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This is part a series in which we will profile organizations in India who received a Social Innovation grant through the SAI/Tata Trusts project on Livelihood Creation.




A handloom school student at the loom

A handloom school student at the loom


  • Sally Holker is the Founder and CEO, WomenWeave Charitable Trust. She is a member of the royal family of Ahilyabai Holkar (1725-1795 AD), the Holkar Queen of the Maratha dynasty who ruled the Malwa Kingdom in the 18th Century 
  • Nivedita Rai is the Executive Director of the Gudi Mudi project and the Acting Director of The Handloom School (THS)



WomenWeave’s mission is to work towards overcoming the vulnerability of women who weave on handlooms (either part-time or full-time) and work towards making handloom a profitable, fulfilling, sustainable, dignified, income-earning and life-improving activity.

Broad Objectives

The primary role of WomenWeave is to serve as a bridge to better lives by:

  1. Creating a community of weavers and connecting them with potential customers
  2. Providing craft skills training, and organizational and design assistance
  3. Valuing and integrating traditional design and cultural heritage to realize more marketable products
  4. Generating selling opportunities and market connections in India and abroad that would otherwise be inaccessible


Handloom weaving is not only an important cultural treasure, it is also the second largest source of livelihood to the rural and semi-urban population of India. India is also the largest producer of handwoven cloth in the world. However, the sector today is at crossroads. It simultaneously faces forces that threaten to obliterate it, and also unprecedented opportunities for innovation and revitalization. On one side are broad problems such as national and international socio-economic pressures, cultural changes, poor financial and physical infrastructure, as well as more specific problems such as exploitative or inept master weavers, and untrained or uninterested youth.

To positively contribute to this situation, since 2002, WomenWeave has been supporting artisans, especially women, in making handloom a profitable and sustainable income-generating activity. The WomenWeave Charitable Trust has two major projects:

  1. Gudimudi Project: Through the Gudimudi Khadi Project, WomenWeave links organic and non-organic cotton farmers of Central India with formerly unemployed local women of Maheshwar, to create unique and contemporary Khaditextiles for fashion products and home furnishings. Maheshwar is traditionally known for Maheshwari sarees. It is believed that Queen Ahilyabai herself created the design of the first saree. These sarees were originally worn by ladies of royal status, but nowadays, they are available and popular in both national and international markets. The fabrics from this project are hand-spun, hand-woven, and much of it is naturally-dyed with earth-friendly processes.  The objective of this linkage is to ensure sustainable income and better lives for local weavers in spinning and hand weaving of indigenous cotton.
  2. The Handloom School Project: Young talented weavers are increasingly disillusioned by their craft and believe their hereditary profession to be both non-remunerative and unfashionable, with few other viable livelihood options. In the contemporary world, where ways of doing businesses have transformed manifold, young weavers have no opportunity to advance their technical, business and design skills. They are in need of an institution that will transcend their traditional intuitive qualifications. One of the most important ways this existing knowledge and skills capital can be rescued and grown is by educating and training the younger generation so that they understand handloom weaving’s economic, socio-cultural, environmental, and aesthetic values. The Trust is running a program called ‘The Handloom School’ where young artisans from across India come for a yearlong residential program and learn various aspects of the craft. They also develop business and operational skills to start and run their own handloom venture. THS equips its students with entrepreneurial skills and also helps in getting initial finance and orders to kick-start business ventures for them.


