Tantuja, the apex society of handloom weavers’ cooperative societies in West Bengal, is finally breaking the myth – erstwhile things should be sold the conventional way – and going click-happy. Famous for ‘Banglar tant’ (literally ‘Bengal handlooms’), it has not only created a mark in the handloom sector of India in the past 60 years but has won quite an audience internationally too. With a view to save the weavers and merchants from the hardships and exploitation of the handloom industry, Tantuja was set up in 1954 by the state government. Boasting of being the head provider of Bengal handloom products, Tantuja now has 101 sales outlets, 12 procurement centres, two training centres one printing unit, two silk and three cotton projects, employing more than 500 personnel.
Being one of the largest interventions in the handloom sector in eastern India, it has been one of the biggest boosts to medium and small scale enterprises in West Bengal. Creating employment for many offline, Tantuja now looks to entering the current mainstream of business by launching its online presence through its e-commerce set-up. “The e-service will be a first for us. Initially we will begin with 100-150 items, mainly sarees. We are tying up with an e-marketing firm and the expected date of launch is September 1," said PK Bhattacharya, chief marketing officer, West Bengal State Handloom Weavers' Co-operative Society Ltd., in a recent interview given to IANS at Tantuja Bhavan in Kolkata.
Tantuja’s products range from women’s traditional wear to men’s ready-to-wear, dhoti, furnishing fabric, beautiful scarves, stoles, and a hoard of other handicraft and lifestyle products. The saree section has a wide collection - Baluchuri, garad, Begampur, silk, batik, jamdani, Gichcha, and hand-painted and woven ones too. Currently buyers have an option of picking these handloom products from the 101 outlets which Tantuja has, but to make them reach a wider audience by tapping into the national and international markets more aggressively, about 100 collections will be put up for sale through the online venture. The online shopping portal will have several ranges, including Tangail, jamdani, Shantipuri and Fulia cotton, and Murshidabad silk, as stated by a state official.
With e-commerce being the next big thing in selling, this dramatic shift of the handloom sector will encourage other sick ventures to kickstart with this initiative. Not only will it throw the excellent and intricate work artisans of Bengal into the limelight but will also create an employment opportunity for the hundreds who are skilled but are unwaged.
The online venture, for a start, would sell products with traditional motifs and nature-inspired designs, like earth-toned and pastel sarees adorned with the Kolki motif (an S-shaped design) so synonymous with Bengal and with inspirations from nature (foliage, climbers and the banyan tree). To target the new generation, some Murshidabad silk sarees with subtle hints of neon colours have been included.
Although the real essence of handloom may be subjected to its brick-and-mortar presentation of its spirit, the craftsmanship of the industry would benefit the most by the introduction of this new medium of selling. Consumers from anywhere across the globe will now be able to buy Tantuja products through the website without much ado. Already, for the last two years, orders have been steadily pouring in from France, Germany, USA and a few other countries. The same can be said about other parts of India. Now, this e-venture would open up a lot of opportunities for the weavers to earn well as well as spread the beautiful heritage of West Bengal to the far corners of the globe.
Written by Ankita Bose for Team M3.tv