Prasanna studied fashion in Delhi, India and worked in the industry for six years. During this time, she witnessed the impact of mechanization on weavers and spinners first hand.
“They could not compete with large mechanized mills and were forced to make a living elsewhere. Many could be found taking up unskilled work like collecting garbage in large cities, and moving to slums,” Prasanna reveals.
She continues resolutely, “But this was not their passion; this was not respectful of their abilities and craftsmanship. They were becoming depressed. There were notices of craftspeople committing suicide all over India.”
4.33 million handloom workers in India
Handloom is engrained in India’s tradition and is a profession carried out with pride. But right now there are about 4.33 million handloom workers working on 2.38 million handlooms. 57% of weavers are below the poverty line, and almost 80% are in debt.
“It was here that the dream of one day giving something back to them was formed.”
After six years of working in her home country, she decided to venture to the Netherlands and complete an MBA at the Erasmus University. Three months after graduating she joined Enviu.
Addressing the issue of textile waste
When Enviu found out about Prasanna’s background in Fashion, they knew they had a match. Enviu, together with partner Sympany, wanted to address the issue of waste in the textile industry in India. After a year of rigorous research and testing the market, the concept of Khaloom was born.
When, for example, a shirt is made, the sleeves are cut from the fabric leaving 15% of leftover material. These leftovers are almost always thrown away or downcycled. Downcycling of fabric is already integrated into India’s system. Leftovers are often used for cleaning purposes. However, the value of the fabric decreases dramatically.
Upcycling: Restoring value
Khaloom instead collects these discarded materials to create new fabric that can be resold. This is what we call upcycling. The waste is broken down to fiber and transformed back to fabric by traditional textile manufacturing processes such as hand spinning and handloom weaving.
When fabric is shredded the quality of the fiber is not as strong as new fiber. So how does Khaloom guard quality? Currently half of the yarn used is still new to maintain elasticity. But the team will not rest till they have found a way to use 100% recycled yarn.
Two birds with one stone:
Saving water and the craft of fabric making
Right now every two million meters of Khaloom’s fabric saves 1504 million liters of water. This is about twice the amount of water Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt combined drink in a day.
Using post-production waste cotton instead of new cotton does not only save a lot of water, but also money. Money that can be invested in employing craftspeople: reviving indigenous manufacturing techniques instead of using completely mechanized processes.
“Enviu in India is now in the process of setting up a first production unit,” Prasanna explains. “We aim to employ 60 artisans by the end of this year, but this also depends on funds.”
Refining techniques and dreaming big
The challenge is to strike a balance between a competitive price and social and environmental impact. When customers order larger volumes they expect a lower price.
“We have produced our first two hundred meters of fabric,” Prasanna says. “Khaloom is refining its techniques and looking for larger buyers of fabric and brands to partner with.”
She adds with a smile, “I would love to see Khaloom grow in size and help even more craftspeople. I will have fulfilled the dream I had.”