Closing the gaps between local cotton and local
weaving- a case for Slow Fashion

Maheshwar is in Nimaad, which is the cotton-growing belt of central India. Cotton is the primary type of yarn which weavers use in handloom weaving in Maheshwar. Despite this, the regionally produced cotton has NO direct consumption relationship with local weavers (other than with the Gudi Mudi project) because most of the cotton travels for processing to other regions.

Around 3000 weavers live in Maheshwar. The products they make primarily use cotton, silk, and jari: this results in regional specialties such as the Maheshwari sari.

The entire raw material chain, including cotton yarn, silk (from China) and jari (metallic thread) which has found its way from southern and western India to Maheshwar is highly detrimental to the Maheshwar handloom industry due to potential disruptions from policy changes by the government, relationships with China, market shifts away from global and opaque production modes.

Hence, the project has been activated to sustain an earth-friendly, tightly verticalized production that makes sense for Central India’s cotton growing area, India’s unique craft heritage, and growing international fashion consumer preferences for localized production and transparent supply chains. WomenWeave’s Gudi Mudi project is considered a leader of the global slow fashion movement.

Gudi Mudi and the Future: scaling-up Khadi Production:

Currently, the project is also focusing on scaling-up of khadi production in villages surrounding Maheshwar by approaching first those villages that have no weaving tradition but grow cotton. The first such unit has already been established in Itawadi village (5 km from Maheshwar) and is giving employment to 18 women who were formally employed only as wage laborers in the agricultural fields.

Gudi Mudi Khadi Project

The Gudi Mudi project launched in 2007. Gudi Mudi means' Scrunched cotton" in the local language of Maheshwar. To date, the Gudi Mudi project has trained more than 300 women in weaving, spinning and ancillary activities.

Why Gudi Mudi?

In the selection of women for the Gudi Mudi project, WomenWeave has favored divorced, widowed, separated, handicapped, and agricultural laborers with no family income. The project aims to empower the most vulnerable and deprived women of the area.

Gandhian philosophy and Slow Fashion

This focus is very much in tune with Gandhian thinking. In the early decades of the 20th century, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi revitalized India’s indigenous cotton production, spinning and weaving to produce cloth known as Khadi, to ensure self- sufficiency for the rural population. His movement for Swadeshi (things of one’s own country) saw what people produced and what they wore as being inseparable links in a chain of mutual reliance between the rural and urban population of India.

Through the Gudi Mudi Khadi Project, WomenWeave links organic and non-organic cotton farmers of Central India with formerly unemployed local women of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh to create unique, contemporary khadi textiles for fashion products and home furnishings. The fabrics are handspun and hand-woven. Where possible we also use natural dyes and local methods of water conservation and reuse. The objective of this linkage is to ensure sustainable income and better lives for the weavers in the area in spinning and hand weaving of the local cotton.

Initiating weaving in the villages is crucial as it creates additional employment opportunities, empowerment, and contributes to the sustainability of the handloom weaving tradition of Maheshwar. It is evident that in general the younger generations of the traditional weaving families (with four, five, or more generations of weaving heritage) are not usually very much interested in weaving, nor do their parents seem interested in involving the younger generation. Hence such outreach units in villages will ensure the sustainability of the craft in the future.

Now the project will focus on the backward integration of the value chain by establishing micro units for raw cotton processing in Maheshwar and surrounding villages where the raw cotton will be sourced from the marginal farmers, preferably from the farmers of the tribal community. Young people from the same district will be trained to operate the units. This approach would help to achieve improved financial self-sufficiency and demonstrate additional examples of social-entrepreneurship at the core of the overall project, as well as demonstrate potential opportunities for self- reliance of the handloom industry of Maheshwar and beyond.