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Sally Holkar from Indore’s royal family is weaving the handloom sector out of trouble

From uplifting the lives of women weavers to training people from across India at The Handloom School, Sally is reviving the dying handloom industry and its products.

Think Change India
21st May 2019
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The Indian handloom industry is known across the world for its rich heritage. Specific regions in the country are known for specific textiles. While Odisha is known for its Sambalpuri sarees, Assam is known for Muga silk, and Gujarat is famous for Bandhani. And for centuries, Madhya Pradesh has a rich heritage of Maheshwari sarees and handloom fabrics.


The handloom sector also provides maximum employment to people in India, only after agriculture, and is also known for empowering women.


But over the years, the sector has been dying a slow death as the weaving community is losing out to power looms and synthetic fibres.


Trying to bring the lost glory and uplift the lives of women weavers in the state, Sally Holkar, an Indian-born Texan, and a member of the royal family of Indore, marked upon a journey through Rehwa society.


Sally Holkar with her students (Image: Milaap)


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According to her, the main agenda was to address the issues of marginal women and turn them into expert weavers, which would help them lead sustained lives. Speaking on the impact, Sally said,


“When I started Rehwa society in 1978, there used to be less than 300 weavers in Maheshwar. At present, there are more than 2,000 of them,” reports Milaap.


As years passed by, Sally felt the need to extend the Rehwa society, and soon WomenWeave came into existence in 2003.


(Image: Efforts For Good)


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Speaking to Milaap about the weavers, Sally said,


“The weavers of Maheshwar are valued all around the world. Sadly, they don’t realise their own value. What we want is to get all the young skilled weavers together under one banner and get them in touch with the clients, ensuring there’s no middlemen.”


At the WomenWeave studio in Maheshwar, women across all age groups could be seen weaving. Speaking to Efforts For Good, Nivedita Rai, Managing Director, WomenWeave said,


“Some are single mothers, some are helpless widows, and a few of them are differently-abled as well. The one thing that all of them have in common is the crude experience of being marginalised by a patriarchal society. Today, they are proudly earning their livelihood with honest hard work.”


To sustain the culture and the richness of the fabric, the handloom is operated manually, and the dyes used are completely organic. In addition, the design patterns on sarees that one can see is precisely handcrafted.


(Image: Efforts For Good)

Speaking on the market opportunities, Nivedita further said,


“Since the raw materials for sustainable textiles are quite expensive, the end-product becomes somewhat high-end. Still, the concept is slowly trickling down even to the middle-income strata of the society. Synthetic clothes are cheaper, perhaps more convenient as well. But we hope WomenWeave helps to raise awareness about eco-friendly fashion.”


From handmade fashion accessories to shawls and sarees, today one can find all range of textiles on the WomenWeave website.


(Image: Milaap)

That’s not all. Sally is also training over a hundred men and women from all over India in traditional weaving at The Handloom School in Maheshwar, which was started in 2013.


The school offers a work-study programme with a specialised curriculum in design, textile technology, business, and sustainability to make sure weavers get a dignified income and lead a sustained life. The school aims towards providing traditional training, and so far three batches have already graduated.



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