Past Event

The Business of Handloom Fashion: The Future of Sustainable Dyeing and Weaving Workshops in India and Okinawa

April 7, 2017
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
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International Affairs Building (Room 918), Columbia University, 420 West 118th Street, New York
  • Annapurna Mamidipudi, Post Doctoral Researcher, University of Maastricht
  • Amanda Mayer Stinchecum, Research Associate, Reischauer Institute for Japanese Studies, Harvard University; Research Associate, Institute for Okinawan Studies, Hōsei University
  • Moderated by Dorothy Ko, Professor of History, Barnard College

Modernizing (and neo-liberal) regimes have sought to denigrate artisanal work and dislocate the local communities that their embodied skills engendered, to varying degree of success. In China, whatever was left of the once ubiquitous handloom industry had all but disappeared under Soviet-style industrialization programs in the early years of the People’s Republic in the 1950s. In India, an estimated 4.33 million craftspeople still made a living from handloom weaving in 2015 (about one-quarter of all craftspeople), producing a range of products from towels to exquisite saris in traditional and innovative patterns. Handloom textile production remains a vibrant economic sector despite challenges. In Okinawa, the traditional craft of banana-fiber weaving received metropolitan attention from the Folk Crafts (Mingei) Movement in the 1920s; the workshops were revived under government auspices after Okinawa came under Japanese rule in 1972. Today, the aging artisans weave primarily fabrics for special-occasion kimono.

The contrasting fate of handloom workshops in India, Okinawa, and China is rooted in cultural and institutional forces such as government policies and the shape of the market. What does the future look like for workshops in India and Okinawa (and, say, embroidery workshops in China)? What are the sociotechnical keys to sustainability and development? Is it technical innovation? Publicly-funded training programs? Collaboration with fashion designer houses? Direct internet marketing? For a weaving workshop—any craft workshop—to be viable, it has to generate enough sales for its products over a sustained period. In this roundtable, we survey the business approaches that work and ponder strategies for sustainable growth into the future.

Annapurna Mamidipudi was trained as an engineer, after which she set up an NGO that supported vulnerable craft livelihoods and worked with artisan production for nearly two decades in Andhra Pradesh, India. She has trained herself in natural dyeing techniques, and actively assisted production processes of artisan groups, and was instrumental in restarting the extinct practice of dyeing using the traditional indigo vats in Ananthapur. She is an awardee of the Global Social Business Incubator program of Santa Clara University of 2009, member Timbaktu Collective’s General Body, which works in the drought prone district of Anantapur towards food security, and on the executive committee of the Craft Education and Research Centre at Kalakshetra, the premier Music and Dance institution, in Chennai. She is the producer of an album of a musical opera, Pallaki Seva Prabandhamu, directed by renowned classical musician R. Vedavalli.

Amanda Mayer Stinchecum is an independent scholar, studying the cultural history of Yaeyama Islands seen through changes in cotton sash; history and present circumstances of five private ethnological museums in Yaeyama.

Dorothy Y. Ko, professor of history, joined the faculty of Barnard in 2001. In addition to her teaching duties for the department of history, she is affiliated with the Barnard Women’s. Gender and Sexuality Studies department. Prior to coming to Barnard, she taught at the University of California at San Diego and at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her teaching at Barnard includes such courses as “Body Histories: The Case of Footbinding,” “Chinese Cultural History,” “Fashion,”and “Feminisms in China.”

This event is free and open to the public.

This event is co-Sponsored by The Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University.