Indian Artisanal Fabric Coops: What Are They + How Do They Work?

Indian Artisanal Fabric Coops: What Are They + How Do They Work?

If you sew, there is a high likelihood that you know how much time, labor, and material goes into making a garment. But we don’t always think about the time, labor, and material that goes into the fabric we sew with. At Core Fabrics, we strive to highlight and humanize the entire life cycle our fabrics take, including the significant labor involved before we even set eyes on our future sewing projects.

One of the fabric collections we are the most excited about in our studio is our handwoven cottons from India. Crafted by artisans in East India, these fabrics directly contribute to preserving textile traditions and supporting individuals by allowing them to make a living within their rural communities. Our collection of Handwoven Khadi Cotton from India is a perfect example of the kind of transparent supply chain we are passionate about. We receive this fabric from an Artisan Coop, meaning that the fabric comes from individual artisans who get paid for the fabric they weave. There is a lot of depth in this process, so let’s dive in.

What Are Artisan Coops?

Handweaving Fabric

Artisan Coops are collectives that group individual artisans together, allowing them to reach a wider customer base than a single artisan could, while enabling them to still retain their individuality and their power over their own products. The Artisan Coop that supplies our Khadi Cotton is made up of over 300 artisans who work primarily from workshops in their homes. Coops offer artisans the ability to get paid for their craft while remaining in their communities, rather than having to move to larger cities to find work.

How Do Artisan Coops Work?

Our supplier founded their organization with the idea that artisans should be central in the conversation about the goods they produce. Their artisans are scattered across their home state, as they are not required to leave their communities to participate. They work from home workshops, typically with other family members involved in the production process.
Indian Artisan Weaver
Before work begins, artisans discuss their prices with the coop, based on the complexity of the design, and the labor it will take to weave. Rather than dictating an hourly wage, this system allows artisans to be in control of what they receive in return for the fabric they create.

The coop provides artisans with sustainably sourced natural fibres, spun into yarn. When this yarn is handspun, it is called Khadi (check out our Cotton Khadi Collection here). The yarn is then set up on handlooms and wrapped around a shuttle, and another artisan starts the weaving process.

Once the fabrics are finished, they are collected by the coop. Artisans are paid for their labor, and the coop then ships the fabric in bundles directly to us. We keep it in our studio until it is cut for your orders! 
Stack of Khadi Cotton

History of Hand-weaving In India

Hand-weaving has been around in many different forms throughout civilization, but in India, it had a particularly important revival in the early 1900s. Hand-weaving in India gained popularity during a political movement started by Gandhi. After the American Civil War cut off raw cotton imports to Britain, the British began to export cotton out of India and then import the finished textile back into India to sell. This unfairly raised prices for citizens, as they were growing the cotton, but paying the price for imported textiles. 

In the 1920s, Gandhi began to promote regional hand-weaving as a way to become self-reliant and gain independence from British rule. This movement also created work in rural communities, which in turn supported the economy of these villages. Despite the prevalence of industrialized weaving methods, the tradition of handwoven textiles remains a major source of income in rural areas of India today. 

As a result, India's vibrant and rich textile tradition is thriving well into the 21st century. Curious to learn more? Check out this post on how ikat prints are woven in India!

Environmental Impact

Our handwoven collection has a low environmental impact. Because the artisans who work with our supplier use handlooms and work mainly during daylight hours, there is almost no electricity used to produce this fabric. Azo-free dyes are used to minimize pollution in waste water. The fibres used for production in our supplier's coop are sourced from southern India, keeping Gandhi's vision of a self-sustaining textile industry alive, in addition to creating a lower footprint textile since the entire production from plant to finished fabric is done in India.

Turning the textile industry into an eco-friendly system is an ongoing journey, for us, for our suppliers, and for everyone else who wants to build a more sustainable future. There are always was to improve, and our supplier is looking to expand into natural dyes to further the reduction of chemical waste in their production process. 

Social Impact

Indian Artisans

At Core Fabrics, we’ve made it our mission to help bridge the gap from maker to maker, which is why we love working with this supplier. One of the many great things about this Artisan Coop is the level of transparency in the supply chain. This is important because it ensures that everyone who has a hand in creating a product is treated with respect and given a fair wage for the role they play.
In a fast-fashion world, it’s easy to forget or overlook how much labor goes into turning raw materials into wearable garments, so transparency is key in reminding us all that the hands that touch our fabric should be treated with as much respect as we treat our own craft once we receive the fabric.

As sewists, we benefit from this slow-fashion approach to textiles and this honouring of traditional craft. As humans, we benefit from a collective understanding that all people in our supply chains should be treated fairly and with respect. What's better than a gorgeous textile you can feel good about wearing?!