Cashmere Winter Accessories Create a Future for Panchachuli’s Weavers
Mela Artisans is committed to helping artisans throughout India obtain a sustainable livelihood and improved well-being by bringing their extraordinary products to you. With a massive snowstorm sweeping through the United States, we think it is the perfect time to begin refreshing your winter accessories.
Our handwoven cashmere and lambswool scarves will fight off the early winter chill, while also supporting an inspiring women’s group half a world away. Read more about Panchachuli Women Weavers below.
Winter Skyline in Almora, India.
Snow is already falling in the Himalayan mountain ranges of northern India. Wintry winds blow through the picturesque town of Almora in the forested foothills. Here, in their simple but sturdy workshops, a cooperative of extraordinary women weavers will be busy all winter long. During the warm summer days they spun, dyed and prepared the rare wool of Mongolian goats into the finest and softest yarn imaginable. Now, as the days grown shorter and colder, their nimble, practiced fingers will spend the winter weaving exquisite cashmere and lambswool scarves, shawls and other winter accessories. Now in its third decade, Panchachuli Women Weavers, continues to provide its artisan members a path out of desperate poverty. Munni Mehta, Panchachuli’s Managing Director, who has been with the organization from the start, shares her very personal story of hope.
One of Panchachuli’s weavers, Munni Mehta.
“My name is Munni Mehta and I am a 54 year old mother of 3. I have been part of Panchachuli Women Weavers since its inception. I started working with Mukti Dutta (founder of the organization) shortly after I got married. Although I grew up in Almora, I moved to Ranikhet (a nearby village) with my husband after marriage but often returned to visit my family here. It was during one of those visits that I met Mukti and she explained to me her plan to start a women’s cooperative in this area. I loved Mukti’s idea and decided to help her with this project. Very soon, I became so involved in it that I decided to leave my youngest daughter in the care of my husband in Ranikhet and move back to Almora to help set up the cooperative. Today, my husband is still at Ranikhet, my children are all married and I have two grandchildren as well.”
Laying the Groundwork
We first trained the women in weaving thick Tibetan wool. Over the years, we’ve switched to cashmere and merino. We use merino wool to make a variety of items; accessories and clothing. We also make thick tweed clothing for local retailers because the weather here gets very cold. We use cashmere wool to make scarves, shawls and stoles, mainly for the export market. Our raw cashmere wool actually comes from Mongolia, as it is much lighter and of very high quality.”
A Focus on Quality
“Right from the beginning, we were very strict regarding quality. We started with 2 looms and 8 women in total. We narrowed these numbers down to 5 because we wanted only the most hardworking and skilled workers on the looms. We continued this process with different batches of women at various village centers, selecting only the best workers for further training. The main Pataldevi Center- where we are located now, opened in 2002. As and when women finished their basic training at our village centers, we used to bring them here to hone their skills. Even at the time of transferring women to this Center, we had another round of quality checks and not all of them made the cut. As of today, there are between 300-350 women working here and about another 300 women at various other village centers.”
Promoting Real Change
“Most of the women artisans at Panchachuli Women Weavers come from remote rural areas. When they came to us some of the women had never even visited a city! But today, these same women are standing on their own two feet, commuting from their homes to the Center in buses. They have learned to conduct themselves well in public and are paying for their children’s education with the money they make. For all these changes in their lives they have Mukti Dutta to thank. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that the women artisans at Panchachuli equate Mukti with god! She is the reason there is cooking gas in every house, children studying in English medium schools and hospitals and clinics to take care of the health needs of the people in this area.”
“I love working at Panchachuli. Perhaps if we women were still at home doing only housework, we would never have met so many other women or learned so many useful skills. Now we have a community. We have incomes. These things have helped me tremendously. All my children have had good educations, and I was able to provide a safe and comfortable home for my family. And personally, I have benefitted so much. It was my dream to take Panchachuli places and to see it grow and prosper. Today that dream is becoming a reality. And Mukti Datta is the force behind it. She has given us complete control of the organization. I have been working here for almost 18 years. My only hope is that I will be able and fit for another 18 years so that I can continue to work and serve Panchachuli.”
Click here to view the complete line of Panchachuli fine wool products.
- Jessica Irias