The COVID-19 lockdown has been a harsh one for the handloom sector, with stocks piling up and weavers and craftspeople finding fewer job orders than ever. Unlock 1.0 has opened up avenues for e-commerce and real-time retail shopping but those in the sector state that it will take time for new orders to come in. Meanwhile, a few weaver clusters are exploring alternative source of income by producing masks. Hyderabad-based Creative Bee Foundation has been helping women weavers in Koyyalagudam district in Andhra Pradesh produce washable masks made of organic cotton.
“We have been working with women weavers in this region and it’s been a tough time for all. With the help of like-minded donors and NGOs, ₹1000 was provided to 350 weavers to help their families make essential purchases during the lockdown. There has been a need to rethink the work pattern,” says Bina Rao of Creative Bee.
Many looms in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were idle during the lockdown, but the women began learning to use the existing fabric to produce good quality masks. The masks made by these women have an inner layer of organic cotton that’s skin-friendly. The outer layer uses kalamkari block print, ikat or shibori fabric. “If we have to wear masks through the day when we are out or at work, the masks need to be comfortable. Organic cotton fabric ensures breathability and is easy on the skin, without causing allergic reaction,” says Bina.
She hopes to get bulk orders from corporates to step up the workflow among 120 women in Koyyalagudem. “We want to make 10,000 masks. Currently, 120 women are involved in various steps of making the masks and we have 15 sewing machines. We plan to involve women weavers in Puttapaka (in Nalgonda district, Telangana) soon,” adds Bina.
The masks are available in different styles and priced from ₹35 to ₹65. In addition, for fashion-conscious women there are stoles with inbuilt cloth masks, priced at ₹500 each.
There have been similar initiatives by handloom cooperatives in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, like the Abhihaara social enterprise, to help weavers earn by producing reusable, sustainable masks.