Life on the Looms: The Art of Hand Weaving

Life on the Looms: The Art of Hand Weaving


The looms which make the People Tree fabric are 48 inches long, within these 48 inches, 6144 threads are placed, by hand through the reed on the loom, the reeds hold the threads in place to stop them tangling. Hand looms do not require electricity and so production is carbon neutral, helping reduce global warming and protect the planet.

When people talk of India and Bangladesh, often what the mind conjures up is vibrant countries teeming with colour. Artistry and craft are deeply ingrained in these societies, from beautiful temples, finely hand painted and decorated rickshaws, to the stunning fabrics in beautiful colours and intricate designs. But often, what people don’t realise, is that many of these beautiful fabrics are hand woven, a skill which has been passed down for generations. In Bangladesh hand weaving is the second largest labour intensive sector for rural employment after agriculture. The handloom industry in India and Bangladesh employs 10 million people but it is in dire straits. With mechanisation of textile production, hand weavers are struggling to find employment.

At People Tree we are very passionate about two things, artisan and craft heritage skills, and empowering economically marginalized people. We work with the skilled crafts people of rural Bangladesh and India who are struggling to receive fair prices and markets for their products. Unfortunately this skill is being rapidly replaced by the power looms. The power loom industry is more intensive, with workers working long hours, for poor pay and in poor working conditions, child labour is also widespread in this industry. Each power loom takes away 9 hand weavers jobs. Mayiz who manages our partner group Artisan Hut told us, “Without child labour the power loom industry would not exist”. Highlighting just how reliant the informal power loom industry is on child labour. Dark sheds with poor ventilation are filled with incredibly loud power looms.

With lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, hand weavers are losing a vital source of income. With no work they are forced to migrate to the cities which are struggling to sustain the influx of people, especially to their already highly populated slums. In the city, people are forced to live in impoverished circumstances separated from their families. Working long hours often in the conventional garment industry, they send money home to support their families. A recent article in the Bangladeshi newspaper The Independent highlighted the desperate need for rural development, in an article entitled ‘Managing the urban slums’

To stop the ever burgeoning slum population and improve their conditions, first of all, the migration of rural population has to be slowed down. For this it is very important to create reasonable living conditions for them in the places where they have lived for generations.

Hand weaving is a dying artistry which we need to preserve. Hand weaving in an incredibly complicated and skilled process. – And more importantly, the fabrics are gorgeous. On a recent trip to visit the People Tree hand weavers, we watched as the master weaver set up one of the looms for our SS16 collection. The looms which make the People Tree fabric are 48 inches long, within these 48 inches, 6144 threads are placed, by hand through the reed on the loom, the reeds hold the threads in place to stop them tangling. Hand looms do not require electricity and so production is carbon neutral, helping reduce global warming and protect the planet. It provides nine times more labour than that which has been produced by its mechanical counterpart, the power loom.

Business and in particular fashion has a bad name when it comes to upholding peoples basic rights and prioritising their livelihoods. People Tree Founder and CEO Safia Minney had few but vital core beliefs to build a fashion brand that would pioneer a new way of doing business and prioritise a triple bottom line, people, planet and profit. People Tree was started in 1991 with the ethos that business can be used to promote livelihoods, give long term support and pay fair prices as well as help create better living standards and empower people.

By Clare Nally