The Kerala floods devastated the iconic Chendamangalam handloom cluster in Ernakulam, comprising of five societies and 600 weavers. Looms, raw materials, and stock worth Rs 20 crore were damaged. Burning the severely soiled stock, still stained despite dry cleaning and treatment with chlorine, is the only option for these weavers. However, Lakshmi Menon of Pure Living and Gopinath Parayil of The Blue Yonder are determined to infuse a fresh lease of life into these damaged products.
Born out of cheru (mud, in Malayalam) and love, the ‘Chekutty’ or ‘Chendamangalam Kutty’ represents hope and resilience. As Lakshmi Menon says, “Nearly all of us have been affected by the floods, directly or indirectly. So, our hope and aim is to make Chekutty the symbol of our stories." Lakshmi founded Pure Living, an organisation that upcycles waste materials. She has helmed projects like ammoommathiri (where elderly women are employed in producing lamp wicks) and seed pens (pens, with seeds in them, made from recycled paper).
“I came to know of the situation through Gopinath Parayil, who was involved in the rescue mission at Chendamangalam. When the water receded, he decided to visit the place again. He discovered that the situation was terrible as the weavers’ sole avenue for income, their looms, and huge stocks of sarees, dhoties and other garments were destroyed in the floods.”
“While the usable ones are being upcycled by some designers in their collections, a lot of the garments still had stains, even after they were dry-cleaned and treated with chlorine,” she said. After much brainstorming, Lakshmi decided to go for a product with the soiled sarees—dolls.
A very simple doll, Chekutty is fashioned much like a child would make a plaything from scrap cloth—a tiny ball for head, rest of the cloth as the body, and a face drawn using sketch pen. “These dolls should symbolise the resilience Keralites displayed when the floods occurred. The way we overcame our differences while helping one another is the takeaway from Chekutty,” Lakshmi says. She feels this is an experience no one should forget. “When you have a friend from another state visiting you, and he sees Chekutty, it will generate curiosity. In no sense is she perfect—she has her share of scars and stains. It will steer the conversation towards the flood experience.”
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted about the venture, saying that he has directed the IT Mission to identify startups along similar lines.
“Each saree would normally sell for Rs 1,300. Each doll is priced at Rs 25, and since we are able to craft 360 dolls from each saree, the return we can get per saree is Rs 9,000,” explains Gopinath. “The damages faced by the weaver cluster at Chendamangalam vary in scale and degree. Some of them have to rebuild their entire framework for the looms, and this could cost them lakhs. If nothing, the money generated from the initiative can help them restart their lives,” Lakshmi adds. The duo aims to make close to 72,000 Chekuttys with 200 sarees. “Eventually, we hope to salvage every usable piece of garment, including dhoties and handkerchiefs, with the help of volunteers who are willing to make more dolls,” she adds. Lakshmi says they are overwhelmed by the response in such a short period of time.
“For the past four weeks, people have been discussing the matter of funding for rehabilitation. But, we need to come out of the charity mode and go into an enterprise mode, to kickstart the local economy. I feel that any product with a strong story behind it will have buyers,” says Gopinath. “We are trying to provide the weavers some immediate relief, as compensation from the government could take a long time. The sooner the better, as the core competency of the weavers is to produce great quality textiles.”
If you want to help generate funds for the weavers of Chendamangalam, you and your friends can get together, buy sarees and make Chekuttys. For more information, log on to their Facebook page or visit their website at www.chekutty.in.