Conference Overview

We propose to conduct a workshop on knowledge in handloom weaving in India, to be conducted in Chirala, one of India’s largest weaving-focused towns. We will invite scholars, artisans, and other professionals involved in textile industry in order to better understand and promote futures and livelihoods in handloom weaving.

— Handloom Industry Background

  • The handloom industry in India provides livelihoods for 4.3 million families, making it the second largest employer sector in the country after Agriculture.
  • The industry has the potential to create over one million jobs with the lowest per capita investment for creation of such jobs, through building on existing skills and social capital.

The handloom industry employs thousands of people across the state. However, due to certain perceptions regarding handloom cloth, and the necessity of competing with powerloomed imitations, growth in the sector is severely hindered. For example, powerloom designers can easily copy popular handloom designs and produce them in a cheaper fashion, as designs are not protected by copyright, eating into the demand for handloom cloth.

In order to improve the situation of handloom weavers, it is crucial to improve market and production infrastructure, capacitate weavers and designers to innovate deep craft skills, and provide access to credit and financial support. Designs have to be protected under the intellectual property regime. The system of production can be re-engineered such that the creativity of the weaver can co-exist with the demands of production to the designers taste. Handloom currently services many growing market niches; luxury, ethnic, semi-urban markets for sarees as well as green markets for sustainable goods.

Workshop Agenda

Following the notion of ‘anchoring innovation’ in the context of handloom weaving and crafts, the conference/workshop will have three components -

  • Exhibition of looms: We intend to exhibit looms and weaving techniques from various regions across the nation. Volunteers from the RCJS will travel across India in order to mobilise weavers and build awareness. This part of the workshop will be open to the public, so that civil society is also involved in understanding the value of weaving techniques.
  • Technical Sharing sessions: : Sessions in which weavers interact with each other and with scholars and designers to discuss the operation of the loom, the variety of techniques used across India, and the policies and economic factors that affect handloom craft. Activists will prepare histories of weaving techniques, changed understanding by practitioners and society at large and engage with local weavers to discuss innovation in the sector. It is expected that there will be wide participation by local weavers and government institutions in this component.

Workshop Goals

Weaving Knowledge is the focus of the workshop.

  • The workshop aims to focus on knowledge of weavers
  • It will also focus on appropriation as well as sharing, of standardisation as well as innovation - of technologies, designs, motifs and repertoires, not just of weavers but also the entire socio-technical ensemble of weaving
  • The spinners, dyers, sizers, warpers, embroiderers, tailors etc who make up the production side of the ensemble have an equal role to play if the industry has to meet the demand that the growing urban markets provide.

More than 10,000 weavers currently work in Chirala. Some of them along with about 400 weavers from different parts of the country at a national level will be mobilised to share techniques and expertise.

Scholars of artisan knowledge from Columbia, Leiden, Berlin and Cambridge Universities will attend, to exchange and share information with weavers and craftspeople about their science and histories, as well as build a theory of innovation for embodied knowledge.

Global experts and organisations, from countries across Asia, who can facilitate the process of access to training, will participate in the workshop.


The workshop is based on three insights arrived at in the earlier workshop on craft and innovation in 2016, with respect to the concept of innovation in craft:

  • Firstly, one outcome would be to create a common understanding of how robust innovative handloom weaving is rather than the gloom and doom that is generally reported during moments of crises.
  • Secondly, outcomes would also be to identify and discuss particularly relevant issues that the industry faces; for example, the appropriation of handloom designs by power loom agencies as well as by designers, since the designs are seen as common cultural property, the ownership of which by the weavers is not protected by law.
  • Thirdly, an understanding of transmission of knowledge from the weavers’ point of view, given the hereditary nature of the occupation. What kind of educational institutions does the industry need and what infrastructure in order to fulfil its potential in the growing market for handloom products?
  • A framing of innovation as requiring knowledge anchored in the body creates value for craft practices otherwise seen only as labour, skills or techniques;
  • A framing of innovation as being anchored in tradition allows for a new history of Industrialisation for India that values craft livelihoods. With careful building of the sector, more than 100,000 weaver jobs directly or indirectly, which have been lost due to flawed priorities and policies can easily be revived within 3-5 years, adding at least Rs.1000 crores to the GDP apart from providing permanent livelihoods.
  • Theoretically, framing of innovation that implicates moral labour; that innovation should be responsible to the environment and to society, as well as support livelihoods, would benefit society at large, both in India and the West.