ZUVELU Lupu, 20, a resident of the Diezephe crafts village near Dimapur, Nagaland, on Tuesday, sat in a plane for the first time to come to Mumbai, where she is a part of a small group of artisans from three states who will sell handwoven stoles, dupattas, sarges, table-clothes and yardage at a two-day pop-up store.
In her first visit to Mumbai, Lupu met Thageshwari Das, 47, from Kamrup district in Assam, who almost cancelled her maiden trip to the city after her home was submerged in floodwaters. “My home is very close to the banks of the Brahmaputra, but water receded eventually, so it’s all back to normal,” says Das in broken Hindi.
She and Lupu, who belongs to the Chakesang tribe of Nagaland, can barely understand each other, but their stories have many commom threads. Both are part of a crafts initiative, called Antaran, by Tata Trusts, and are among at least 2,000 artisans who are receiving better technology, design inputs and access to wider markets for their work.
“Earlier, we didn’t follow any measurements for our stoles or shawls — we just did it by estimation. Since becoming part of the programme, we have learnt to follow precise measures,” says Lupu, who learnt weaving from her mother. Accompanying her from Nagaland is Lhusalu Nienu, also 20, from Nagaland’s Phek district.
The Naga girls will both sell stoles and shawls made from cotton yarn and wool. While acrylic yarn has entered Naga weaving practice, under Antaran, the effort is to bring back the region’s core strength of natural fibre and natural dyes, including the use of hand-ginned and hand-carded cotton in weaving.
Lupu and Nienu also use the loin loom or the backstop loom, a portable loom that Naga weavers have used traditionally. “While the maximum width of textiles woven on such a loom is only 21 inches, the tightness of the weave makes it ideal for home furnishings,” says Sharda Gautam of Tata Trusts, who is spearheading the crafts initiative. More intricate patterns are also easier to create on the smaller loom. With a marketing effort underway in Paris, Lupu and Nienu are also expecting to find a market among boutique buyers there for their furnishings.
For Das and Dipika Kakoti, also from Assam, among the changes brought in their work by Antaram is a shift from two-shaft looms to four-shaft ones, for greater design possibilities. They will sell sarees, including the traditional Mekhela Chador, stoles, dupattas and yardage. Also participating in the pop-up are ikat weavers from Maniabandh in Odisha. All of them will spend an additional two days in Mumbai visiting local stores and setting up links, understanding what can be sold in Mumbai and hopefully picking up orders.
In a five-year programme that started in 2018, Antaran hopes to set up 300 micro-enterprises in these three states and Andhra Pradesh, and has selected artisans with the potential for entrepreneurship or those who can be artisan designers in a cluster. They invest in their own raw material and weaving technology, while Tata Trusts invests in training, market access, marketing and development of new products. “We are careful not to dilute local sensibilities or overstep; our focus is to create a sustainable environment for these crafts,” says Gautam, of Tata Trusts.
The Antaran pop-up store will be located on the ground floor of Tower 1, World Trade Centre, Cuffe Parade, on July 24 and 25.