Bhagalpur is one of the oldest cities in Bihar and is home to skilled weavers who produce silk fabric. The city is the second biggest producer of silk fabric in India and by some estimates, 100 million metres of fabric in silk, linen and cotton is woven annually on power looms and handlooms, which are tottering on the brink of extinction. The silk industry in the city is at least 200 years old and the city is also known as ‘Silk City’. Once considered one of the biggest trade centres of eastern India, the city is famous worldwide for its distinctive type of Tussar Silk, a coarse variety of silk fabric that is also exported to other countries. The region has an old and fragile silk ecosystem but it still produces one of the finest silk products. The city was well known for its sericulture, manufacture of silk yarn and weaving them into attractive products but the locally spun silk mill shut down in the 1980s and now the market is flooded with yarn imported, sometimes even illegally, from China and South Korea.
Bhagalpur silk fabrics are under the spotlight with them being showcased in fashion shows in India and abroad; but, behind the sheen, there is a dark side that leaves the craftsmen vulnerable. Stiff competition from new manufacturing centres, lack of credit and power shortage make future of the craftsmen uncertain. With poor infrastructure, modern-day Bhagalpur is a poor shadow of the town in the past but remains an important commercial centre. While the craftsmen make glorious fabrics, their lives are often in darkness. Despite some help, irregular and often rife with tokenism, the conditions remain harsh and over the years silk professionals have faced several challenges on account of poverty resulting from commercial and social issues. However, the business has seen an upturn in the recent years with the demand for handmade fabrics on the rise in western countries.
Project Gamchha tries to address the adverse conditions faced by the city’s silk industry and its craftsmen. It has founded a business with a clear social footprint. It provides a team of local weavers with a modern and comfortable workplace in our facility; an opportunity to collaborate with designers and artists to imbue the craft with current fashion; and a promise of co-ownership to ensure equity of effort and profit for all involved in the venture. Their in-house production facility is set up in a disused factory building in Bhagalpur. Space – about 4000 square feet – is an old industrial structure built in the 1960s on a quarter of an acre ground. The factory space has now been revitalised by upcycling old junk and new material. The team has incorporated design elements that reflect the ethnicity of rural craftsmen while enriching it with the current trends in fashion, marketing and retailing. The new spacious facility enhances the working conditions for the craftsmen. The project will catalyze the revival of the businesses for the weavers who are on the edge of poverty.
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