Handicrafts and handlooms: Preserving culture and creating jobs

Handicrafts Export proves to be an important source of revenue since India is one of the largest exporters of handicrafts and handloom items. This sector is especially essential since it is helping develop the economy of Rural India and ensuring work opportunities for women and men in these weaker sections of the country.

Textiles and handicrafts Insights
 Min read
January 24, 2022

Handicrafts and handlooms: Preserving culture and creating jobs

One of the biggest challenges for an economy like India – which is the world’s second most populous nation – is to create enough jobs for its people. Generating employment not just helps people arrange essential resources for survival like food, clothing and shelter, but also empowers them to lead a dignified life.

For the Indian economy, if there is one sector after agriculture that has played a significant role in generating employment, especially in the rural and semi-urban areas, it is the handicrafts and handloom sector.

The handicraft sector is one of the important branches of the Indian cottage industry. Handicrafts and handlooms can be defined as the category of products which are produced either completely by hand or with the help of tools. All through the post-Independence years, this labor-intensive sector has provided core employment to the most backward and underprivileged classes of the population settled in the nooks and corners of the country.

States like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Kashmir, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Manipur, Tripura, among others are all known for their unique handicraft and handloom collection. The unmatched quality of craftsmanship showcased by artisans can put even the machine-made goods to shame. That’s the reason why the handicraft sector is still flourishing in this era of industrialization.

According to a government estimate, the sector employs nearly 4.4 million weavers directly and indirectly throughout India, with a whopping 77% of them being women. Rural India is at the center stage here for this sector as it is mostly agriculture-based, and a significant part of the population there always tends to engage in other small industries for ancillary income.

As the handicrafts sector requires very low capital investment, but a tremendous amount of skill, it becomes a go-to option for the regions that may be economically backward but enjoy rich cultural heritage. This results in job creation for female workers who are looking for extra income in rural and semi-urban areas. The sector also provides opportunities for entrepreneurs and creates demand for artisans, all while helping them to preserve their culture and heritage.

No wonder, India is home to more than 3,000 craft forms with almost every state promising something spectacular to offer. If going to the north, one can find Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls in the state of Kashmir that are unbelievably light and warm. The Kashmiri weaver is also best known for the Kani shawls. Made from Cashmere, a Kani shawl is handwoven over a loom and is a work of patience. The weaving is so intricate that an artisan cannot weave more than one inch per day. One Kani Shawl takes around 3-5 years to get completed.

Moving down, Uttar Pradesh offers beautiful handloom products like Brocades and Jacquards. Jacquard is a specially woven fabric created using a loom and various materials such as cotton, polyester, silk and acrylic. The popular jacquard motifs include damasks, florals and geometric patterns.

Uttar Pradesh is also known for its exquisite hand embroidery arts like Chikankari and Zardozi work. Chikankari is the embroidery work done with white cotton thread on fine cotton and muslin material. It is also called shadow work. Zardozi, meanwhile, is a beautiful embroidery work that is ornamented through metal. It comprises creation of intricate designs using gold and silver threads.

Chanderi is another popular Indian handloom product that comes from the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is a traditional ethnic fabric characterized by its lightweight, sheer texture and fine luxurious feel. It is produced by weaving silk and golden Zari in the traditional cotton yarn that results in the creation of the shimmering texture.

In the world of handlooms, there are also Madras checks from Tamil Nadu, Ikats from Andhra and Orissa, tie and dye from Gujarat and Rajasthan, Daccai from West Bengal, and phulkari from Punjab.

In the Ikat tie and dye process, the designs in various colours are formed on the fabric either by the warp threads or the weft threads or by both. The threads forming the design are tied and dyed separately to bring in the desired colour and the simple interlacement of the threads produces the most intricate designs that appear only in the finished weaving.

The northeastern state of Assam is the home of Eri and Muga silk. Muga is durable and its natural tones of golden yellow and rare sheen become more lustrous with every wash.

All such handicraft and handloom products hold the key for sustaining the existing set of millions of artisans across India. The aesthetic value and uncontaminated form of these products also make them extremely popular among foreign buyers. Handicrafts from the country are exported across geographies, with the top destinations being the US, the UK, the UAE, Germany, France, Latin American Countries, Italy, Netherlands and Canada. During 2018-19, India exported handicrafts worth $3.8 billion and handlooms worth $344 billion.

The sector faces the challenges of being unorganized and having poor exposure to new technologies and market intelligence. But the Indian government recognizes these hurdles and is working towards strengthening infrastructure support for this sector in order to make the handicrafts and handloom industry grow internationally.  

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