Mohammad Asad did not have any social media account until 2020. Just before the lockdown in 2021 he joined a group of young weavers to be tutored on the vocabulary of reels and posts. The group was also taught on how to increase the followers by making the updates innovative and catchy.
This was the beginning of his ‘addiction’ to social media. But it also turned out to be his ventilator for his almost paralysed business.
“Before the lockdown we were into offline mode of sale. The pandemic and the lockdown brought a metamorphosis,” says the 33-year-old who has been running his family’s 50-year old business of Chanderi sarees.
Gulabsha Babo, his wife started her Instagram page for Chanderi sarees in 2021. What started as just a past time has now become her full-time engagement. She uploads at least one picture of a saree in 2-3 days.
The couple have formed Whatsapp groups to feed the customers with new designs and patterns. “It is not about increasing your followers. It is about getting the right customers.”
Meet these new breed of ‘tech literate’ weavers from Chanderi, a mofussil town in Madhya Pradesh –tucked in a tapestry of forest, hills and forts. All of them agree that nearly 50% of their business chart was because of social media.
“We have been able to connect with people across the world. This has been very motivating even during dull seasons,” says Mohammad Anas, another young weaver from Chanderi.
Mohammad Yakub reminisces the dull season in 2021. “Facebook helped my business limp back to normalcy. It was a tough time. This was the time we started positing our products on Facebook. And the response was encouraging.”
Yakub maintains that the social media had broadened his customer base—even given it a global complexion, something that was unfathomable before the lockdown.
Most of them are not very savvy and need to be trained on making the displays more creative – but that does not deter them from experimenting.
Shahid Ahmed, chief operating officer of Digital Empowerment Foundation, agrees that social media has played a pivotal role in expanding the business of the weavers after the pandemic.
Technology had made an inroad in the community around 2010 but this was confined to mainly sending mails, pitching their products for exhibitions.
“We conducted several training programmes especially for the young weavers,” says Ahmed.
The main challenge that the weavers in Chanderi face is duplication. There have been several duplication of Chanderi fabric being sold at a cheaper price. Since these sarees are only hand woven, they have to brave competition from the powerloom products in the market that are cheaper.
Ahmed maintains that there is a need to impart more training to the weavers. Besides, he says there should be a decentralisation of the Chanderi clusters.
Other issues that the weavers are grappling with are monotony of designs, limited designers –most of whom were not paid well.
But despite an inundation of social media, there is still a large section of weavers who rely only on the offline mode.
“I do not understand the language of social media. I cannot imagine a business without having a face contact with the customers,” says Abdul Ameen.
Offline or Online-- the weavers need financial and emotional support to keep their age-old business moving on.