During her stint as a designer with the government owned Co-operative Society, Christy Treesa George, worked with weavers who were struggling to make ends meet and had observed them from close quarters.
For four years, Christy had seen their miserable lives as these women did not have money to educate their children, or even to buy basic commodities like sugar. The weavers had to finish weaving a mundu or sari to get Rs 250 or Rs 300 as remuneration, and they did not get any daily wages. Christy had seen weavers from her childhood, with most of the clothes in her family being made of handloom.
Hailing from Kannur, the 34-year-old Christy quit her job in 2013 and started a showroom. Looms and Weaves was opened near General hospital junction in Thiruvananthapuram to promote handloom. Beginning with a turnover of less than Rs one lakh, the sale was not as expected and she had to go through various struggles. Hearing about the Amazon launch in India though, Christy got a lifeline.
“A friend of mine went directly to the Amazon office and asked if they were willing to buy products from us. We had all the papers, of the tax paid and other documents ready with us which made the registration easier. In the initial days, we used to sell ten products which has now grown to 700 products,” says Christy proudly.
Now, she directly employs ten women and eight indirectly. Around 50 families and 200 organic farmers across the state have benefitted from her venture. Christy associates with women or societies headed by women, to buy products. The products sold on Amazon range from handloom clothes, towels, bed sheets, pesticide-free spices, variety of chips, Kerala’s herbal and Ayurvedic skin care products, ethnic gifts, homemade cookies, and accessories, to name a few.
“There is Kerala’s own avalose podi (roasted rice powder), and avalose unda (roasted rice balls) and other tea time snacks. I buy the products from women who have no one to support them or who were about to close down small business units, as they were not able to market the products properly. Earning a meagre income from their work earlier, they now earn a decent remuneration,” Christy says.
The handloom dresses made by the weavers are mostly designs that are suggested by Christy. The weavers, she says, in the initial period did not readily listen to her. “It takes time to gain their trust. In the early days, if I suggested a design, they would take it as interference in their business. Now that I have gained their trust, they are ready to cooperate in every possible way. During this Onam, they delivered clothes at night when I was finding it difficult to meet the increasing demand,” she says.
At present, Christy is taking more than 100-150 orders a day and is rated highly by the online giant in terms of seller feedback and products review. “Most of the customers are Malayalis living outside Kerala. For spices and Ayurvedic products, there are foreign customers too. There is no compromise on the quality. I personally monitor that. If I am not satisfied with the quality, I return the products. The good thing for the sellers is that I pay them instant cash while Amazon pays me weekly,” she says.
During her childhood, her mother- a homemaker, used to tell her about how to test the quality of a cloth by simply touching it. Hailing from a district that is regarded as a hub of weavers, quality testing is not a tough task for Christy.
“When I got the opportunity to see the life of weavers as a designer of a government society and when I realised that the government measures actually didn’t have any impact on their lives, then the thought came into my mind that when I move on to the next phase in life, women should benefit. Seventy per cent of weavers in Kerala are women. Also, I buy spices from women farmers who do farming on a small scale,” Christy says.
Christy sells only Kerala-made products on Amazon, through which she gets 100 to 150 orders a day. Looms and Weaves is the single largest e-store selling these products. She sells at least 30 products a day and on certain days it goes up to 50. Seventy per cent of the buyers are repeat customers. Now, the store functions from a 1500 square feet, rented house at Paruthippara. The offline sales directly through the shop are encouraging and expansion of the shop is on the anvil.
Before starting Looms and Weaves, Christy had done a market study about the possibility of selling handloom products in Thiruvananthapuram and also conducted an exhibition. “I know how the people in Kannur love handloom, but I wanted to study about Thiruvananthapuram,” she says.
Christy has been living in Thiruvananthapuram with her husband Jobin ever since they got married in 2010.
Christy now plans to promote Khadi as well. Along with Jobin, she has travelled across the country to get an understanding about the ground reality. “The traditional khadi weavers are also struggling. We will tie up with khadi societies in various parts of the country, buy products from them and market them, and in turn, provide assistance for the weavers,” she says.