WomenWeave was established in Maheshwar in 2002. It’s founding vision to help local women lead better lives by ensuring that handloom weaving is a profitable, sustainable, fulfilling and dignified form of livelihood for them.
There are many historical threads that connect Maheshwar handloom weaving with a visionary perspective on women’s empowerment. In the eighteenth century, the Maratha Queen who ruled Indore, Devi Ahilyabhai Holkar made Maheshwar her home, building its iconic fort and renowned temple complex. The Queen was a female ruler at a time when men controlled every aspect of political, economic and cultural life.
Her approach to leadership was considered a model of its time and she ruled with a unique commitment to the local community. Ahilyabhai brought weavers from neighbouring states to collaborate on creating exquisite handwoven saris to gift to neighbouring royal families. From this blend of weaving styles, the iconic Maheshwari sari was born and became a vital part of Maheshwar’s economy for the local community.
20th Century Revival of Handloom
Over two centuries later Sally, a young American women married an Indian Prince, the son of The Maharaja of Indore- a direct descendent of Ahilyabhai. In the decades following independence, Maheshwar handloom weaving had seen a decline in its markets, as industrial power loom transformed the Indian textile economy with cheaper cloth.
From 1978 onwards, it became Sally Holkar to dedicate her life to helping the weavers of Maheshwar. She did this as a co-founder of Rewa, which to this day provides vital employment for the weaving community. In 2003, based on many years of work with weavers in the local community, Sally founded WomenWeave. In so doing, Sally connected the threads of Maheshwar’s history and intangible cultural heritage with sustainable employment for local women today.
The concept behind WomenWeave
WomenWeave aims to connect women weavers with sustainable livelihoods. Many of the women have never woven before and WW therefore provides them with training and opportunities for progressive skills enhancement in order to maximise their livelihood opportunities. Where women have acted as “shadow weavers”, supplementing male family member’s work, WomenWeave creates opportunities for them to gain more control over and be recognised for their labour, as well as enhance their skill-set.
As well as production and training activities WomenWeave works to connect weavers with retailers, designers and customers across India and internationally. This is done by sustained marketing activities, participation in events including fashion weeks, craft melas (fairs), multi-designer brand events, Jaipur Literary festival, and other events held across India. WomenWeave also sustains good working relationships with high-end retailers including Good Earth, Anokhi and Williams and Sonoma.
WomenWeave creates a uniquely dynamic mix of undertaking training and technical innovation for weavers to produce cloth of highest quality; whilst at the same time linking them to receptive markets for the unique qualities and ethos behind handloom. By creating these linkages, WomenWeave is able to fulfil its mission and ethos of creating improved and sustainable livelihood opportunities for women weavers.
Gudi Mudi is the core founding project of WomenWeave and connects the dots between a Gandhian idea of village economy and todays’ rapidly transforming urban market in India, as well as international markets for artisanal and sustainable luxury.
Leader of the Indian freedom struggle Mahatma Gandhi believed that Khadi (hand spun and hand woven cloth) was the material means to connect communities and consumers across India, and create a sustainable form of village economy. With growing awareness of both climate change and the importance of creating viable livelihoods for rural communities, Gandhi’s ideal of village economy based on handloom cloth is more relevant than ever!