Computer class at the handloom school

Computer class at the handloom school


  • Name of the craft: Handloom
  • Key distinctive feature: High-end fashion yardage
  • Different products that can be made in handloom: Fabric, Stole, Saree, Dupatta, Shawls, etc.
  • Time taken to make a product of the craft: 1 day for Fabric, 4-5 days for Saree



  • Tata Trusts: 40%
  • Crowd Funding: 50%
  • Sale of Goods: 10%



  • Traditionally men were weavers and women were involved in pre and post loom work. Media has influenced them to find work outside home, in search of a ‘better’ life, even if it pays less.
  • Weavers have found it difficult to adapt and innovate. For example, need for change in the width of the loom to use new fibers and designs.
  • Weavers are becoming less skilled in preparatory work and new design development, even in weaving clusters where the demand for their textiles is high. They frequently outsource work that they consider inferior, but is in fact essential for quality control, maintaining traditional skills and design knowledge, and allows for innovation.
  • Many weavers compromise with the quality of raw materials and dye to reduce the price of their products. This negatively affects the market value of their products and the brand value of the sector as a whole.
  • The younger generations of traditional weaver families are losing interest in weaving, with their families too discouraging their children working in handloom.
  • Access to business development services, capital and information is a challenge. Potential buyers of handloom products have difficulty finding the right producers as they are scattered across India.
  • Looms and clusters are scattered from village to village, making supply chains difficult to handle. This negatively affects production and delivery schedules.
  • The traditional and local market for handloom is shrinking and individual weavers have no means to connect with the growing global market.

Harvard SAI team and Women weave teams at Maheshwar

Harvard SAI team and Women weave teams at Maheshwar


THS attempts to address these issues through its new and innovative curriculum to help weavers become innovative entrepreneurs while helping them access the global markets, and making themselves and their work visible.

  • The overarching goal of THS is to train the younger generation of traditional weaving families to continue and grow in the handloom industry, with an evolved sense of pride for handloom and as a financially remunerative vocation.
  • THS is a first-of-its-kind networked learning platform for young handloom weavers and a professional resource centre for the weaving community. For the first time, young handloom artisans from various regions of India live, work and learn together about the usage of yarn beyond traditional variants viz. cotton and silk, learn to share designs and pictures with peers and buyers using smartphones, learn and connect with clients globally by using social media and understanding client requirement over skype, learn to confidently converse in English with buyers and manage their business smartly.
  • The curriculum is designed around four areas of study: Design, Technology, Communication and Business Management. Further, THS has been explicitly designed to overcome the challenges young weavers face in attending specialist craft and textile design institutes like National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).



WomenWeave has long-term working relationship with various design schools from India and abroad. THS has evolved after numerous discussions with prominent organizations working in the handloom textile business. Given below is a list of partners / collaborators of THS:


  1. Bandhej, Ahmedabad
  2. Chenetha, Andhra Pradesh
  3. Dastkar, Delhi
  4. FabIndia, Delhi
  5. Good Earth, Delhi
  6. Google Culture Institute, Delhi
  7., Delhi
  8. Khamir, Gujarat
  9. Kashmir Loom, Delhi
  10. Kamala Store, Delhi
  11. Loom to Luxury, Varanasi
  12. Mother Earth, Bangalore
  13. ModArt School of Fashion, Mumbai
  14. Nalli Silks, Chennai
  15. PSR Silks, Coimbatore
  16. Paramparik Karigar, Mumbai
  17. Rangasutra, Rajasthan
  18. The Ant, Assam
  19. Weaver’s Studio, Kolkata
  20. Vogue India


  1. Tiernan Associates, Indiana, USA
  2. Jeff Oakes Design, California, USA
  3. Dallas Foundation, Texas, USA



  • More than 150 clients in over 20 countries collaborate with WomenWeave Charitable Trust to create and market bespoke handloom woven products by the delicate and skilled hands of about 200 women from WomenWeave projects in Madhya Pradesh.
  • 41 young weavers have been so far trained from 9 states of India at THS. These young weavers are in different stages:
    • Employed by handloom textile organizations: 7 graduates
    • Weaving for handloom textile organization: 1 graduates
    • Started own business: 3 graduates
    • Expanded family business: 8 graduates
    • Undertaking assignments from clients through THS: 11 graduates
    • Still Working for master weavers: 11 graduates

“Most weavers have no idea what happens to their textile after it leaves the loom. They’re just told what to weave and given wages. We hope to break this cycle that does not support the lifestyle that the younger generation wants” -Sally Holkar, Founder-CEO