Looms of Ladakh and how it is helping Kashmiri women own their traditional handloom culture

Although founded by Prasanna Ramaswamy and Abhilasha Bahuguna, Looms of Ladakh is managed by the locals of Ladakh, especially women who earn their livelihood by making Pashmina knitted items.

Just a few years ago, it was usual to see the locals of Ladakh, particularly women engaged in the knitting work. Either they would be a part of some NGO’s project or an initiative but never were they part of a firm or a producer entity. When Prasanna Ramaswamy, IAS and the then Deputy Commissioner of Leh, was on a routine tour, around 2015, he came across many such women in the Chumur village and thought of initiating a training programme with them to make them capable of earning through it. Never did he think they would become an integral part of his producer organisation – Looms of Ladakh.

Along with Ramaswamy was his wife Abhilasha Bahuguna, the co-founder and the chief strategist of the women’s cooperative firm, Looms of Ladakh. Out of her age-old longing to work on the social and environmental cause and knowing the lack of an industrial base for cashmere products, even though it belongs to the traditional culture, she found herself deeply vested in setting the pillar for the brand. The duo, first, ran a training programme for the women in their region for a specific time but what happened afterwards motivated Bahuguna to begin the firm in Ladakh in 2017.

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Once the training was over, Bahuguna came across the claims that suggested the women of Ladakh were not sufficient to run a fashion label on their own and would start working in small stores. This intrigued her to establish a sustainable, luxury and artisan-led brand that could employ women, not only as mere workers but also the owners. On the other hand, Bahuguna and Ramaswamy were clear about opening the firm in Ladakh only. “Pashmina is part of the identity of Ladakhi people. They are very hesitant in sharing the culture of making Pashmina with other states or places. So, we decided to establish the brand here and also to give a boost to the handicraft and handloom industry of Ladakh,” Bahuguna says.

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The inception of the brand marked the beginning of women developing a sense of belongingness in running a firm. The ownership traits also led to the ensured traceability that worked for the enterprise to grow. Looms of Ladakh currently produces a range of products, including coats, jackets, shawls and accessories like gloves, caps and more.

Involvement of Ladakhi from various regions

Apart from the weavers and artisans, the herders have also been involved in the brand. The firm’s members, oftentimes, get the sheep’s wool while the brand also sources the raw materials from the Pashmina Grower Society. Women clean the wool before it is sent for spinning.

Upholding a decentralised approach within the organisation enables the locals of various regions and villages to take up the spinning work at their homes. A product designer has been shouldered the responsibility to take the raw materials to the villages and bring back the production.

Other processes like natural dyeing, advanced weaving and industrial tailoring also take place at various places. With the severe cold from November to February, the locals work from their homes as they are sent enough of it before the weather reaches the freezing point. Working on the concept of farm-to-fashion, the brand, thus, involves 310 people working and managing the brand.

Democratic brand 

The management of the firm has been ensured with a fair means of the electoral process that takes place within the social enterprise. The elected member handles the responsibility of day-to-day functioning. The tenure fixed for the elections is every three years and the first election took place in 2017 during the commencement of the brand. However, as Bahuguna says, it could have been partially fair as members had met each other for the first time.

The second election, which was held in 2020, though, was a changed scenario and Bahuguna believes that it is an achievement that members themselves asked for it. She says, “It was great to know that the members themselves wanted the elections to take place and were interested in the democratic concept and management of the work.”

With the only flagship store in Leh, the enterprise has been making sales better than it does through its online presence. As Abhilasha Bahuguna shares her plans, the firm can soon have more manufacturing bases in various villages. Meanwhile, what the online platform does best for the brand is highlight those intricate designs and hues of the Pashmina knitted clothes and accessories.

Also Read: With quirky quilts and colourful toy pillows, these Uttarakhand women from ‘Purkal Stree Shakti’ are quilting joys!

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