PROJECT GAMCHHA is the founding of a business — with a social footprint – to produce handmade silk in Bhagalpur, a traditional silk-weaving center in India.
The project aims to provide a team of local weavers with: a decent workplace; an opportunity to COLLABORATE with designers and artists-in-residence to imbue their craft with current fashion; and the promise of co-ownership of the venture to ensure an EQUITY of effort and profit for all involved in the venture.
The enterprise is set up in a disused 1960s factory building in Bhagalpur, which the project team has renovated.
OUR STORY IS STRAIGHTFORWARD:
We think that the masters of Bhagalpur — most of whom have become journeymen over the years on account of poverty resulting from economic and social challenges — must get a better deal for their craft.
We think this would be possible when the value of their craft could be increased and shared equitably. We want to achieve that.
BHAGALPUR is an old town on the river Ganges in the central-eastern state of Bihar, India. It doesn’t have a commercial airport but can be reached by train from Patna (5 hours) or by an overnight train from Kolkata.
With poor infrastructure, modern-day Bhagalpur is a poor shadow of the town in the past but remains an important commercial centre. It is an important silk exporter and is popularly known as the silk-city.
An old, though fragile, ecosystem of silk production and weaving exists in Bhagalpur.
There is a silk institute (since 1930), which is tottering on the brink, but continues to produce young textile professionals.
There is a weavers’s welfare centre housed in an old, impressive building: a reminder of Indo-Saracenic influence on local architecture notwithstanding the dilapidated condition of the rooms and overgrowth of plants in the compound. The welfare centre was started in 1974 to help local weavers and designers with all the support they require to upgrade their skills — technical and commercial.
The region around Bhagalpur — mainly in Jharkhand, the neighbouring state — has forests with two species of trees, Arjuna and Asan, which shelter moths producing the cocoon used to reel Tasar yarn. These forests are home to various animist tribes who have a ritualistic approach to silk cultivation.
A number of NGOs, development agencies and government organisations are involved in promoting cultivation of silk as a means of sustainable livelihood of the community in the region.