Handloom products have been an integral part of our culture and have developed a host of patrons, from political figures to public personalities. However, the demand for such goods has been gradually ebbing with time. “If I keep thinking that I can survive in the market by selling one kind of product, I have seen that it does not work like that. I need to keep upgrading my products with time and only then survive in the market,” Shamu ji, a traditional weaver, explained.
Hailing from a community of handloom weavers who have been practising the craft for nearly 90 years, Shamu ji took to the loom like the rest of his family, developing skills and in-depth knowledge of the trade. It was while he was marketing handloom products in his hometown, in Sahaspur district, Uttar Pradesh, that Shamu ji realised he would have to sell his goods in urban areas to make a profit. He then moved to Delhi in search of better opportunities and established his practice here, 12 years ago.
“After selling my products in Delhi, I realised that I was making good profits for my business,” he said.
Then came the power looms. Demand trickled to a minimum and his sales began to fall drastically. Except for a handful of intergenerational consumers, most new customers began turning to cheaper, machine-made commodities. Shamu ji said it was because the quality of machine-made goods is better than handloom ones, especially in terms of standardisation.
However, Shamu ji was not one to accept the situation without making any effort. He began thinking of novel ways to keep the craft alive in the city. Through interactions with the new generation of consumers, he quickly gauged the need to reinvent and produce customised products. In the process, he developed a catalogue, tailored to meet the contemporary tastes of his customers, as well as a collection of handloom products to cater to modern needs. Always keen to explore new patterns in handloom weaving, Shamu ji did not hesitate to try designs brought to him by his customers either. Very soon, he saw a renewed interest in handloom developing among his audience.
“The key to success is not just the skill but also the relations you build with your customers”, he said. By utilising his traditional skill sets but tweaking his products to adapt to current times, Shamu ji has managed to establish his craft and name in the city.