Learning to weave for the luxury Indian and global fashion industries: The Handloom School, Maheshwar | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 2050-0742
  • E-ISSN: 2050-0750



This article will draw upon ongoing research into design and business education for traditional artisans in India. It will focus specifically on the use of traditional crafts in the luxury Indian fashion industry, which has grown significantly in the last three decades, alongside one of the Ph.D. case studies – The Handloom School (THS) in Maheshwar, a small sari-weaving town in Madhya Pradesh state. The charitable organization WomenWeave was founded by Sally Holkar in 2003 to generate sustainable employment for women in Maheshwar and the surrounding region. While Maheshwar is known for its silk, cotton and zari (metallic yarn) fabrics and saris, WomenWeave started producing khadi (hand-spun, hand-woven yarn), which has been popular in high-end Indian and global fashion markets. THS is a recent initiative of WomenWeave, and teaches weavers from different parts of India business, design, IT and communication skills with a view to enabling them to start their own businesses and generate more sustainable livelihoods in their respective regions. Students also learn new weaving skills and multi-treddle techniques, and are encouraged to weave fabrics with more complex textures, patterns and colours than what they are used to, based on WomenWeave’s success with such fabrics. The school is in its early stages and the curriculum is continuously being revised and adapted. My recent ethnographic fieldwork in Maheshwar and other weaving regions in India has involved learning about the experiences of some of the students and graduates of THS, as well as the faculty, directors and administrative staff, over the past three years. This article will draw upon these experiences, while presenting some of the challenges the school is facing amidst a broad and lively debate on craft in India within the development, anthropological, design history and material culture discourses. I will address a number of questions such as: how can traditional craft meet the needs of the high-end fashion industry? How is education impacting ‘artisan’ and ‘designer’ collaborations and challenging the definition of these roles? Who owns traditional and other designs, and whose identity is expressed in the final product? It also explores how weavers are combining their traditional weaving skills gained in the home, along with institutionalized learning of business and design concepts; and to what extent education enables weavers to create products attuned to a contemporary market.


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