Kerala, India


FIELD NOTES

A MODERN TRANSFORMATION








Kara Weaves brings
Southern Indian textiles
onto the international stage





Kara Weaves, Chitra Gopalakrishnan
Along the Malabar Coast, a narrow strip of beaches in South India facing the Arabian Sea, sits the state of Kerala. Civilizations flourished along the historical Spice Trade and Silk Road routes. Ancient Arabs, Portuguese, Chinese and Sumerians called this place the "Spice Garden of India".

It was also home to a grand tradition of hand-loom weavers who have practiced complex weaving techniques. The variety of intricate fabrics comes from numerous artisan workshops, where the weavers have guarded and transmitted their ideas of weaving for thousands of years.

kara weaves
Kara Weaves artisan weaver
Kara Weaves
Kara Weaves, Chitra Gopalakrishnan
Kara Weaves, a Kerala-based social enterprise founded by a mother-daughter duo, continues that tradition today. It all started in the summer of 2007, when Chitra Gopalakrishnan arrived in the US to continue her study at the Crancrook Academy of Art. Her mother, Indu Menon, is a social anthropologist based in India. Shaken by the deteriorating economic environment for textile makers and their massive transition to other professions, Chitra and Indu determined to create a market-based solution to support and promote the work of hand-loom weavers in their hometown.



Kara Weaves
Kara Weaves, Chitra Gopalakrishnan

We felt our skills combined could
help bring a new perspective and attention
to these traditional textiles of Kerala,
and support the artisans who make them.

Kara Weaves
Chitra Gopalakrishnan Kara Weaves


"Kara" means "border", which is a pattern of traditional Kerala textile. In the past, people in Kerala liked to dress in white with little color, an aesthetic very different from the image of Indian textiles that one would imagine, which is loaded with brocades, embroidery, prints, and colors. Chitra’s design transforms the local patterns into modern, minimal home textiles. At first glance, her work may appear almost Scandinavian or Japanese, but they are made by skilled weaving artisans on floating wooden looms.

As a graphic designer trained in Europe and the United States, Chitra is especially proud of the geometric motifs she developed together with artisan weavers. “We love experimenting with the weaving process to create new patterns based on traditional techniques," she says.
Kara Weaves
Kara Weaves Towels
Chitra Gopalakrishnan Kara Weaves
Weaving will be extremely difficult without strong communities, for the interplay between materials and techniques comes from different shops and cooperatives. Kara Weaves works exclusively with government weaving cooperatives, where each artisan weaver is a voting member of their co-op and has a say in its policy and business management. “It is very important to us that each artisan is a part of this system,” Chitra says, “as it ensures a transparent and fair-trade production process, in which each artisan has a vested interest in the growth of their trade and skill.”

Kara Weaves artisan workshop
Now a member of the Fair Trade Federation of India, Kara Weaves is working with four weaving co-ops and one tailoring co-op, each led by a master weaver who trains young apprentices in weaving and sewing. Out of the course of the past years, the partnership with Kara Weaves has brought about a 127% increase in wage for these weavers. The number of weavers working at the co-ops grew trifold. One co-op saw their revenue doubled. Another was awarded a Kerala state grant to buy sewing machines and pay for sewing lessons.

The uplifting progresses reinforced Indu and Chitra’s belief, that the hand-weaving heritage in Kerala will be able to continue through a fair remuneration structure, and the increasing participation and enthusiasm it brings to the younger generation.
Kara Weaves



Words: MINZUU     Photos: KARA WEAVES