The essence of the textile industry in India lies in Gandhi’s Khadi. Sadly, its impact has declined over the years. The idea of being self-reliant, the message behind the Swadeshi movement and the current ‘Made in India’ campaign seem to be losing their significance with growing large scale import of foreign textiles and products. There is an array of masses in India who have immense potential, god gifted skills and require economic support. For them, designers like Anavila Misra come as a saviour. Also Read - National Handloom Day: PM Modi Pitches For Use Indian Handicrafts, Says be 'Vocal For Handmade'

“In India, certain places where weavers and artisans are very deeply linked to the heritage of the craft and are still working with very traditional designs are not exposed to any kind of intervention from outside. In places like this, art and the artists will seize to exist if there won’t be any intervention or a collaborative effort,” she says. Also Read - Govt bid to push NE crafts:Assam to host Handloom Day function

While celebrating the National Handloom Day, we talked to the designer about the condition of the handloom industry in India and how it has changed over the years. She also talked to us about her initiative in showcasing the hidden talents in India, and how the Northeast is a part of the country which treasures great textile talent. Here are the excerpts: Also Read - Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares special video of weavers to mark first National Handloom Day on August 7 (Watch here)

Why do you think the weavers in India needed a National Handloom Day?

I don’t know how much they needed it, but I think it is a nice way to appreciate such a huge industry which is working relentlessly to take forward the heritage of the textile which we have in our country. When we mark a day to celebrate handloom work, we consciously or subconsciously think about it and understand its importance and relevance.

How much the condition of handloom weavers has changed over the years?

It is different for different regions. Some clusters with design and corporate interventions, collaborations, have flourished. For example, Maheshwari and Chanderi clusters are doing well. In certain areas like Bhuj, and Kutch, the condition of handloom weavers is extremely good. And, this is all because of the collaborations which are happening.

Also, Phulia in West Bengal for example, the region where I work is flourishing. There is so much work for weavers in this area and many designers are collaborating with them. Even the weavers are forthcoming with their ideas. They are using social media and have adopted the technology. These people are putting themselves forward, getting access to the market and are doing well.

But, in some places, weavers and artisans’ work which is deeply rooted in the heritage of the craft is not getting recognition or any kind of intervention from outside. For example, Banjagarhi, which is made in Jhobad, which a small area in Madhya Pradesh and is a very basic product. In places like this, art and the artists will no longer be there in case of nil intervention or lack of collaborative effort. Also, their coming generations might get into other alternative vocations and job opportunities. So it is a mixed bag.

What are the concerns of weavers in India?

In certain clusters, hand-holding is required. There is a need to give attention to these clusters. For example, weavers in Northeast do beautiful work and some of them are showcasing their creativity in various fashion weeks. But they are very less in number. You can count them on your fingers. A lack of accessibility to the Northeast states, and safety issues, etc. have made the work difficult. So, different designers and government bodies should have a plan to go to these sectors and do collaborative work like what we have seen in Phulia and Bhuj. These can be replicated in other areas also.

How does Anavila, as a designer label, takes care of its local weavers. 

We give them sustainable employment and I think that’s the most important thing we can do for the handloom sector. Once we are engaging with a cluster, we are just not engaged in terms of a project but a long term process. And in situations like now, we try to keep our weavers constantly engaged in work. So, they do not have to run around.

What percentage of your creations is totally dependent on the labour and craft of the weavers of our country? How many local craftsmen and weavers do you work with on a daily basis?

We have employed 12 tribal and they get a monthly salary. In terms of weavers, we work with around 160 of them. But, they do not directly work with us. 90 per cent of our work is dependent on local craftsmen and weavers.

How the pandemic has affected the handloom industry in India?

In March, April, and June, you see a lot of events like a handloom Bazar or weaver Bazar which happen in every city. And, I think a lot of weavers work for at least 6 months to create a collection which they bring to these bazaars. So, right when the season started, the pandemic hit us and those markets did not open, bazaars didn’t happen. As a result, weavers couldn’t sell their products.

Also, some weavers and craftsmen supply their products to wholesalers and then wholesalers supplying them to stores. A complete shutdown of stores for two months has created a complete backlog of 5-6 months’ inventories. So, it is a huge loss. It is not something which is only loss of a season but will have long term impact on the weavers and the handloom sector.

The handloom sector is said to be the second-biggest source of employment in rural India. How can we make it a significant part of the urban Indian economy?

It will only happen if we start making designs and products which are needed in urban markets. And, that can only happen through really strong collaborative work. We need design models and business models to start making relevance in different areas.

You have been consistent in promoting the local artisans and their creations from the very beginning. What is your story behind creating a brand that is entirely dedicated to showcase the richness of the local craftsmanship?

I worked in the corporate sector for 4 years, then I worked with the government for 3 years and I think it was a natural progression. Once you start working in the craft sector and you understand that the skill set in this area high and there is so much demand for handcrafted products in the cities, and there are so many beautiful products you can create if you consistently work in those clusters. you get motivated to keep working in this sector and showcasing masterful creations.

Once you see that you can make a change by your contribution and collaboration with those weavers, you cannot go back because there something new to do every day.

How much support do you get from your clients in Bollywood or across the film industry when it comes to promoting the local artisans and their work?

In the last few years, we have seen so many artists from Bollywood have spoken so much about handloom. They have taken it with them. So it also depends on how you create a design. If you create a contemporary design, it is the merit of design that people buy on. You buy a product only if it is attractive and you are fascinated by it. Then, it doesn’t matter whether it is handloom or not. You should not be crying handloom and people buying it. It is not a sad story. It is a beautiful story. It is a huge skill set which we are talking about. It is the heritage of our textiles. So much has gone behind creating beautiful handlooms. So whether or not a star will promote handloom depends on how beautifully we curate them. The product itself has to have the merit of attracting buyers. Purely based on the merit of the product, various celebrities who are promoting handlooms and associating themselves with them.

For example, Sonam Kapoor has so many times worn our sarees. They looked equally fashionable from whatever else she wears from the world over. So, it is our responsibility to give merit to the product which we create and when it can stand the test of any time, everybody will pick it up from the shelf because the product is looking attractive. The added advantage is that you are supporting the rural economy by creating that product.

With movies like ‘Sui Dhaga’, do you think Bollywood is giving the credit where it was due?

It is a big step for sure. Movies like this tell that people have started recognising the role of weavers and handcrafts and we are giving credit to different craft sectors. It was a good effort I think.

We have seen various instances where the Prime Minister and head of a state have gifted handcrafted fabrics or clothes to foreign delegates. Do you think these gestures or actions somewhere benefit the handloom industry in India?

When you select a product from the handloom sector and gifting it to someone, it means you have pride in your heritage and in that product. So, if our politicians are choosing handlooms or handcrafted things to gift to foreign delegates, the first thing that shows is that they are proud and the second thing is that the person or a delegate who is getting the product as a gift will definitely try to understand and appreciate the beauty of the product. He/She will try to understand what it stands for and where it comes from and they will definitely promote the craft and more people will come to see once it goes out of the country. So, I think it is a good way to promote made in India.