Chendamangalam is a small village in Ernakulam (Cochin) district. Chendamangalam is famous throughout the world for one thing, the centuries long heritage of handloom industry. The panchayat was formed in 1914. Bordered by rivers on the north, east and south, it is a meeting place of cultural diversity. Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus lived here harmoniously.
History of GI Certified Chendamangalam Handlooms:
It all started hundreds of years before in ‘Paliam Palace’. The Chendamangalam handloom industry was a symbol of pride for ‘Paliyath achan family’. The family who represented the prime minister position for years under the king of kochi. Earlier days handloom cloth brought from Tamil naduwas used in paliyam palace.Meanwhile a trader from Chaliyan lineage brought an extremely fine fabric of very high quality to the Palace and presented it to ‘Paliyath achan’. Being very satisfied with the quality of the fabric, asked that chaliyan to start producing the same fabric in Chendamangalam. Thus handloom industry was started in ‘Chendamangalam’ for the first time. Earlier handloom products were only used by people belonging to upper caste. But as time progressed it became available to people of all caste and creed. Years passed by and the handloom industry quickly grew. Particularly in ‘Chendamangalam’ which to provide employment to thousand of workers.
Quality of Chendamangalam Handlooms:
When we talk about the quality of Chendamangalam handloom, the workers dedicate his mind and soul to the equipment and work such that there is a harmony between his physical body and his mind. This ensures the high quality of Chendamangalam handloom. The cotton muslin dhotis wove were so fine that it was said they could pass through a ring. The respect ‘Chendamangalam’ receives steer, is due to the above mentioned sincerity of the past workers. Though, at present all the handloom apparels manufacturers have moved to machines, still Chendamangalam follows the traditional hand-woven mechanism and so they are still famous for its versatile hand-woven cotton textiles globally. Chendamangalam weavers still use only organic dyes and they don’t use any artificial coloring. So the color will remain fresh even after many washes for years.
Present weaving process:
Chendamangalam textiles are woven on frame looms. The beginning process is co-operative society will provide thread for the manufacturers. The given thread will be white color and any color can be given to it by using additional color on the white thread.After dipping the required color it is given to the weavers. They will process it up to 5 days and wind it into rolls of required color. Also they dry it meanwhile stretching it. Occasionally it is beaten with a wooden rod to make layers evenly placed and to make individual layers close. Once all the layers are close, they apply all purpose flour ( maida ) paste with the adequate amount of water added it in a fixed ratio. Again all threads are dried. After dried a certain kind of oil is applied on the thread to make it smooth. Now the thread is taken to the loom.
Weavers were not happy with earnings:
It is not like olden times now, many workers are moving out from ‘Chendamangalam’ handloom due to the reason of low wages paid. So they are not able to survive. Also there are a lot of duplicate fabric being sold in Chendamangalam name after importing it cheaply from other countries. Hence there are lesser customers for products these days. There was even a time when they had to end this. It was during this time, that the Kerala government came up with the school uniform scheme.Many workers thought that this venture will ensure their constant minimum wages and thus came back to this profession and it showed a similar trends of more people coming back.
How flood in 2018 affected the weavers and looms:
In 2018, due to heavy monsoon Kerala paralyzed in floods. Periyar river overflows at alarming level and 69 people dead. Many places are isolated.Flood steals many hopes. We missed the ‘Chendamangalam’ handloom that year of Onam. Floods have devastated the ‘Chendamangalam’ handloom industry.Fabric worth 20+ lakhs are damaged. All dreams and hopes of the Chendamangalam handloom industry were shattered by the floods.Huge financial loses happened. Weavers were in deep trouble and were helpless.They did not know how to face future.After the flood happened weavers found that looms were all destroyed and damaged.There was mud and debris everywhere. There was water in everywhere up to 6-7 feet. All of the weavers lost home and suffered several financial losses. They lost job, loom and everything. It was deeply saddening and they left the homes and got shelter in public schools. All of them have not received much financial help also from anyone. But later many celebrities, NGOs & volunteers came forward and helped them to reinstall the looms and help many financially.
