ABOUT womenweave: One of our leading partners in hand-spun and hand-woven fabrics is Women’s Weave. They are an organisation dedicated to female empowerment, the alleviation of poverty alleviation, and sustainable production. The mission of Women's Weave is to work towards overcoming the vulnerability of females in rural areas and to support them in training and employment; making handloom a life-improving activity as a profitable and dignified work and income for women. Since it began, in 2007, Women's weave has trained more that 160 women in weaving and in spinning.

Based in Maheshwar in central India, Women's Weave offer high quality training to ensure that women are well prepared for future employment opportunities. All employees are trained in the artistry of spinning and weaving to give them production fluency; this usually takes around three months. Afterwards, the women have the option of further training to develop and advance their skills. Around 90% of the female employees at Women's Weave were previously labourers working in the fields, earning only 60 Rupees a day.

The organisation also seeks to provide employment for those who are divorced, widowed or handicapped, typically with no family income. This is very valuable support for highly-disadvantaged women in a visibly patriarchal society. Women's Weave is committed to fair wages, flexible working hours, regular breaks, and child and health care. We visited their operation in April 2018, to consider new fabrics for our next collection and were impressed and moved by the dedication and passion of all the workers we met there. We proposed to work conscientiously with the organisation, utilising their skills and carefully selecting fabrics for our garments.

 Women's Weave follow a holistic approach in their business ethos: transparent supply chains, and locally-sourced cotton, ginning and natural dyeing. Such sustainable methods ensure everything is ecologically-minded and benefits the local workforces.

OUR PRODUCTION VISIT : Having worked with women’s weave since the brand origin, we felt it essential to visit the centre and experience first-hand the amazing cloth they create for our collections and what they've achieved for the women working there.

Situated in central India, Maheshwar a river side town is set amongst rural villages and the most beautiful fort. I felt like we'd stumbled on an unknown secret, peaceful place. With Sadhu's washing along the river and the strong presence of female empowerment, you could feel it' spiritual significance. 

It soon dawned on me on the production trip that Maheshwar wasn’t a renowned place and whilst talking to many people all around India, most of them had never heard of it or of it's location.We realised getting there may not be the easiest trip with long buses, car drives and rickshaw’s but this made it all the more exciting.  The bus journey from Jodphur to be exact was 17 hours, dishevelled with barely any sleep and no food when we finally jumped very quickly off the moving bus and then got in a taxi for another 3 hours. Still when we arrived outside women weave and could hear the clacking of looms upstairs all my excitement came flooding back and I remembered just how important this moment was.  

We were greeted with open arms and warm welcomes. It’s a really significant and exciting moment to be standing in a work place full of women confident, happy and content, especially in such a rural place in India. I have been used to and expected the women to be shy and cautious of our presence at first however they were anything but, it seemed work here had brought them self-assurance.

Using my broken Hindi we moved round and sat with the women weaving and spinning all day. I felt it inherent to experience, watch slowly the methods used and to talk to the females there about their work and lives.

Women of all ages sat in the room from 18 to women in their 60’s, all helping one another and all incredibly focussed on their daily weaving ritual. I felt total admiration for the spinning and weaving, it’s one thing knowing the process is a slow one, it’s another watching the patience and integrity they have with their work. All of them had an affinity with what they were doing and proud to show us what they were fabricating.

My main admiration was for the women spinning the raw cotton into yarn by hand, it was extremely hot and they told me of how their arms hurt from winding the machine by hand to spin the threads. I tried it out myself for all of a minute and my arm instantly ached from the force. However, this didn’t discourage them, they were clearly strong, happy and proud of this job.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon with the on-sight nursery and after school club for the women’s children. This allows the women to work knowing their children are being looked after and fed.

The older children continue to learn and do homework, we had difficult conversations about how most of the children in the area leave school before the age of 12, either to work or for marriage. Unfortunately for many rural areas with poverty, education doesn’t serve them.

However, this confirmed to us again why organisations such as women’s weave are not only vital for the female employees but for the families and communities involved to encourage education, vocational skills and significant, sustainable work.  Previous to this all of the women were labourers doing field work out in the hot sun, which is tiring and intensive earning as little as 65p a day.

Although a long way to go I feel so intensely that this is what empowerment is and what the fashion industry should support.

Thoughts by Gracie Sutton, AK Threads founder during ED3 Production trip 04//18

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