The Chizami Weaves initiative of the North East Network (NEN) in the Chizami village of Nagaland's Phek district has been uplifting the lives of women. Samhita Barooah reports.

When designer Rajiv Gautam came to Chizami village in Nagaland's Phek district in 2008 with his vibrant colour palette, the traditionbound women were apprehensive. Gradually, his engagement with the women weavers nudged them towards the new horizon of a thriving market. Ten years on, Gautam's initial design inputs of sizes, colour patterns and contacts for procuring cotton yarn from Delhi's Sadar Bazaar have come a long way in developing the Chizami Weaves range.

The journey of Chizami Weaves began in 2008 as part of establishing a social livelihood programme for the women weavers of Chizami. It emerged from the persistent vision of a women's organisation called North East Network (NEN). Chizami Weaves started with seven weavers; the number has scaled up to 600 weavers across three locations in Phek and Kohima districts.

As Monisha Behal, founder-CEO of NEN, puts it, "We began a process of making women confident of themselves and making sure that they can weave their futures along with the textiles."

Weaving Traditions

Weaving is done only by women in the predominantly Chakhesang community of Phek district. The men manufacture the loom which is specifically made out of wood and bamboo, grown locally in the community forests of the villages. The traditional loom is still used by the Nagas and other tribes of the Northeast. Portable loom gets its name from the strap pulled around the weaver's back that holds the whole structure with the required tension that in turn enables sturdy weave pattern.

Due to the nature of the loom, the width of a fabric is normally woven at one go and does not exceed more than 18-20 inches. Larger pieces of fabrics are created by stitching a number of strips together. Traditionally, women would weave for family and festival needs, but with the coming of brands like Chizami Weaves, women are now weaving for people from all over the world. The women at Chizami weave traditional motifs in local textiles and turn them into fashionable home decor items and dress materials, which fetch competitive market prices.

There is also a growing concern about the fading away of skill-sets. The weavers say in unison, "We want to preserve our traditional way of weaving. So, younger generations must learn weaving. If there is support from the government for weaving practices, then we can teach weaving to the younger generation too." There is a perceptive need all across for incorporating the traditional skills of weaving into the school curriculum of Nagaland so that the girls are not deprived of education in the process of upholding traditional values and skills of weaving. It helps both ways.

Forging Livelihoods

The weavers say that it is because of the instant cash payments that they get for their hand-woven textiles, they like to weave for Chizami Weaves. Otherwise, they would simply weave for self-use and exchange the weaves with community members during festivals. Besides, networking opportunities have strengthened their collective bargaining power in ensuring economic stability.