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Field to Fabric: Weaving A Revolution in Malkha

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“Mhalka is a movement. We want to democratise the production process, and rework it such that the process of cotton to cloth is entirely a village based activity. Field to fabric as we say.”

Aug 7 was World Handloom Day, and we were fortunate to be in the presence of the charismatic Uzramma, who met us at the Malkha homebase in Hyderabad. We were kind of in awe of her, but her down to earth nature set us at ease. She talks to us about weaving a revolution.

You’ve talked much about creating a revolution in how Malkha works. Can you explain a little on what this means?

Mhalka is a movement. We want to democratise the production process, and rework it such that the process of cotton to cloth is entirely a village based activity. Field to fabric as we say.

In cotton production the baling and unbaling of cotton takes us a huge amount of energy, and the high capital investment for that in industrial machines is prohibitive for the village, forcing them to go through middlemen.

We bypass that process by introducing a low-cost spinner technology, a way to introduce domestic spinning such that it is closer to the farmers’ fields and weaver centres.

This was actually the original culture of weaving Indian cotton - it’s only been since the East India Company and their massive export-oriented mechanisation of the industry that things have changed so drastically.

How can we match rural production to urban expectations of time and quality?

I think with more people like you and more designers understanding that rural production takes time, that its natural for good things to take time, things will change. We have a four to six month waiting list for some of our fabrics but people are willing to wait, because they realise that our fabric is different. Its softer and only gets better with time. That’s the hallmark of a good thing. And that takes time. You’ve visited our dying unit yes? So you’ve seen that.

What’s your main challenge right now?

Getting people to work together. We’re in a good place right now with Malkha as there is now a second generation who is passionate about the same cause and coming up in the ranks to take on the leadership role. At the same time, this transition in culture and people is always a bit messy. 

What’s next for you, with Dastakar Andhra and Malkha on their way? (Uzramma previously founded Dastakar Andhra before moving onto Malkha)

Well I’m semi-retired now… I’m looking forward to working on my own jewellery line of silver. I have a workshop at home and I love going back to it and working with my hands. That said, you’ll see me at Malkha still, a lot of the time!

Malkha stands for a decentralised, sustainable, field-to-fabric cotton textile chain, collectively owned and managed by the primary producers – the farmers, the ginners, the spinners, the dyers and the weavers.

Author’s note: Some of these answers have been paraphrased.