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Social Enterprise • B2B2C

Xuta

STARTED IN 2020

By Rishi Sarmah & Pabitra Lama Sarmah

CRAFTS

Traditional Loom Weaving

PRODUCTS

Womenswear, Home Accessories

ARTISANS

70+

LOCATION

Assam

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A thread bank ties a weaving community together

Pathorichuck village, a weaving hub in Assam’s north Lakhimpur, is buzzing. Women are busy making stoles and scarves with indigenous Mising diamond patterns known as ghai-yamik. Each woman has a big white booklet by her side. It’s a yarn passbook.

মিচিং জনগোষ্ঠী

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Much like a bank passbook, it keeps track of the thread they have used, the garments they have woven, and the money they have earned. It’s all part of an effort by Xuta to preserve and promote the unorganised sector of traditional weaving.

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“In Assam, prices for weaves are not fixed. People come in from the cities, dump the yarn, bargain on the prices of finished products, and leave. No one knows the rates of weaving.”

— PABITRA LAMA SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pathorichuck

From September - October, they are busy preparing the flood-affected land. Between sowing and harvesting and post harvesting, they are free for a period. The only other activity they, especially women, know is handloom weaving as they learn it right from childhood.

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Xuta saw an opportunity to increase incomes for women weavers. 70% knew the traditional art of weaving.

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MAY 2021
AUGUST 2020

10

weavers piloted

173

weavers of 287 families from 17 SHGs reached 
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“The weaving patterns are weaker among the new generation compared to the older generation. The younger generation is not interested because they never established themselves as artisans. They are educated and can find work in any of the hotels or restaurants or set up a business in a city and easily make ₹10,000 - ₹15,000 a month. The success of a model will depend on how much of it is co-created with the community.”

— RISHI SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA
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HOW IT WORKS

A sustainable village enterprise

1

During enrolment, each woman gets an assured amount of ₹5,500 in the 1st month; individual accounts are opened at the Assam Gramin Vikash Bank

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2

Each weaver is also entitled to a family health insurance cover of ₹2 lakh

3

Xuta takes responsibility for the accessories for the looms and their repair

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4

Each weaver gets a fixed amount of yarn — 3kg at a time

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5

When the stoles, gamusa, are ready, the women take these to the thread bank

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7

Money is credited to their account within 48 hours

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6

Xuta measures these and each weaver is paid ₹300 per piece

 
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CHALLENGES

Remoteness of the village hampered commercial development

Pathorichuck, located on the banks of Subansiri river, is one of the 144 villages of Majuli, an island district. One needs multiple modes of transport to reach the village. A 6 hour bus ride to Jorhat from Assam’s capital Guwahati, a taxi ride to Neemati Ghat, and then a ferry ride on the Brahmaputra takes one to Majuli.

 

From Majuli, one can reach Pathorichuck after a ride on a traditional bamboo boat and then a walk or bicycle ride over 3 bamboo bridges.

Lack of fixed income

A survey Xuta conducted in July 2019 found the youth were more interested in jobs in restaurants and dhabas (roadside eateries) in cities, even for a monthly wage as little as ₹3,000. The attraction was a fixed income, something that eluded weavers. 

 

Women also have to deal with numerous household chores. Family members complain that they spend too much time weaving when they could have spent that time working in the fields, and earned more money.

Lack of marketing for woven products

The women could only weave ugon, dumer, ege and other such traditional garments. These weaving techniques have been handed down for centuries from one generation to the other. They have been using the same motif of ghai-yamik or the distinct diamond shapes, for which the region is famous.

They had never marketed their woven products. The only commodities they had been selling were excess food grains and poultry products.

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SOLUTIONS

Fixed income
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“We saw a gap. We decided to create a sustainable enterprise, a wholesale model in the village, with a fixed package for weavers.”

— RISHI SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA
Weaver welfare

Xuta hit upon the idea to transform the verandah in most homes as a workspace where women can set up their bamboo looms. Xuta also paid for the repair of these traditional looms. Power looms make it tricky to replicate the traditional motifs of the Mising community. 

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“The artisans are very fast on the traditional bamboo loom, which costs only ₹3,000 . They are very proud of their skills and don’t like designs to be forced on them.” 

— RISHI SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA
Design and product development

Weavers are also picking up new skills. As the women know how to weave only geometrical designs, Xuta plans to recruit volunteers to help them introduce new designs.

 

Given the rise in awareness of natural fibres, Xuta has tied up with Orient, a pure-cotton thread distributor. They also plan to teach women tailoring and embroidery to enhance their work and expand their product portfolio.

Transparency
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“We were transparent that we were pricing the products at ₹690 each, of which ₹300 went to the artisan, whether or not the products were sold. Each weaver was paid ₹3,000, credited to their accounts within 48 hours. This helped build trust with the artisans.”

— RISHI SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA
 

IMPACT

Xuta received 283 stoles from 10 weavers in October 2020. 270 of them sold out in 72 hours.

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“We want to propose a model where we say that we have 200 women weavers who are creating products in the traditional way. We don't want to talk about our capacities as manufacturing 5,000 or 7,000 or 8,000 products a day, but that we provide employment, skilling and opportunities to 200 indigenous women weavers. Our women with their handlooms can compete with any power loom production and provide better quality products.”
— RISHI SARMAH, CO-FOUNDER, XUTA
 

Increased scope of work

Maina Payeng, a mother of four, wasn’t used to making stoles. Her expertise lay in weaving the traditional mekhela sador and gero, worn by Mising women.

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“We have had to acquaint ourselves with newer products and that has helped to widen our creative scope.”

— MAINA PAYENG, ARTISAN

মেখেলা চাদৰ 

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Changing mindsets

Families too have changed attitudes, realising the business potential. Maina’s husband, for instance, has started sharing in household chores.

Increased confidence and financial independence

The women take pride in their new sense of financial independence; they use it to buy clothes, pay for their children’s tuition, or save up for a rainy day. 

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“With my first salary, I treated my entire family.”

— PANCHAWATI PAYENG, ARTISAN
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Weaving big dreams

For many women, weaving now offers a pathway to realise some of their small and big dreams.

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“I want to rear pigs and sell piglets. I also want to dig a pond, get fish from the state fisheries department and start a business.”

 NIRU PAYENG, ARTISAN

Expanding reach

The success of their pilot has prompted the Mising community from other parts of the North East to reach out to Xuta inviting them to replicate the model in their villages. Xuta has plans to expand to 6 new villages and reach 1,000 weavers in the next 5 years. 

 

The process has been slow and required building trust. Today, however, the villagers of Pathorichuck have donated 18 bighas (~11 acres) of land, so the Sarmahs can build a school for the community.

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An indigenous model for an indigenous community

For the entrepreneurs, inspiration lies in their own backyard. Xuta’s work with the Mising women has further validated their belief that inclusion does not lie in compelling rural creative communities to speak a global language for our convenience. Instead, they believe it's time for the world to adopt their sustainable, indigenous, community-driven models. 

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SDGs

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PICTURES & VIDEOS COURTESY XUTA
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