First the Delhi-based Pernod Ricard India Charitable Foundation has come forward to help weavers by providing funds to repair all the damaged looms. The Foundation provided Rs. 30,000 each to 54 weavers in three phases. The funds are being provided through Kochi-based NGO Gopalji Foundation. President of Gopalji Foundation, D. Chandrasenan handed over assistance to weavers in three phases. Funds are being provided to 54 weavers of the Society number – 3428, most of them women.
The handloom weavers have also contributed relief materials to those affected in the rains in Wayanad. The Chendamangalam 3428 society, under president Baby, collected garments and through the NGO, Gopalji Foundation, transported them to north Kerala.
The Savior “CHEKUTTY”:
All weavers thought they’re doomed and there won’t be any one to help them out of this mess. But, she came to them as a Savior, “CHEKUTTY”. Chekutty is the kid of ‘Chendamangalam’ who overcomes the flood. A beautiful doll.
Chendamangalam, the weavers village was under water of up to 8 feet during flooded season in august for 4 days. Approximately 21 lakhs cost of cloths and 7 lakhs of material were stored for the sales of Kerala’s famous festival, Onam. All of them were damaged because of mud and water.Rotted smell and all of these were closed with in the building. First, all of those stock were taken out. It was a huge task. So many came during this season to watch flooded area. That was a kind of tragic tourism. Many delegates came from ADB, head representative from UNESCO, doctors from UN and many others.
Among these visitors, two of them were Mr Gopinath Parayil & Lekshmi Menon. They asked Mr. Ajith Kumar, who was the secretary of handloom sector to give them two piece of cloths and they said that they would come back.
They cleaned the cloths properly and decided to make something different from the waste cloths to overcome their financial problems. they planned to make a doll from this material with the help of the weavers. Usually the Chendamangalam sarees cost above 1300+ Rs. From the rotten saree they could make 360 ‘Chekkuttees’ for Rs. 25 each. So they thought they could make Rs. 9000+ from one saree and they could earn Rs 18 lakhs from 200 sarees alone. They organized NGO groups, students, women and 100s of volunteers to join the with them. After they made Chekutties dolls on the third day, the Chief minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan‘s post came on Facebook appreciating their hard work. The chief minister also mentioned that this doll (Chekutty) is a symbol of survival of Kerala. They earned 33 lakhs of rupees from the wasted cloths. The damage was below 25 lakhs only. So it was profitable.
Post 2018 & 2019 Floods:
The God never allow to defeat them. The weavers were also not ready to fail. They all started fighting again. ‘ Chekutty’ gave them an energy or impulse to stand and fight to overcome the floods. Handloom industry despite the flood was making a coming back. But it was not a consistent thing.
Last Onam, it was ecstatic. After the recurrent floods, Onam 2019 was a season of resurgence for handloom weavers in the district. The sector soared to popularity and earned good revenue and such a spike in sales was unheard of in 40 years. Last Onam was symbolic of hope for the handloom industry in Chendamangalam.
Current corona virus-induced lock down updates:
The corona virus-induced lock-down and a dull Vishu in 2020 turned the wheels of time and a pall of gloom has fallen over the weaving sector again now.
Onam and Vishu are decisive festivals for the industry. While 60 per cent of the handloom stock is sold during Onam, the remaining 40 per cent sells during Vishu. The latter’s sales provide for procuring the raw materials required for the upcoming Onam and salary for the weavers. However, the lock-down has spelt doom to the livelihood of weavers. According to them, not a single piece of festive wear was sold this season. They had made several hundred festive outfits for the season. Not a single piece has been sold. These can’t be sold later owing to the crashing economy. The public may have just enough money to procure essentials. Weavers have been weaving looms at home but the raw materials are unavailable. There’s barely any money to buy medicines for weavers. The government had promised `1,000 from the Welfare Fund but they haven’t received the same. Currently, they are surviving on the free ration provided by the government.
