Thousands of looms in Varanasi have become silent in the last decade. Cheap, bad quality imitations have flooded the market and left weavers and traders in despair. Eighty-five percent of the weavers have wandered away to pursue other livelihood options. India's largest hand-weaving guild is threatenedThe Crisis
Thousands of looms in Varanasi have become silent in the last decade. Cheap, bad quality imitations have flooded the market and left weavers and traders in despair. Eighty-five percent of the weavers have wandered away to pursue other livelihood options. India's largest hand-weaving guild is threatened
Bestseller Fund and Upasana came together to improve the situation. 13,000 silk scarves were created as a New Year gift in 2006, and a social project was started to help the weaving community. Weavers are mainly men, so a women empowerment programme was initiated in the same villages - 160 ladies have been given a new livelihood option, making hand embroidered buttons. Varanasi Weavers Foundation was registered in Varanasi, and a brand for Varanasi silk was launched to promote the best of Varanasi on the market. New weavers are regularly being incorporated into the project. Upasana and Bestseller Fund have not looked back since then. Now, the Varanasi Weavers brand is completely self-sustaining. www.varanasiweavers.org
Creating excellent textiles and protecting the heritage of the oldest living city in the world - it is time to present responsible fashion and rediscover pride in our collective heritage.
• Thousands of DVDs about the Varanasi Weavers story have been shared worldwide.
• Their story has been presented at international forums, including the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris in 2008.
• The Varanasi Weavers project has been featured in UNESCO India magazine as an example of the “power of creativity for sustainable development,” depicting Varanasi Weavers as a promising project, while gaining international recognition of the weavers of Benaras.
• A travelling textile-and-photo exhibition was set up which is being displayed in cities throughout India. Our first exhibition was held in Pondicherry’s Maison Colombanie in February 2011.
• Traditional silks are now commercially viable. Products maintain colour-fastness, are lightweight and machine-washable.
• Forgotten hand-weaving techniques have also been restored to protect the lost craft of Varanasi.
• Today we are in the process of creating a private limited company in Carabao which will work as a social company in Varanasi.
• Project leaders have taken members of the weaving community on exposure visits outside Varanasi to acquaint them with different markets.
• Solar lamps have been put up by the looms to allow more flexible work hours, and pumps have been installed to bring in fresh water.
• A health camp was held to bring awareness on hygiene.
Upasana’s design team decided to train the women to make hand embroidered Zardosi buttons—a lost art form once treasured by royalty.
• Hundreds of women from several villages have received livelihood training and maintain a steady income with orders.
• They have been organised into Self Help Groups (SHGs) that meet on a monthly basis.
• Some have received training to learn how to weave—a skill traditionally only performed by men.
Their excitement and newfound confidence show us that we are together on the journey to empowerment.