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Handloom sector's lease of life
Munima Sultana

Official statistics show a common trend in highlighting information on the handloom industry. Only data is collected on how many handlooms turn inoperative and how many are reactivated over the period. Unfortunately, the number of reactivated handlooms never exceeds the number of inoperative handlooms. For that reason, the statistics fail to show the number of new handlooms in any census on the sector. But when any market observation shows a positive trend in the sector, official statistics show little interest in collecting data in this connection.
It has been observed that weavers have started getting retail and wholesale markets for their handloom fabrics thanks to their design and colour. Some design, fabric and boutique houses as well as NGOs have played a major role in activating a significant number of handlooms throughout the country. They have used their artisans, craftsmanship and experiences to help produce fabrics like Grameen Check, Dhaka Check, Aarong Check, Andy silk, Khadi, Tangail, Pabna fabrics etc. Diversification of products ranging from shirts, sarees, shalwar kamij to fatua, taga and panjabi for all seasons and special occasions has created a broader market for these textile fabrics. But the weavers find an expanded market due to copying of the designs and trends created by these houses and by others.
The players in the sector now claim that many fabrics which were used to be imported from India are now being produced in the country. And these are being used in the RMG sector. Sarees, 'lungis', 'gamchas', bedsheets and bedcovers produced in the local handloom sector are now being exported to some extent. Official statistics show that 192,311 handlooms turned inoperative until 2003.
Statistics of Bangladesh Handloom Board (BHB), however, show that till January this year, microcredit was extended to 36,536 weavers whose handlooms were inoperative. Under the BHB microcredit programme, these weavers have got a small amount of loans ranging from Tk 10,000 to 18,000 each since 1997 and were able to operate their handlooms. During the last two years since 2004-05, the BHB disbursed over Tk 91.6 million (916 lakh) among 7,867 weavers.
History tells of many glorious stories of the country's handloom sector. This is the sector that placed the name of Bangladesh in the global history book for the famous Maslin, Jamdani etc. But there were many area-based special products like Garad, Pinon, Tashor, Matika, Bairati Kapas or Photee which also lost the glory of their products due to lack of programmes. Also many products are now being revived through the efforts of some fashion houses, NGOs and design houses. Andy silk is one of such products now being produced in a large volume in Manikganj and Rajshahi districts.
Kay Kraft, one of the successful handloom producers, highlighted at least 40 such areas in its brochure which were once famous for producing different kinds of handloom fabrics. It also organised an exhibition in the city only to remind the people of these handlooms and its products last year. This exhibition was able to show a number of handlooms of different areas including Chapainawabganj, Sirajganj, Tangail, Manikganj, Narsingdi, Narayanganj, Comilla and Rangamati districts.
Khalid Mahmud Khan, a partner of KK, claimed that the retail and wholesale markets of handloom textiles doubled in last two years and it was possible due to the support of a number of fashion houses and design schools which worked closely with the weavers to help them utilise their merit, skills and expertise. He said these are helping them overcome the limitation in design and technology of the weavers gradually and improve their products' quality.
Not only KK, other sector players also believe that the trend that started developing should be strengthened. They said the handloom sector is very promising and it also creates a scope of export of its some products too. Many small and medium entrepreneurs have already engaged in different areas and now are producing supporting items like jori, breeds, thread, buttons etc through capitalising on their ideas about markets and services.
But still there is less effort to carry out research and development activities in the country in this sector. As the country's population is growing and the standard of living has been on the rise, the demand for textiles is likely to grow rapidly. So this sector needs to develop with urgency its capacities in spinning, weaving, knitting and dyeing, printing, and finishing sub-sectors adopting the most modern and appropriate technology to ensure quality products at competitive prices. It is needed to avoid duplication of their work and waste of time and resources and policies that often work against each other.