In Telangana, artisans turn to mask-making to sustain craft, community

New Delhi, July 22 (IANSlife) For artisans from the Kalabharathi Handlooms craft cluster in Telangana, the Covid-19 crisis has proven to be more than a healthy emergency, with prolonged lockdowns putting most of the artisans out of work. “Stocks have accumulated and we are facing a severe cash crunch,” they lament.

The craft cluster is located in Koyyalagudem, started in 1990 and registered as a handloom brand with the Government of India. The cluster functions by collecting orders from fashion houses and organizations and giving these to the 50-60 artisans, who have workshops within their homes. Whole families, with both early learning and experienced members aged between 20-65 years, are part of the weaving process, making the impact of lockdown closures even more pronounced.

It works in the Pochampally ikat style, a textile made in Bhoodan Pochampally, Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district, Telangana State. They have traditional geometric patterns in the Ikat style of dyeing. The intricate geometric designs find their way into sarees and dress materials.

The weaving survives in a few villages like Pochampally, Koyalgudam, Choutuppal, Siripuram, Bhuvanagiri, Puttapaka and Gattuppala and few villages around them mostly in Nalgonda district. Pochampally Ikat’s uniqueness lies in the transfer of intricate design and colouring onto warp and weft threads first and then weave them together, globally known as double ikat textiles. The fabric is cotton, silk and sico — a mix of silk and cotton. Increasingly, the colours themselves are from natural sources and their blends.

According to Kalabharathi Handlooms, the overall business has suffered a loss of 60 per cent during the course of the pandemic, so far. “In the first two months of Covid, they had no orders to work on. Due to lack of orders, most artisans end up taking loans from banks and their relatives. In the past, there have been many instances of suicides due to inability to pay back loans. They don’t have options of other career paths since this craft has been the sole means of earning for their family, for generations, and they aren’t used to unskilled physical labour,” they told IANSlife.

Enamor has sourced more than 200 meters of Ikat fabric from this crafts cluster to manufacture and launch unique masks. The brand said it will also redirect the profits from the sale of the masks back to the cluster to support education, and medical services for the girl child. The resulting Ikat fabric masks incorporate two layers of cloth with a filter layer sandwiched in between.

“With this initiative we hope to raise awareness and involve consumers in supporting heritage crafts and the weavers. Buying the Ikat masks from Enamor gives our customers a chance to contribute in a small way to this community”, said Enamor. These masks are available in packs of two and are priced at Rs 399.

Ashok Badugu, Proprietor, Kalabharathi Handlooms shares that collaboration with Enamor helped the cluster pay off their loans and sustain, depending on the orders received.

“This project has helped us firstly, to clear stock of existing fabric yardage. Also, the excess requirement led to the production of new yardage which in turn benefited the artisans by providing them with employment. The order led to the employment of 15 artisans for a period of 1 month each. This initiative helped the artisans during a tough time to create a source of income to manage their livelihood, and we look forward to more orders.”

(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at