A silk handloom center is about to lose its identity

At the Panneerselvam handloom just outside the city limits of Kanchipuram, saree weaving doesn’t exactly happen at a rapid pace. Two years ago, her loom was turning about 15 saris a month.

Today, his weavers are lucky if they receive orders for five. However, this is not the only problem. Supplies – raw silk, in this case – have been hard to come by.

“Traders tell us: either we are selling sarees at the old rate or we are not interested,” says Panneerselvam, “they just won’t buy from us if we even go so far as to talk about revising the prices “.

He adds: “You can’t blame them. They also cannot raise retail prices as they will be questioned by customers in the event of a sudden price increase. »

Kanchipuram weaving and Kanjeevaram saree retail have found themselves in a dilemma over the past six months. A pronounced supply problem surrounding raw silk purchases has become butterflies for weavers and retailers.

This happened because India halved its raw silk imports from China, but failed to make up for this shortfall with equivalent domestic production, leaving weavers with rising costs in the middle. unsatisfactory sales.

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The cost of raw silk has risen from 2,500 rupees per kilogram in December to over 6,000 rupees today. Demand for Kanjeevaram sarees hasn’t exactly peaked in the post-lockdown period either and stores are in no rush to stock up as retailers prefer to exhaust the existing supply.

A snapshot survey of Kanchipuram retailers reveals that purchases have dropped by 75%.

“The work hasn’t been good for over a year, since the second wave of COVID,” says M Dorai, a hand weaver in the city, “It’s not just weaving but many other sectors who were affected. At one point, some of us didn’t have enough to eat.

His colleague, Devanathan, who works on the same loom, agrees. “I have a stack of unsold sarees,” he says, “We end up selling our finished products to retail stores only on demand. Until then, they end up lying here.

The situation has thrown an already struggling cottage industry into complete disarray. In Kamatchiamman Colony, a small, low-income residential area of ​​Kanchipuram, a relatively smaller loom is among the few still functioning in the area. Ironically, this area was reserved for small weavers to practice their trade.

P Sundaram, a weaver like his father and grandfather in the neighborhood, says his generation will be the last to wield the loom. The reason: extremely low wages that have not increased for 15 years.

“I miss 6,000 to 7,000 rupees on average every month compared to what I was earning before COVID,” he says, “This trade ends with my generation; no one is going to continue in the future, because there are better jobs available. My son won’t be a weaver because he won’t earn his living here.

Weavers say a temporary solution to their problems is possible if input costs are passed on to the customer. But in the once-buzzing showrooms that see little footsteps today, traders say they simply won’t raise prices.

“There is no way to raise prices,” says D Sampath, owner of DM Silks, “There is a perception in the market of the cost of a basic wedding saree, and that price is around 30,000 to 40,000 rupees. So it is impossible for customers to pay 60,000 rupees for this saree. At most, we can consider raising prices by 5%, but not more.”

That leaves weavers pinning their hopes on a Diwali boom for better orders. However, uncertainty prevails and with it thousands of livelihoods are at stake.

First post: STI


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