Arushi Chowdhury Khanna founded LoomKatha to connect rural artisans and handloom weavers with the global market, enabling greater economic value of the end-product to be transferred to the producer.
When Arushi Chowdhury Khanna was looking to employ indigenous artisans for her startup, LoomKatha, she zeroed in on Churu district in Rajasthan. The place is well-known for its bandhani (tie and dye) craft, mostly practised by women.
“There is a misconception that women need to be given a home-based activity because, as they say, khaana banana hai, bachche dekhne hai (need to cook and look after the children). But when we arranged for training of the women at a centre, in just two days, they brought their entire family along to show them that it was their ‘office’. If you give women the space and opportunity, they will work their lives around it. Contrary to preconceived notions, rural women are happy to leave the confines of their homes,” Arushi says.
The bandhani tradition was proving uneconomical because of the “bleed” factor and artisans were earning only around Rs 80-90 per day. It’s here that LoomKatha stepped in to work on the dyeing aspect. It fashioned a range of products with bandhani that could be put in a washing machine and not even bleed a jot. LoomKatha took these to a design fiesta in Tokyo, and the rest, as they say, is history.
LoomKatha, founded in 2016, aims to connect rural artisans and handloom weavers to the global market, enabling greater economic value of the end-product to be transferred to the producer.
After completing her studies at National Institute of Fashion Technology in Mumbai, Arushi had an option to choose between interning at Raymond’s or spending three months in Surendranagar, Gujarat with a group of weavers. “I chose three months with weavers over being boxed in a corporate entity. I did my thesis around market linkages to rural weavers in Gujarat and, with this, began my lifelong love affair with weaving and Indian textiles,” she says.
After completing her education, she worked with Women Weave in Madhya Pradesh and followed it up with stints in both profits and non-profits.
With LoomKatha, Arushi wanted to concentrate on small clusters of excellence in craftsmanship with sustainable long-term linkages.
So, with Rs 75,000 and an Acumen Fellowship, she took the plunge. Her first batch of products were sourced from Churu, and after a year of trial and error and piloting, LoomKatha has a strong business model in place. Apart from participating at exhibitions around the world, it also sells women’s apparel, stoles, scarves and dupattas through its website. “We are looking at growing this channel as it gives us the highest profit margin, which we can then plough back into the artisans working with us,” she says.
LoomKatha is also active in Maheshwar, a town in Madhya Pradesh known for its sarees. The price point for its products ranges between Rs 999 and Rs 3,000. “We are looking at an efficient production process where we source the fabric from Maheshwar and get it dyed in Churu. So the cost as compared to other brands in the same segment is lower because we ensure an efficient production process,” explains Arushi.
In April 2017, Acumen organised a global competition for all their Fellows across the world. LoomKatha was one of the winners and received a research grant of $10,000 from San Francisco-based philanthropist Asha Jadeja. This has made it cash positive.
In line with its vision of reviving Indian craft, LoomKatha is now setting its sights on Aurangabad and the lost art of Himroo weaving. “It’s a Persian craft which was used for weaving shawls for the Nizam of Hyderabad. There are only two to three Himroo weavers in Aurangabad. The motifs have been misused by the power looms on cheap fabric, and that really killed the original craft. Soon, we will be taking steps to revive the art, and our first buyer is a large corporate organisation in the city itself. This will create a circular linkage within the city,” Arushi adds.