Sally Holkar’s work with Women Weave has supported hundreds of women weavers and provided them with cutting edge training to rekindle Traditional Handloom weaving.
The moment you lay your eyes upon Sally Holkar, her wandering gaze and a warm smile firmly establish her grace. Although, a “foreigner” if looking from a crude perspective, Sally Holkar is what you call the representative of the ageless Indian Heritage. She’s isn’t just another foreigner in awe of the beauty of Indian handloom. Instead, Ms. Holkar has happily dedicated her entire life to it.
Recognizing her love for Indian handloom Sally Holkar co-founded the Rehwa Society in 1978 but discontinued it after some time. But the persistent woman that she is, she started is a charitable trust, Women Weave in 2003 which promises “exquisite product, women empowerment, poverty alleviation, and sustainability.”
Women Weave today empowers hundreds of women weavers and plays a pivotal role in preserving the quintessential Indian style of weaving cloth. There are various projects under Women Weave, including The Handloom School which provides non-traditional education for students who have traditional weaving skills but no access to conventional academic education. Sally aims to provide cutting edge training to students of her school so that they sustain the art of handloom weaving and rekindle the dying Indian tradition.
Sally Holkar graduated in political science from Stanford University before moving to India from the US in 1966 after she married Richard Holkar, the son of the erstwhile Holkar Maharaja of Indore.
Sally began small by supporting women weavers when she discovered how Maheshwar weaves were dying. And this led to the inception of her first organization “REHWA”. Member of the Royal family had taken a big step and the onus lied upon her to not just revive an entire industry which was moving closer to its death but also be the game change and the difference-maker. Weaving back then was a men’s work and she very successfully brought about a paradigm shift in the roles without revolting.
Having said this it is also extremely important to note that these women she worked with knew nothing about weaving and the real challenge was in training them and keeping them motivated about it. It’s extremely sad to see, as Holkar tells us, that the women she works with are all such talented and hardworking individuals but also illiterate and prey to child marriage and domestic abuse. Weave women have kept the fuel lighting in so many houses and are weaving the dreams of all these mothers who only wish to give their kids a better life and the best opportunities. As the co-founder of Rehwa Society in 1978 and then Women Weave in 2003, Sally has brought smiles to hundreds of women in the marginalized sections of Maheshwar, to begin with, and other parts of the country through partner NGOs.
Sally Holkar also successfully runs The Handloom School, where young people are taught about the intricacies of the handloom industry.
Fashion Industry changes so rapidly that it becomes very difficult to crack a successful pattern for success and keep on doing for the rest of your life. Change is the only thing that keeps it going. The handloom industry is anyway such a niche market, so it becomes all the more important to be innovative as it could be all about prints today and the next thing you know is the fad now is woven stuff. Therefore the focus of the organization is to teach women to be good leaders rather than being good weavers, as it takes so much more than just manufacturing to manage a label.
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To further augment the cause of creating a community of weavers and providing craft skills training and organizational and design assistance, Women Weave is collaborating with The YES Global Institute. The main objective of the collaboration is to financially support the weavers while keeping the spirits of traditional art alive. Commenting on the same Sally Holkar founder of Women Weaver said that, “It’s a pleasure to get such support from Yes Global Institute. This will help the weaver women to create a quality product that it’s always in demand”.
The initiative is an attempt to showcase the skills of these weavers, revitalizing lost techniques to introduce ultra-fine Khadi fabric with exquisite motifs back into the market. Through this initiative, Yes Global Institute resolved to support the campaign via Matching Donations.
70 years ago, Handloom was a symbol of freedom for millions and an example of resistance against The British Rule. Today, Sally Holkar is using Handloom as a symbol of resistance against social stigmas and turning it into a conduit to save thousands from the clutches of poverty and inequality.