We have been to Begampur handloom society, West Bengal, thrice now. Each time our relationship with the cluster and its people grew stronger and each time we had a different kind of interaction. Our 1st visit was quite uneventful. Plain simple visit with introductions and stories of successes. I was so proud that we are working with a team who empowers its people.
The sarees clicked on our store. So we wanted to order more. Kundujee not being a tech-savvy and also business running alright did not show much interest in clicking pictures and sharing it with us. So only when we made another visit we could get some more Begampuri sarees. During this visit, the situation improved. The relationship became warmer. There was more trust than before. We exchanged ideas and also discussed improvements that could be made to make Begampur a better handloom cluster.
We left and in matters of months visited the place again. This time though it was very different. Kundujee was just not happy with sales. Their designs were running great for 3 years now. But the demand dropped. Just like any other manufacturing, handloom societies too cannot reduce its production suddenly as demand drops. It takes a lot to train a weaver and to make him weave in a specific manner. The development centre provides for several weavers and drop in demand does not directly mean reduction in production. It has to continue the production and support its weavers.
*image source: www.indiarailinfo.com
As per Kundujee, one of the reasons for the drop in demand was GST. GST lead to increase in price and thus drop in overall demand. The second reason cited was a change in customers' taste. Customers needed a change in design. Kundujee argued that his designs were an inspiration from the works of his father and grandfather and never did they change the design in their life. Even if he changed the patterns and designs, he was not sure how his weavers would adjust to new ways of weaving. He was complaining that change would take a long time and many might leave the profession. Nobody wanted to change. :)
He was unhappy with govt. machinery too. As per the govt. policy a superior quality yarn would be available at authorized centers at 20% discount. In reality, these yarns are of inferior quality. A better quality of yarn thus is procured from local vendors at higher rates. He does not believe that govt. intends to support them. He believes that govt. does not work towards empowering poor. Govt. wish to change systems and processes. It wants to make everything faster. But faster means more machines and thus it would eventually replace them.