We are about 40 kilometres from Srikakulam, the coastal district in Andhra Pradesh abutting Southern Odisha. The board members of the Vamshadhara Producer Company are sitting around a circle, discussing the previous year’s finances.
Vamshadhara, which currently works with some 120 weavers in the remote, rural regions of the Srikakulam and Vijayanagar districts, earlier operated as a Mutually Aided Cooperative Society (MACS). Its recent transition to a company not only gives the weavers control over every aspect of the production of the handmade cloth, it allows them to market and sell their products directly to the consumers.
To this end, Vamshadhara is supported by Chitrika, a Hyderabad-based organisation that supports livelihood projects for artists across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Rang De, in turn, supports the weavers by providing them access to low-cost loans necessary to get production of the cloth underway.
When we visited Srikakulam, the CEO of the producer company, Mr Laxman Rao, took on the arduous task of introducing us to the community members.
“We do not have any dreams. This is our dream. This is our reality” said one of the weavers, as he adjusted the thread on the weaving machine. For the community, coming together to form the company has drastically changed their situation. Over a period of five years, their monthly incomes have more than doubled.
Earlier, the master weavers were the community’s only link to the market and the middle men reaped the maximum profits. On the one hand, collectivization has eliminated the middle men from the picture, and the connection with Chitrika has helped the weavers in designing and marketing of their products, helping grow their business.
“Everyone gets to learn when there are more participants. In spite of the competition we have never compromised on the quality of the product we weave” one of the workers said. The clients for their fabric also include some of the biggest names in the ethnic wear industry, like Fabindia and Jaypore.
Last year, all the members of Vamshadhara received a patronage bonus, ranging from Rupees 2,000 to Rs 30,000.
Early on during the visit, Mr Rao shows us an advertisement by Brass Tacks, an Indian fashion label that makes bespoke clothes from natural, handwoven fabric. All smiles, Mr Rao says “See, this what she is wearing, it is the same fabric, this one”, pointing at a stack of lilac coloured clothing kept nearby. Shortly after, we proceed to meet the hands who weave them.
By Ahinsa Sharma.
Ahinsa Sharma is a member of the Impact Team at Rang De
Photos by Praveen Kumar
Praveen Kumar is a video editor at Rang De