Rakhee Choudhury, an Ashoka Fellow, calls Assam home and runs Mulberry, a non-profit organisation that works towards the development and economic empowerment of rural weavers in the state.
Established in 1999, Mulberry supports the traditional ecosystem of weaving in Assam from start to finish. They train weavers, source quality yarn and set up production systems at the village level.
They also do the work that these weavers cannot do.
Mulberry hires designers, finds prospective buyers, signs contracts and features the handwoven products at exhibitions which promote handlooms and handicrafts.
The training provided in the villages not only empowers weavers to churn out high quality products but also restores their faith in weaving.
Young weavers are appointed as production managers who help artisans set up looms, provide guidance on new designs and colours and ensure quality control. The weavers receive remuneration bi-monthly, based on the number of units produced.
Mulberry offers Indian wear for men and women and their product range comprises of kurtas, skirts, tops, jackets and bags.
Mulberry ensures the weavers produce the latest designs and high quality products so that they can meet demand in the cities.
With FabIndia and state run stores of TRIFED being its biggest customers, Mulberry also participates in the Dastakar crafts festival held annually in various metros.
Presently, Mulberry works in 60 villages across 5 districts, engaging nearly 455 women weavers.
200 of these women weave around the year while the rest choose to undertake agriculture in spite of marginal returns, weaving only when time permits.
Restoring Eri Silk Production in Assam
In Assam, winter temperatures drop to as low as 15 degrees. Eri, an indigenous silk of Assam, keeps one warm and is extremely durable and retains its sheen regardless of age.
Eri silk is largely processed without the killing of the silk worm and is often called the ahimsa silk.
However, despite its many winning features, weaving Eri silk is something that native weavers shy away from as it is more difficult to weave than cotton and not many weavers possess the skills.
Government apathy, the existence of many middle men and exploitation of artisans by local businesses make matters worse.
By exploring and tapping the right markets and by training artisans, it is possible to make Eri silk weaving a rewarding experience for the women of Assam.
Mulberry is presently looking for support to start a weaving programme with a cluster of weavers who shall be taught to weave Eri products for international markets.
We are helping Mulberry raise a Rs 5 lakh working capital loan that would be utilised towards the purchase of yarn, payment of wages and for technical development.
Not only will this loan contribute to improving weavers’ livelihoods, it will also help preserve and promote a dying art form.
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