The warp and weft of the loom has attracted nationally renowned textile designer (from Guwahati) Anannya Sharma since her childhood when she used to see her “grandmothers working on the loom and after the laborious process taking out a product which is so soft and organic”. Since then, weaving is like a meditative practice for this Assamese designer and she finds the whole process very rhythmic and for her the loom has a wonderful sonorous quality. The process and enthusiasm of creating a new product – taking it out of the loom and waiting to have it in her hands and share it with the weaver – is what inspires her to keep working hard on her craft – designing: Almost like an addiction.
Anannya, who has a diploma in textile designing from Nirmala Niketan, College of Home Science, Mumbai (in the year 1988), has been working with the weavers for the last 18 years. She is with them, almost constantly – learning about the process, the loom and its endless possibilities. So dear is her love for the loom, that once when she was passing through Panikhaiti (off Guwahati), she heard the sound of the loom in a village in Mayong block and “I immediately walked to the village and very soon I was imparting training to 30 women of the village.”
Says the pioneer fashion designer, who started her own brand Yarn Glory in the year 2004, “I fuse the weaving traditions of the various ethno-cultural communities of the Northeast. Moreover, I take my design ideas from the existing tribal communities of Assam – predominantly Rabha, Garo, Karbi and Mising – keeping the traditional motif alive but making certain changes around it to suit the taste and preferences of different consumers in the market.”
Anannya, who started her career with a designing studio in Mumbai in the year 1988, has come a long way since then. Today, she is empanelled as a designer under the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, and gives training in skill development and product diversification to the weavers. Presently, she is working under the Government of Meghalaya in a cluster near Garo Hills. She has also worked under various Government agencies like SIRD, NEDFi, KVIC, etc., on various projects in places like Gohpur and Sivasagar and in NE States like Sikkim, Nongpoh (Meghalaya) and Arunachal Pradesh.
The versatile designer states, “I get a fee from the Government of India to impart training to the weavers. Women form the mainstay of Assam’s (and also Northeast) weaving industry. In many cases, I spend money on my own and train the women.”
Yarn Glory’s business model involves capacity building of indigent women weavers to generate livelihood by imparting improved methods of weaving skills, adopting modified designs, unique colour schemes and creating a range of diversified products which are urban market-friendly. In the process, she seeks to promote women’s empowerment and financial independence for the weavers.
Her significant achievement is to introduce household furnishings in handloom like place rugs, runners, table mats, tea cosies and durries and these works of hers have strong influences of traditional or ethnic art imprinted on them.
Anannya further shares, “Since the commercial value of these products are more, the weavers get benefited. In my initial years, I realised that wherever there are young girls in the cluster villages, they are more open to the idea of accepting new concepts because of the diversified products.” But, she laments, “In today’s gadget-driven age, even young boys and girls in the villages find more meaning fiddling with their mobile phones rather than doing something more productive like weaving.”
However, she also makes it clear that fair trade and fair wage is the only “mantra” for the healthy growth of the weavers. “Weavers should not be exploited. Our motto should be – nobody is under anybody. This will lead to better output. Only then will they get encouraged to take in new ideas and new concepts and this will lead to the economic well-being of the weaving community. Skill development leads to higher productivity, enhanced income and sustainable employment.”
Presently, the designer is working on all kinds of yarn, predominantly eri – the ahimsa silk, cotton and acrylic. Anannya further remarks, “Though I give training to the women weavers from different ethnic and cultural communities of Assam as well as few States of Northeast (under various Government agencies), but this whole job is a social enterprise and I am just not benefiting myself. Under the schemes, I have to go the villages, impart training, and provide them market linkage thus generating livelihood opportunities. The money derived from training the weavers also helps to chip in the total funds necessary to keep Yarn Glory running.”
Anannya says that successive State Governments in Assam and the Northeast have given a lot of impetus on promoting the handloom sector by means of different schemes, yet, “many a times it is seen, the original enthusiasm in the time of launching the project gradually gets waned for lack of motivation. Through cooperation and self-actualisation, the weavers must also realise the fact that the Government sets up a weaving facility centre in every cluster, for which they must also be equally proactive.”
She feels that the weavers should have a sense of pride in creating a priceless heritage, and, “they should also be remunerated well by the designers as better income becomes a strong incentive for them to work. Young girls (school dropouts) should go in for weaving. There is a craze in the international market for handloom products, but only when the weavers can conceptualise and understand the worth of handloom, can we think of a bigger export market.”
Anannya is presently hand-holding women weavers in the villages around Guwahati on looms, fabric and designs. She buys the crafts from the weavers and displays it on her counter at Purbashree Emporium, Guwahati. The mother-of-two wraps up by saying, “Mentoring is the key for the growth of the handloom sector.”