepuram, etc.
Fashion now demands that it’s not just enough to follow a tradition, people want something more whether it is in the colour, layout of the sari or the design! Even the sari blouse is no longer just a simple garment!
The woman of today wants to make a statement! In this increasingly designer driven or bollywood inspired market, people want change. It is therefore necessary for us to made our traditional designs & techniques more contemporary.
Q. How do you design your Sarees. Pleases share your inspirations.
VN. Every new collection that is woven at the Ethicus Studio is based on a theme. Our previous collection ‘The Athangudi Collection’ was inspired by the rich Chettinad culture & I wanted to work on something totally different for our next collection as I wanted to attract more youngsters to also experiment & start wearing sari’s.
Thus was born ‘Love Story’. I felt that that this would bring in a new look & help us move out of our comfort zone. A fun brainstorming session later, we came upon many things, emotions, and words which made us think of love & romance. eg. Chocolate, Music, Yash Chopra, Lace, Taj Mahal, Roses, the colour Red. These then became the inspirations for our designs.
Q. Please share your ideology, and the difficulty you are facing in this field.
VN. Our ideology is to promote sustainable fashion which gives identity to the entire value chain.
The major difficulty we face is in getting good weavers as most people in our area have migrated to other jobs or are now much better educated and want white collar jobs. This is because they feel that handloom weaving is not remunerative enough. The money earned by making a product is the shared effort of at least 2 members of a family.
Also, our consumers are getting more & more used to fast fashion. Awareness about ‘hand loom made’ is very low. A lot of machine made products are also getting sold as handloom products. All this results in customers wanting cheaper fabrics. In order to produce cheap, we are losing out on quality & innovation in products.
Q.Your plan for coming future.
VN. We want to try making our own Khadi yarn & Fabric. This is our dream & plan for the near future.
Q. What do you expect from government. Has government been helpful in weaver’s upliftment.
VN. The vision of this government is to promote ‘ Make in India’. Our handlooms produce the best ‘Make in India’ products. We expect that our government will understand the importance of reviving our handloom traditions & making our country the best & finest hand crafted fabric suppliers to the world again.
We want our government to recognise the efforts of our hand weaving communities & bring back the pride in their work. The status & respect that we need to give to our artisans or craftsmans needs to be reviewed. If they even got a fraction of the recognition our cricketers get, they would be happy & would continue to be the custodians of our rich culture & heritage.
Thanks for reading!