Growing up in non-metro Tamil Nadu (Trichy, Coimbatore and Salem), the Co-optex brand was a very familiar sight. Co-optex is Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, which, I believe, is the largest weavers’ co-operative society in India. The organization is 83 years old (started in 1935!) and is an apex body consisting of 1.5 lakh members, who are part of 1,400 societies of the innermost towns of Tamil Nadu. It also has 200 showrooms across India, and has recently started online sales even to international locations.
The reason for this lengthy introduction is because of something highly innovative and purposeful Co-optex has pioneered recently. It is worth emulating across India since many other states too have local weavers’ co-operative societies (like Hantex in Kerala or APCO in Andhra Pradesh, for instance).
The idea, in itself, is not new – it need not be either. I recall seeing this idea first with the UK-based cosmetics brand Lush. Take a look!
Yes, the names of the makers of each piece of cosmetic (soap, body wash, shampoo etc.) are clearly labeled on every single product of Lush!
Co-optex does something similar. They are called ‘weaver cards’ and they, along with a photo of the weaver of a saree, explain his/her effort that went behind that piece of garment.
This is absolutely brilliant marketing communication that creates a special bond between the maker and the buyer. Yes, you may discard the weaver card after reading it, but given how rare it is that you notice the name of the maker of a garment you purchased, chances are, you may not only retain the card but also proudly share that piece of information with your friends, online and offline.
Like Ram Prasad’s post on Facebook that spurred me to research more on weaver cards.
I believe it was T.N.Venkatesh IAS, who took over as managing director of Co-optex in September 2014, who executed the weaver cards idea (he is not the current MD, though). Not only that, but he has also arranged for face-to-face meetings between weavers and buyers in events in multiple cities. Read about one such event in Banashankari (Bengaluru) last year.
The effort put in by a weaver is astounding. See the note on this weaver from Manamedu, near Trichy – Kamaraj “along with his family members takes 2 days to weave this cotton saree of 5.50 meters and in the process moves his hands and legs 16,000 times. This weaver is in the weaving profession for the past 30 years”.
This is a beautifully touching effort to bring personalization to a sector that has almost fully given itself to mechanization. We are so used to seeing ‘Made in China’ labels on almost everything we buy these days – it’s almost taken for granted. Amidst such a sad state, what Co-optex and other weavers’ cooperatives in India are doing is absolutely brilliant. That Co-optex manages to do this while also turning a profit, year after year, even more so!
So, small, meaningful efforts in communicating the name of the weaver and their effort, to the buyer is not only a noble and purposeful act, but also highly inventive in the way the whole idea has been conceived and executed. Kudos to this phenomenal idea and effort. Given Smriti Irani’s (our minister for textiles) interest in handloom garments, this is a worthy idea to emulate across India, for every piece of hand-woven garment.
PS: Two more examples like Lush and Co-optex weaver cards where individuals and their efforts are acknowledged.
1. Decathlon (suggested by Sundar Ganesan)
2. Ikea (suggested by Pravahan Mohanty)