Himadri-Hans-Handloom started as a small weaving project among the women of Kumaon hills in Uttarakhand that eventually an apt impetus from The Hans Foundation. The initiative has forged a way for the local art and craft to flourish. It gave the women of the community the chance to earn their livelihood with their favourite hobby-weaving.
Employment in the Hills
Equal employment opportunities for women has always been a matter of major national concern in India. And this concern is aggravated when we talk about the hills, especially the regions of Uttarakhand. Traditionally, women in the hilly areas are not allowed to work except for household chores. The routine household work of a woman in the hills begins at 4 am and ends at 11 pm which involves farming, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids, etc. At best, a few go for MNREGA work. This kind of set-up never allowed women to enjoy higher social status. They could not speak up for any social issue or voice their opinions, neither did they have any financial power in domestic matters.
Weaving as an alternative
So in 1998, a group of local women decided to come together and do something to break this vicious cycle. A local NGO trained them in spinning, carpet making and then weaving. Commanded by Munni Mehta and Munni Bisht from Balta village, the group started approaching other women, going door to door. It was difficult to convince families. They were worried that if the women of the housework half the day, how will the house run? Most of the families couldn’t imagine their daughters, wives and daughters-in-law going to work from 10 to 5.
However, over time, the NGO helped the revolutionary women to convince more women from more villages And with the combined effort, they were able to get them under one roof as a weaving centre. As the numbers were growing, rose a need for financial support. Uttarakhand Government supported the initiative. However, there were more requirements than just funding. The local NGO could not take it forward after a point of time so they approached The Hans Foundation (THF).
The Hans Foundation (THF) is a charitable organization, which has been working in 26 states across the country in the field of Livelihood, Disability, Education and Health. Later in December 2016, The Hans Foundation took complete responsibility for the weaving units and the women artisans.
The evolution of weaving: Himadri Hans Handloom
The Hans Foundation found support from the state government and collaborated with them to develop a 5-year plan with the Government of Uttarakhand to address and solve social issues of the state. The Hans Foundation and the Government of Uttarakhand came together with one vision of taking the weaving art of Uttarakhand to the world. This collaboration saw the transformation of the women artisans group into a newly branded entity named Himadri Hans Handloom. They trademarked the brand as ‘ Himadri Hans Handloom’. Under the Himadri Hans Handloom, they now plan to connect and empower 5000 existing women weavers of the state and create a unique identity of Uttarakhand for its handmade art and craft. The Foundation currently has 189 artisans, working at two centres in Almora, 95% of which are women.
Spinning a Transformation
Himadri Hans Handloom works on Wool and Natural Fibres. The raw material anchors the journey of a product. It is dispatched to the spinning unit, where the material is hand spun into a finer yarn. The yarn goes for natural dyeing or as per the requirement of a buyer. As per the designer’s instructions, the yarn goes to the warping drum according to the design and colour combinations.
The yarn then goes to the loom, and each weaver has a helper, both of them do the drafting and the weavers start hand-weaving the products. The production manager supervises the overall process. From the loom, the product goes for a Quality check. They conduct a final Quality Check after washing and ironing. The weavers then ship the product to buyers or send it to retail outlets. Himadri Hans Handloom currently has retail outlets in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, in Almora, Kasar Devi Road, Ranikhet, Mukteshwar and their products are also available in Kausani, Dehradun, Nainital, and New Delhi. They have recently launched an e-commerce website through which products can be purchased from any part of the world.
Himadri Hans Handloom wishes to cater to more European countries and other markets like Australia, Japan, USA. These countries are some of the biggest importers of handmade clothes from India. They are currently approaching designer brands, boutiques, designers who wish to work sustainably and ethically. With their new collection in hemp, nettle, silk, cotton and bamboo yarn they are trying to cover the home and office-furnishing category with natural fibres.
The Foundation has had a fair bit of struggles to reach the scale they are today. It was difficult to find the right market for handmade products from their weavers. The competition grew, especially from power looms and machines. But the Foundation stuck to its mission of empowering the women artisans, sustainably and ethically. The foundations applied and received well-known certifications like Handloom Mark, Craftmark and Fair Trad. It gives assurance to buyers of the authenticity of fabrics.