“The warp and weft come together to weave more than just fabrics; On a loom in a weaver’s home, Dreams are woven from threads of hope. The constant rattle of the shafts serve as the theme music; The weaver becomes the Maestro and the work, their legacy.”
DigiKargha, a social entrepreneurship and handloom empowerment initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) under its Digital Cluster Development Programme, spearheaded this legacy through an exclusive showcase at the Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai last month.
New Year 2018 started off on a great note for us with DEF getting an invitation to participate in one of the biggest fashion events of the country, the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). The core vision and mission of LFW lies in redefining the future of fashion and integrate India into the global fashion world. But it’s more than just a fashion event. Lately ‘Sustainability’ has become the buzzword in Indian Fashion and no doubt was also the major talking at LFW. Echoing the need of the hour to highlight responsible fashion, the second day of LFW was celebrated as Sustainable Fashion Day, dedicated entirely to the cause of conscious and ethical practices in the industry as a whole.
On the same day, ‘Action Northeast’, was launched, an initiative in collaboration with the United Nations India that aims to boost sustainable fashion economy of the Northeast India region. The event saw some noted guest speakers and featured six designers from the area, who have been doing their bit in drawing on the untapped potential of rich traditional textiles in the area by working closely with various artisan communities.
They spoke about the socio-economic and operational challenges faced by the communities on a daily basis and also gave us an enlightening look at their creative outputs. The event showcased the work of these designers on the runway which received warm and enthusiastic applause from everyone alike. It was clear that the cause was recognized as a noble and admirable one. The UN further extended their support to expand the fashion supply chain.
The day also featured other guest speakers, known for their transformational work in sustainability. An informative and interesting dialogue ensued, led by Yuri Afanasiev, Resident Coordinator, United Nations in India and plenty of insights and inputs were exchanged and discussed. Osama Manzar, founder DEF, spoke about digitization at the grassroots in order to empower the original designers and artists; or ‘creators’ as he chooses to call them, rather than ‘weavers’ or ‘workers’. He dismissed the distinction between urban designers and the community artisans in rural areas, arguing that big names we see stamped on product tags are mere enablers who intervene and tweak the age-old designs and art of the rural artisans, who themselves have dipped into their own vast cultural history to create visually alluring works that last for the ages. These artisans equally deserve to be called ‘designers’.
DigiKargha was one of the nearly 100 labels invited by LFW this year to showcase their creations. It provided a wonderful platform for our artists to exhibit their textile work, instilling in them a new-found confidence and hope to move forward with continuing dedication and commitment. DEF’s work was much appreciated for its all-round support of weavers and its unique move of connecting to communities and artisans digitally, across nine handloom clusters of the country – a figure they expect to grow in the near future. People were enthralled by the range of colours that our fabrics and designs were available in. Some handloom enthusiasts were especially impressed by the quality of cotton fabric that made its way to Mumbai all the way from our little cluster in Barabanki, a district that lies at the heart of the Awadh region of the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The fabric was instantly noted for its skin-friendly and soft-to-the-touch texture. Apart from our product range, the décor and setup of our exhibition got quite a lot of attention and appreciation as well, because of the welcoming and warm vibe it enveloped.
DigiKargha, an initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation aims to support its clusters under the Digital Cluster Development Programme (DCDP) in an effort to lead them towards maturity and sustainability through digital empowerment and socio-economic sustainability. Implemented with support through various partnership, projects under DigiKargha primarily involve inclusive and decentralised use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and other digital tools in critical aspects of cluster development, especially improving and scaling up weaving skills, designs, marketing and entrepreneurship, along with creating sustainable livelihood options for youth in the clusters. The development focus of the model allows the integration of both the social and economic capital needs of targeted artisan communities in an effort to lead them towards inclusive growth. Projects under DigiKargha work with support from Media Lab Asia for Chanderiyaan, Ericsson for Baank-e-Loom, Mphasis for Musiri, Nokia for KanchiLoom, UNDP for Warli, and Microsoft for DigiKala, Kaulava and Pochampally.