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UAL partners with India’s Tata Trusts to revive traditional craft

Artisan demonstrating weaving practice, India
Artisan demonstrating weaving practice, India

Written by
Anna Tsekouras
Published date
23 September 2019

UAL and Antaran, a Tata Trusts initiative, have signed a memorandum of understanding, to jointly rejuvenate the handloom sector in the North Eastern and Eastern parts of India and preserve the livelihood of skilled artisan weavers.

Designed to restore ailing handloom weaving clusters by nurturing artisans as designers and entrepreneurs – the Antaran Initiative has rolled out intensive work across Odisha, Assam and Nagaland.

The programme aims to benefit 3,000 artisans directly involved in pre-loom, on-loom and post loom processes, impacting the livelihood of weavers in six weaving clusters of these states.

Critical craft

Research carried out by Tata shows that the handicrafts sector is the largest source of jobs in India after agriculture, with over seven million people involved (over 4.3 million are employed in handloom weaving alone — the largest segment of the handicrafts sector). Aside from being an important source of livelihood, handloom weaving generated export revenues of $356 million in 2017-18.

Traditional artisan at work, India
Traditional artisan at work, India

Challenges to handloom weaving

The handloom weaving sector has been battling a series of challenges. “It is grappling with problems like the inability to produce high quality market-driven artifacts and low access to domestic and export markets,” says Sharda Gautam, Head, Crafts, Tata Trusts.

The handloom sector is at risk of losing its traditional authenticity as weavers move from working with natural dyes to chemical ones, and from natural fabrics such as silk and cotton to synthetics.

Taneira Business Head, Shyamala Ramanan, says an increasingly uninterested younger generation is another reason why the sector is not thriving. Besides, not many consumers are willing to appreciate what it takes to create a handwoven authentic piece. “There's a feeling of worthlessness among these weavers,” she adds.

According to the Government of India, of approximately 400 handloom clusters in the country, 270 are recognised. “A lot of them are dying. We work with about 70 of them,” shares Shyamala.

UAL partnership

UAL students will engage directly with the artisans, exchanging knowledge on the craft process, traditional practice and research to inspire innovative, collaborative projects.

From creating bespoke textiles, to co-designing pieces - the dynamic partnership will enable students to learn new skills in the art of making and engage with weavers at a grassroots level, developing their skills and creating a more growth inclusive ecosystem.

Director of International Relations at University of the Arts London, Juliette Sargeant said:

We are delighted to be collaborating with Tata Trusts and the artisans on this wonderful project. This partnership will offer UAL students a unique opportunity to work alongside, learn from and collaborate with local weaving communities. An example of how art, design and creativity can forge social change and social justice, this initiative will produce mutual benefits and sustained impact.

Commenting on the partnership, Mr. Sharda Gautam, Head of Crafts at Tata Trusts said:

UAL and Tata Trusts partnership is going to create a unique opportunity for the craft sector. Bypassing the barriers of education, language, culture and geography - design students from London will co-create bespoke textile products with the artisan entrepreneurs from Odisha, Assam and Nagaland. Exciting times ahead.

Traditional artisan at work, India
Traditional artisan at work, India

Women take the wheel

A lot of the work being done by the Trusts and Tata companies in the handlooms space is connected with empowering women through training and livelihoods. The Incubation & Design Centres (IDC), the fulcrum of Tata Trusts activities for revivifying handloom clusters, are being set up within weaving communities so that artisans, particularly women, have easy access. “Each IDC is equipped with a weaving studio, a web-enabled classroom, computer lab and buyer interaction zone,” explains Sharda. “A full-time team of professionals from business and design backgrounds, supported by on-loom and pre-loom trainers, is present at the IDCs to educate and facilitate development of micro-enterprises.”

More about Tata Trusts

Since inception in 1892, Tata Trusts, India’s oldest philanthropic organization, has played a pioneering role in bringing about an enduring difference in the lives of the communities they serve. Guided by the principles and the vision of proactive philanthropy of the Founder, Jamsetji Tata, the Trusts’ purpose is to catalyse development in the areas of healthcare and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, energy, rural upliftment, urban poverty alleviation, and arts, craft and culture. The Trusts’ programmes, achieved through direct implementation, partnerships and grant making, are marked by innovations, relevant to the country. For more information, please visit