Kannur: Handloom weavers of this politically volatile district in Kerala have found e-commerce to be their new savior as they aim to exploit the reach of giants such as Amazon and Flipkart to sell their products, including shirts with traditional designs.
Kannur, in the news more often for political violence between CPM and BJP workers, is also known for quality handloom, which very few people are aware of and has a rich history and tradition.
However, the sector has been facing a crisis due to lack of demand for their products which failed to catch imagination of the new generation coupled with lack of new marketing avenues.
The district administration has been taking steps to help the handloom sector regain its reputation it once enjoyed by arranging for training of the weavers in creating attractive designs.
Seeking a wider and direct market for the weavers, it has also helped them tie up with e-commerce giant Amazon to start with.
The "Cannloom" brand products being sold on Amazon include men's formal shirts in cotton and linen and those with traditional designs of Kerala's popular martial art "Kalaripayattu" and "Theyyam" (popular ritual form of worship of north Kerala) and cotton dhoties.
District Collector Mir Muhammed Ali said they were trying to help the handloom sector regain its reputation and restore Kannur's rich tradition.
"Cannloom" brand with shirts having "Kalari" and "Theyyam" designs, went online on May 14 this year on Amazon and the response had been encouraging, he said.
Launching the products on a major platform like Amazon was unexplored territory and a first by a weavers society in the state, Mir Muhammed Ali told PTI.
"We started by designing attractive handloom bags and as we moved on we wanted to combine looms and lores of the region and thought of taking "Kalaripayattu" and "Theyyam" motifs, which are part of Kannur's tradition," he said.
Each shirt has a unique tag, which means each product was one of its kind, he said.
Presently, 80 weavers and workers of Kuthuparamba Weavers Cooperative Society have gone online with the two products.
Also, 16 more weavers societies have completed training at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and would be launching their products soon online, he said.
There are also plans to bring out sarees, towels and bags with unique traditional designs of Kannur, he said.
While "Theyyam" shirt is pure handwoven linen and priced at Rs. 2,000, the "Kalari" shirt costs Rs. 1,500 and ordinary handloom shirt Rs. 1,200.
"We are in talks with Amazon to reduce their fees which will cut prices by 10-12 per cent," he said.
Hitherto, the handloom products were either being sold across the counter and proper sales was happening only during the festival seasons of Onam and Christmas.
The new endeavor will help the removal of large middlemen and benefits would go directly to society's weavers, he said.
According to Kuthuparamba Weavers Cooperative Society secretary Sujesh, they have already earned a revenue of Rs. 15,000 by sale of the products in Amazon so far.
"There is good demand for the products and weavers have realised with changing times and habits, there is need to incorporate new designs to attract more customers," he said.
There are also plans to sell products through Flipkart and Myntra, he said.
Anusree, who is designing the products, said efforts were also on to launch Theyyam-inspired sarees, cotton dhoties with traditional printed borders of Theyyam and Kalari.
"We are in the process of doinga complete collection of shirts, dhoties, and sarees of "Theyyam" and "Kalari" designs by Onam," she said adding already work on some 120 shirts had been completed.
Initially, the weavers were slightly hesitant with the new ideas, but with enquiries pouring in, things are changing, said the 25-year-old who has passed out of National Institute of Design, Mumbai.
There are also plans to incorporate printed shirts with contemporary motifs like wifi symbols to attract more youngsters.
When pointed that Kannur was known outside as a land of bloodshed and political killings, the Collector said the message is to end violence.
Condemnation of violence has come from chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, himself. The government is serious in efforts to put an end to the violence, he said.
Kannur, an important trading center in the 12th century, with active business connections with Persia and Arabia, had served as the British military headquarters on India's west coast until 1887.
Along with its sister city, Thalassery, it was the third largest on the western coast of British India in the 18th century after Bombay and Karachi.