The free uniform scheme in the state, which doubled income for weavers in the sector, hasn’t fed their stomachs this time either. Hantex usually collects all the completed uniforms, but a month’s worth uniforms lies uncollected in the godown.
While several sectors have been plagued due to the pandemic, the weaving industry is likely to be among the worst affected. They just got back on their feet only to fall again. I’m afraid that the sector is heading towards doom again after the rebirth of floods in 2018 & 2019. Keeping aside the availability of raw material, weavers are unable to repay their loans and interest. Around 60 per cent of them have availed the Mudra loans from nationalized banks. Simultaneously, as the weavers haven’t worked for the past 40 days, they have been unable to pay their part towards ESI (Employee State Insurance Scheme), thereby making them ineligible for free hospital treatment.
They had expected a huge sale for this year’s Vishu. Weavers began making clothes from October and completed the same by mid-March. By then, the lock-down was almost in place. This year, they had even received several orders from Gulf Malayalis. Special sarees and collections were made but they’re unsold too. They were just asked to provide cloth material for masks and a few weavers made the same using khadi as part of ‘Save the Loom’ organisation.
An attempt to be made by ‘DMZ International’ globally for Tables turned towards Chendamangalam:
DMZ International have plans in place and have decided to help this traditional weavers in all the ways we can during this bad times of pandemic. We are planning to take this 100+ year old tradition and the weavers to be noticed by all over India and global too with our SMM team.
What we can see is that they are not making use of any modern marketing techniques. They mainly wait for the rebate to do business or wait for festivals of Kerala like Vishu or Onam to sell and purchase the produce of a year which will not work in long run for this business. This is the common struggle faced by handloom sector in Kerala as well, not only Chendamangalam Handlooms. In today’s globalized economy, such a wait till Onam or Vishu is unnecessary. If we produce quality products, we can market it anywhere, anytime. In this way we can reorganize this business. Only then we can sustain this 100+ year old tradition of weaving.
Forward they move weaving those dreams with small help from our end to bring this business online through E- commerce Sites and market & sell the products all over India and abroad. Most importantly, though handloom products have limited usage within the new generation, there is a strong sense of patriotism with the product now as per the new developments in India. People relate handloom products as a brand “made in India” and feel proud to be associated with it. After the Government’s announcement to make ‘local companies global’ and to increase demand for locally manufactured goods, India’s digital industry is going to benefit from more Indian brands wanting to reach a wider audience. The most cost-effective way for local brands to reach a bigger audience and create demand for their products or services will be through digital marketing and selling on all popular E-Commerce websites.
Experts say brands would now want to talk proudly about their local nature and even communicate to people by carrying a ‘Make in India’ logo. India’s Prime Minister is now pushing this campaign and most brands would be very keen to join the wagon by having a ‘Local Theme’. According to some experts, the ‘Vocal for Local’ campaign will change how brands will use digital marketing to communicate and establish themselves in India and also go from local to global.
It is important for a local brand to find the right agency with whom they can partner with and we ( DMZ International )would like to take this responsibility and our goal of any campaign related to Chendamangalam Handlooms in digital marketing should be to foster relationships with the audience rather than just showing random posts. Responding to every single person that comment and interact are also very important. People want to know that someone is listening.
It is a known fact that India is amongst the largest consumer market in the world. We also know that it is a very complex and dynamic market. For local brands, it is crucial to understand this fact about India and market their products or services according to local preferences. The digital communication strategy should be very focused and tailored. ‘One strategy for all’ will fail here. Local brands will need to have some personality and at the same time be approachable. DMZ International is ready to take this as a challenge and present Chendamangalam products in front of the world and add value to the products and weavers.
Currently the Chendamangalam weavers are living in the memories of a prestigious past and the calamities of the presets. They dream of a forthcoming good for the handloom sector which was their life and livelihood. We are ready to help them with our full potential to achieve this dream and to protect this age-old craft!
DMZ International ( A division of Nishani Online Services )
Nishanth Muraleedharan ( Nishani )
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