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With COVID-19 bringing a halt to the operations of many businesses, the 25-year-old Charaka Society, which supports hundreds of handloom weavers in Heggodu village of Karnataka's Shivamogga district, met with the same fate.
The Charaka Women's Multipurpose Industrial Co-operative Society declared itself insolvent citing the crisis caused by the pandemic. The Charaka society stopped weaving-related activities due to the lack of cash inflow from the market.
Started in 1994 by theatre personality Prasanna Heggodu, the Charaka society works towards the aim of creating environment-friendly local employment.
The collective expanded from working out of a small shelter in Heggodu to housing a production facility employing 700 people, most of whom are women.
Before the pandemic hit this year, Charaka produced over 30,000 metres of naturally-dyed handloom fabric every month.
As the lockdown imposed restrictions, their godown was still filled with more than 87,000 metres of naturally-dyed handloom fabric. The only way to get back on its feet was to get sales in larger numbers.
Meanwhile, Vishala Padmanabhan and Roopa Prabhakar of Buffalo Back Collective, an organisation that promotes organic produce, came forward to think through new ways of selling handlooms.
"We have been working with farmers for 10 years now and understand that an ordinary weaver has much in common with the marginalised farmer. The pandemic shut off all traditional market channels for most of these small livelihoods. We have always relied on short, focused campaigns to connect small farmers to consumers and wanted to try the same for weavers. Desi is not just a brand for many of us in Bangalore and when the story of their struggle was in the news, we understood that the problems of weavers are much deeper and perennial," Vishala explained.
Realising the agony of the weavers, they came forward with the idea of going online so that the product of these weavers could be sold widely. They signed up with a payment portal and disguised it as an order form.
Armed with nothing but a dedicated following and a WhatsApp appeal, the campaign asked the loyal followers of Desi trust and friends and family to spread the word on The Desi Mystery Bag. Many artists from the Kannada film industry also came forward to support this campaign.
The Desi Mystery Bag campaign helped the Desi Trust of Charaka Society to sell more than 15 lakh worth of inventory online without setting up a full e-commerce site. It also helped the team from the cooperative to get a foothold in digital retail and slowly build their skills in understanding and dispatching orders.
"While our stores were shut, we couldn't sell and that's when friends reached out to help us put together the Desi Mystery Bag idea built on the love and loyalty Desi Trust had built over the years. This campaign greatly benefited the Charaka Society of handloom weavers. Knowing the ground realities of handloom weavers across the country, we wish to support such impactful campaigns to reach out to more weavers and more wearers. We want to encourage the Common Thread team to adopt more cooperatives and help them through this difficult time," said Prasanna Heggodu, founder of Desi Trust and Charaka Society.
The team of Desi Mystery Bag has put together another novel campaign joining the dots between Magan Sangrahalaya and Goonj.
This campaign launched on December 12, 2020, aims to help the charkha weavers at Magan Sangrahalaya get spinning again by choosing to Gift a 'Wardha Box of Weave' while also donating to Goonj. The customers can buy a gift box for their loved ones, containing a beautiful unisex, naturally dyed, organic cotton Khadi stole and additionally chose to donate new hand-spun and hand-woven Khadi fabric to the needy through Goonj.
Through the initiative, the customer could do something meaningful through their purchase while helping weavers, poor rural artisans, and farmers to get through these difficult times.
"The Khadi sector has the potential to provide dignified employment to many landless and disadvantaged returning migrants, and we are happy to be part of the movement. It is heartwarming that the campaign also enables us to send some of our organic Magan Khadi to the needy through Goonj," said Vibha Gupta, Chairperson of Magan Sangrahalaya Samiti.
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