Homemaker Ruby Malhotra (48) loves handloom fabrics. She says she can distinguish between authentic hand woven ones from the powerloom products by feeling them and looking at their weaves.
But not everybody can be so discerning. And there is risk of getting cheated by paying heavily for fakes that shopkeepers sometimes pass off as handlooms.
What weavers painstakingly produce on hand-operated looms at their homes are sometimes duplicated on machines and sold off as originals for a heavy price. This puts both customers as well as weavers at a loss.
So how does one make the distinction? If government certifications are the markers of genuine handlooms, even seasoned buyers in the national capital hardly seem to know about them, and weavers don’t want to invest in them.
Delhi resident Sandhya Bajaj (51), a regular buyer, says the products are not promoted well enough. “I have a lot of opportunities to buy handloom fabrics because of all the state emporia. But what about people in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities? They will get cheated easily. I consider myself a person who is aware, but I myself didn’t know (about the certifications).”
But certifications such as the Handloom Mark, the Silk Mark and the Craft Mark do exist. Last year, the Narendra Modi government declared August 7 as the National Handloom Day to increase awareness about the dying cottage industry that employs 43 lakh weavers as of 2009-10. This figure was 65.5 lakh in 1995-96. The Prime Minister also launched the ‘India Handloom Brand’ to certify the quality of handwoven products.
While it added to the existing certifications, there is little clarity on what they signify and how they are different from each other.
Few buyers know the significance of certification. One such buyer is Dr Alka Goel, professor and head of clothing and textiles department at Uttarakhand’s GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology.
She says the products should be propagated better to help weavers get their due. “The tags should also inform about the effort that goes into making these products… how long it takes to produce using a handloom compared to powerlooms. There is a big difference between the two.”
The government defines handloom production as one of the largest unorganised economic activities after agriculture, responsible for nearly 15% of India’s cloth production. Around 95% of the world’s hand woven fabric comes from India. Yet, few can tell the difference between a handloom and powerloom.
Goel suggests that the promotion should also focus on handloom’s eco-friendly and social roles
It is not mandatory for all weavers or retailers to get their products certified. It is a voluntary process that involves a registration fee and periodical governmental checks, which weavers don’t seem too keen to get done.
Ikat artisans Raj Kishore Kundu (33) and Ashok Patra (26), who have a stall at Dilli Haat, claim they don’t have the time to fix the handloom tags on their products. “Besides, the tags don’t mean much. The government will certify anybody. Even non-handloom products carry the tag… Handlooms have a separate set of customers who know their value. They will not accept powerloom products even if you give it to them for free,” says Patra.
He says the government gives certified weavers a bunch of 1,000 tags and a tag gun. “Imagine how much time it will take to pin the tags one by one. When will I do sales then? It also takes money and we don’t have much of it. Besides we are from Orissa, and the office is far away in Delhi.” The weavers don’t know that the textile committee that certifies fabrics has offices across the country and they can go to the centre nearest to them.
The government has a different take. Development commissioner of handlooms, Alok Kumar says that each certified product comes with a unique registration code that can be verified on the website. He also says there is a great demand for the India Handloom Brand among weavers.
“We have tested more than 1,000 samples (so far). We have registered 300 samples and another 250 applicants have applied. They all say that there is so much demand that they can’t meet it… 14 e-commerce and 12 retail brands have got the Handloom Brand…India is a big country. It will take time to cover all the ground.”
Renowned craft revivalist and chairperson of NGO Dastkar, Laila Tyabji says certification must be the culmination of a campaign to make consumers want to buy handlooms. “Until you establish the value of handloom … as a unique aesthetic, social and cultural part of our heritage, a tag will not by itself make people buy it. You have to create awareness of handloom, and then of the tag that certifies it. Otherwise, it’s just one more bit of dangling cardboard! Neither the customer nor the craftsperson is aware of its purpose. Often, even the sales staff in handloom emporia and boutiques don’t know what the tag stands for.”
She also says merging different certifications under one scheme would clear the fog around them. “Possibly, one tag with different colours or symbols for different materials or skills. And there needs to be proper certification before allowing vendors to use the tags, otherwise they are not just meaningless, but misleading.”
THE LOGO MIX: WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are a handful of certifications which can confuse even seasoned buyers. Most of them require weavers and craftspeople to pay a fee and apply for them. After on-site verifications, authorising bodies issue a certificate and a logo to be used for a limited period. The authorities are supposed to periodically check their usage and approve renewal.
What it looks like: The logo is an interlocking of threads. Every certified handloom garment should carry a label with the logo and a code on the backside. In case of a doubt, you can use the code number to complain to the textiles committee
What it certifies: The product or fabric was produced using a hand loom
When created: June 2006
Certified by: Government of India
INDIA HANDLOOM BRAND
What it looks like: A saffron and green flower with the Handloom Mark at the centre. Certified products will carry a tag or a label with the logo and a unique code
What it certifies: Product is 100% handwoven, natural — has no acrylic or synthetic fibres, colours are fast, safe dyes used — no chemicals that can harm skin, no child labour used
When created: August 2015
Certified by: Government of India
What it looks like: The logo is a butterfly-like maroon pattern. Certified pure silk products should carry paper tag or sown label with the logo, a hologram and a unique number which can be used to trace the product to the authorised producer. If product is not pure, the code can be used to complain against producer and his licence would be cancelled.
What it certifies: Products are 100% natural silk
When created: June 2004
Certified by: Government of India
What it looks like: Logo is a criss-cross of maroon lines. Authorised members will use the seal as tags on certified products. Seal should have the logo, licence number, name of certified handmade process, region, name of organisation and validity date.
What it certifies: Genuine Indian handicrafts produced in a socially responsible manner
When created: 2006
Certified by: The All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA), a membership-based organisation.
It is a trademark owned by the Australian Wool Innovation Limited to affiliated vendors. It is an assurance that the product conforms to AWI’s set of standards