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We plan to start hand dyeing, fabric finishing, hand-spun yarn production
HandTouch, founded in 2002, works with weavers and artisans to revive traditional handlooms in Bangladesh. It exports handloom fabrics and hand-made textile products to Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Even though HandTouch is not an officially fair-trade certified organisation, it adheres to fair trade principles and runs a responsible business by paying fair wages, creating a good work environment and ensuring an eco-friendly production process. Chief executive officer and proprietor Mohammad Ali Khan chats about the challenges the Bangladeshi handloom sector faces and more in an interview with Fibre2Fashion.
How and when did you start HandTouch? Why did you want to work with handlooms?
HandTouch (HT) started in 2002. When I worked for the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), I witnessed the poverty and social economic challenges in rural areas. This drove me to start HandTouch. Our company supports the rural poor by providing work in their own homes and villages so that they don't have to move to heavily crowded cities like Dhaka. We utilise hand skills that are gradually getting out of use. We put emphasis on the artisan's skills and creativity.
How many weavers do you work with? Do you work with artisans directly?
We work with around 90 weavers (60 in my own factory and another 30 in a different cluster or individuals' home). I do work directly with artisans.
What is the percentage of women workers in the Bangladesh handweaver's community?
About 56 per cent are women, according to the third Handloom Census 2018 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
Which rare traditional weaves of Bangladesh are you working towards preserving? Can you brief us about some lesser known handloom forms?
Saree, lungi (men skirts) and gamchha (bath towel) are widely used in Bangladesh. Both these items were produced on handloom. Nowadays, their use has reduced for comfort in work, price and for fashion statement (also for religious aspects). The handloom products mentioned above are facing some challenges.
Since the beginning, HT has been trying to spread awareness of saree among women, especially to younger women. HT uses both old hand work motifs (technique like jamdani) and new developments. We emphasise on cotton materials, but for breaking the monotony of design and motifs, we use hand spun silk (silk khadi), cotton khadi, jute, sequence, recycled yarns and any new materials suitable for hand weaving.
HT has played a great role in introducing new fabrics, especially in handloom saree since its beginning and I believe that the use of saree has grown in Bangladesh again. HT's huge contribution is responsible for this achievement.
How do artisans and weavers benefit from working with HandTouch?
Handloom is our main activity. We have 60 handlooms. We have a production unit in Panchagar district, around 500 km from Dhaka and it takes 10-12 hours by road to reach there. The northern regions of the country face seasonal famine, or monga, which is a major problem.
There are about 100 workers-60 per cent women-who are engaged in handloom activities. Before we started the work, most of them were either unemployed or only depended on seasonal agricultural activities. Now the village has found a way to change its life through handloom. Besides our own factory production, we also work with different groups and individuals for marketing their product.
Which are the most widely sold handlooms at HandTouch?
Saree is our most widely sold product in the local market. But we also produce-
Fashion accessories like scarves, stoles, shawls
Home textiles like bed cover, curtain, tablecloth, jute rugs
Kitchen, table and bath linens like tea towel, table runner and place mat, napkin
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