Sambalpuri Ikat is a revered textile craft celebrated across the globe. In India, it is said that this craft migrated to Western Odisha when the the Bhulia community came from Northern india and settled in Odisha, after the fall of Chouhan Empire at the hands of Mughals in 1192 AD. Since then, the Odisha weavers have been spinning their magic wand and creating enchanting weaves that are today globally celebrated. The age-old textile craft Sambalpuri Ikat/ Tie & Dye (locally known as “Baandha”) tags along a tedious process, where yarn clusters are dyed repeatedly in distinct hues and then woven into stunning fabrics, sarees, dupattas, and more.
Despite the masterwork, finesse, and popularity of this age-old handloom sector of West Odisha, it has been going through multiple ups and downs. The state government has taken many initiatives for the development of MSME (micro, small and medium enterprises). However, the MSME sectors in general and the handloom sector, in particular, have been suffering from basic difficulties such as having access to appropriate infrastructural facilities, credit linkages, and marketing facilities. The weakening position of the handloom sector in the wake of global competition of the textile industry has posed a serious threat to the socio-economic life of the traditional weaver communities.
In a constant endeavor to preserve and promote the heritage of Sambalpur, IIM Sambalpur conducted a study project in the Bargarh District of Odisha to understand the need of the Sambalpuri Handloom weavers’ community, challenges faced, and interventions required for the development of the community. The project was sponsored by Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd., Burla.
The primary data was collected using a questionnaire survey conducted with five prominent weavers’ clusters viz. Barpali, Bheden, Bijepur, Bhatli, and Padampur. 15 weavers from each cluster were interviewed to assess their socio-economic condition, level of awareness, technological awareness, credit linkage, value chain, and major challenges faced by the weavers. 2 Focus Group Discussions were also held with about 15 master weavers in each FGD from Barpali and nearby villages and Kapabari (Jhiliminda). These two clusters have the maximum number of national and state awardees.
In-depth interviews were conducted with key informants viz. Additional Director Textiles (ADT), Officials from NHDC, EDII (Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India), master weavers, retailers, and wholesalers at Sambalpur and online retailers (Ms. Ipsita Dash & Ms. Kshipra Mohanty). E-marketing platforms for handloom products as GoCoop was also interviewed to understand the business strategy and platforms of bigger players as Amazon and Flipkart.
During our conversation with the weavers, we came across the uniqueness of this rich textile craft. The work done on the handloom is very intricate and involves a 3-step process – Bandha (tie), Ranga (dye), and Bunakari (weaving). All 3 processes were to be done by one person several years back, but in current times different communities of people do these activities. Tie & Dye by master weavers and weaving by weavers. The design and effort involved decide the pricing of the products. All weavers are not equally skilled and cannot produce the same quality and design of the cloth. Power loom can achieve repetitive designs with a lesser cost, but it is difficult to identify the difference by end customers. Also, Bandha is purely manual work, cannot be achieved on a power loom.
Some important findings are as below:
· SBI is the bank where most weavers operate their accounts
· 30% of the weavers approach the trader for funds, they are the source of funds for the majority
· 65% of the weavers don’t know where their products are finally sold
· 30% of weavers have tried to sell their product directly to end customer
· Only 10% of the products are sold directly to the customers
· Only 10% have had designers connect to them directly
· Majority of the selling is to traders. The remaining is at Local Haat, Balijori Haat
· Tie & Dye is the most common training that weavers aspire
· Only 15% use FB, WhatsApp, and YouTube
· Assistance expected from the government in terms of - price increase of weaving & training, loom, financial help, raw material, housing, wages, livelihood, advance payment, providing raw material, MSP for sarees
· 91% of weavers work with cotton fabric
· Insurance cover if any is from LIC
· Source of income for weavers is purely from weaving, minimum of Rs 1000 to a max of Rs 35000
· On an average, 1 loom produces 8 sarees per month, most weavers have 1 loom
· 50% of the weavers know where the product finally goes
· 35% of weavers only try to know where their products are sold
· 30% try to sell at Balijori market as it’s Asia’s biggest Haat for Handloom
The major gaps in the entire ecosystem were - information asymmetry in the process. Weavers are unaware of the value chain; of various government schemes; subsidies, and other benefits. Raising awareness amongst weavers is the foremost concern.
There is no formal system of operation. Independent master weavers, agents, local traders form an informal parallel system. They consider this more convenient as agents pick up the products from their doorstep. With decent profit margins, master weavers sell the products to agents, who further sell to societies as Boyanika and Sambalpuri Bastralaya.
Some master weavers are of the view that if societies buy directly from them, the price of products will not be exceedingly high, and it will be beneficial both for weavers as well as consumers.
The entire process of weaving and marketing of Sambalpuri Handloom is unregulated. A little regulation from the government can be beneficial for all stakeholders. There is an ardent need to build trust between the weavers, master weavers, and the government. The need of the hour is to brand and promote Sambalpuri Handloom and look for export options. There exists a niche market for handloom products, we just need to tap it.
Moreover, consumer awareness on handloom and recognition of handloom weavers will raise their morale. Promotion of Sambalpuri handloom may also inspire younger generation of the community to learn the art and craft. An integrated approach and convergence and collaboration from various departments and public bodies will be an effective solution.
Based on the research results and the state of the cooperative societies, IIM Sambalpur is creating a white paper to make a weaver producer company so that weavers get a fair price for their efforts and also get better infrastructural facilities and access to digital technology and global market.