In the foothills of the Himalayan mountain women's weaving collectives are working together to create livelihoods and a future for their communities, their children and their weaving traditions.
In 2013 the Indian state of Uttarakhand was hit by a devastating series of natural disasters. Extreme rainfall caused numerous floods and landslides. The touristic temple area in the upper parts of the Indian Himalayas was hit by a large flood after the bursting of a glacier lake. The water swept over the heavily touristed area where many of the men from the surrounding villages were working. Casualties were high and many families lost their adult male members, fathers, sons and husbands, leaving the widows behind to alone fend for their livelihoods and their children's future.
To give these women a livelihood, and sense of self-accomplishment needed for them to recover from their loss and take care of their children in the best possible way, a weaving unit was opened from scratch in 2014. Here the women got training in hand-looming, an ancient art of the region and something to be proud of doing while experiencing growth both economically and personally. The weaving unit also served as a community centre and provides togetherness and hope for the area.
Another female-led weaving collective recognized the needs of these women and banded together to help train 300 women in the art of handloom weaving. Over 300 women got training in weaving and several more units were opened in the hillsides close to their homes. In the years since their collective has been able to expand across seven locations cementing Uttarakhand as a new hub for handloom excellence using traditional weaving techniques and local wool.
In 2019 and 2020 when Covid-19 began, all production units were shut down. Now they are slowly starting to open again. Relaunching their business is important for the local economy and the future of their Himalayan village societies.
Wool and merino wool are sourced locally from farmers in the Himalayan region. Wool is a natural and renewable fibre that does not shed microplastics, has long durability, and many other qualities, making it a great fabric, as long as the sheep are treated well. Local hemp is also sometimes used, creating great value through its many qualities.
In 2019, the government of the state of Uttarakhand approved the Organic Agriculture Act. Uttarakhand is already the most organic state in India and ranks internationally as one of the places with the most organic farming practices. However, this act seeks to go further by making Uttarakhand a fully organic state.
The wool comes from local sheep farmers, mainly using traditional ways of free-roaming shepherding. They gaze on the Himalayan vegetation and the communities benefit from both wool, fertilizer, and nutritious food from the sheep. The merino wool comes from merino sheep originally brought to the region from Australia. A very important animal welfare issue concerning merino sheep is the Mulesing of merino sheep. This is a cruel practice done to prevent flies from laying eggs in the sheepskin close to their anuses. In the Himalayas, the merino sheep are generally well cared for, in smaller groups, and with more attention given to each sheep. The merino wool used in our products comes from sheep that are not Mulesed. This, in addition to the perfect climate for these sheep, results in good sheep lives and high-quality wool.
Just like we monitor our producers through the principles and criteria of the World Fair Trade Organization, to assure fair conditions for the workers, we also check in on the sheep whose wool is used in these products. Most of the products we trade are vegan, but we believe, responsibly sourced wool, honey and beeswax can be a part of a sustainable future if done right.
Humanely and Organically Farmed Sheep | 100 % Himalayan wool | Hand-spun and Hand-Loomed | Highly Durable | Provides Warmth and Insulation | Minimal Environmental Impact
The wool is cleaned and spun before it's set up on the traditional handlooms to be woven into the various products. The use of handlooms is a traditional art form that the women have shown can also be part of a vibrant and sustainable enterprise.
The program intends to employ as many people in need as possible and provide local development. It is highly integrated into the rural society and includes both private financial training and health education and checks for the women. The women are heavily represented on the board and manage the day-to-day activities. Since many of the women are sole-parents, they need time to tend to the home and the children. The working times are therefore flexible, and the hours are only half-day, so the women have time to tend to the home and can send their kids to school before going to work and be back before they come back. This is a part of making sure that the children have the best possible circumstances to succeed. This way, the program is set up to provide growth to the rural area - in both the short and the long term.
The collective sources wool from free-range, organically grazing sheep. The hand processing of the wool and hand weaving limit energy and water consumption.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
By contributing to a more resilient rural community to more livelihoods opportunities this producer is targeting 13.1; "Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters"
By setting up new industries using clean production methods the production is contributing to target 9.4; "...upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes..."
This collective expressly seeks to support women and their children in their communities and recognizes that providing women stable and flexible employment it benefits their entire family.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
The collective is directly working towards target 5.1 "end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls."
By proving weavers a flexible schedule to support a balanced home and work life the producer is targeting 5.4 "recognizes the value of unpaid care and domestic work"
Livelihoods Impacted: 300+ local weavers