Tamil Nadu Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society, popularly known as Co-optex, is a 1935 vintage state-run enterprise which evokes nostalgic memories for thousands who have seen generations of family members buy sarees, towels and other handwoven products from its showrooms across the country. It enjoys the patronage of not just south Indians but people from across the country and globe who repose deep trust in the quality of its silk, cotton and zari product ranges, lovingly using them for decades.
The Co-optex has scripted a revival story by refurbishing its showrooms and stocking up new designs and products like scarves, stoles and salwar kurta materials while not compromising on its traditional or hallmark sarees and bedsheets to appeal to the young buyers. Cradle cloth is also among their best sellers. Co-optex currently has close to 155 outlets spread across India.
Mythili K. Rajendran, MD, Co-optex, says handloom sales constitutes around 80% of their revenue, along side the powerloom products, which help generate volume sales.
“Market for Co-optex is handlooms. The connoisseurs appreciate our range and quality products. Handloom has a great future and great many takers. For instance, we have regular buyers for the hand woven product the ranging from Kancheepuram silk sarees to cotton bedsheets.” Each of the handloom clusters has its own distinct tradition. Co-optex’ primary objective is to nurture them and takes pride in displaying sarees in its showrooms according to clusters with distinct traditions and weaves. In sales, the top performing clusters are in the Coimbatore-Tirupur-Salem belt with its soft silks, cotton sarees and bedsheets, followed by the Chettinadu and Paramakudi cottons, Kancheepuram silk and Koorainadu silk cotton varieties which stand out as elite. Thirubhuvanam silks woven in the Kumbakonam belt and Madurai Sungudi are also Co-optex’ best sellers known for their elegance.
“We have built a community of customers who are integral to our growth and come to us asking for specific products, knowing they will get genuine handloom products”. Sarees from Co-optex not only have a logo to guide customers on the material used but also bear weaver’s identification card for traceability. Customers are able to make informed decisions before buying a product. Cost wise we may not be comparable but quality wise we are unmatched, states Mythili K. Rajendran with pride.
Co-optex maintains high business ethic and clear policy of transparency. To inform the customers about the quality of zari used, the texturised or commercially called half fine zari sarees are woven with “HF Zari” indication woven in the saree itself. This self declaration enables the customers to distinguish the vareity from pure gold zari sarees which are very high in price comparatively.
As part of its endeavor to conserve tradition and protect the handloom sector with its colourful artistry, the State government has tied up with 240,000 weavers in 90 clusters spread across the state. Minimum wage has also been fixed for different products and every ancillary activity. The government’s policy is aimed to ensure that certain products are kept exclusively in the handloom category and handloom weaving remains a sustainable activity for families traditionally engaged in this sector. “Apart from input cost, the minimum wages for the craftsmanship are suitably incentivized by Co-optex. For instance, in the case of bhavani jamakkalam, made at Bhavani in Erode district, the new effort to customize the size and designs of the jamakkalam to customers choice has won them an incentive which is incremental to their wages. Bhavani jamakkalam has been granted geographical indication status to safeguard the uniqueness of its colour and design.
Striving to keep pace with new demand while preserving the traditions, Co-optex is in the process of empanelling a group of designers to help different clusters introduce new look in terms of patterns and colours without compromising on traditions. This is expected to improve the sales also.
Given the four months lockdown this fiscal, Co -optex is expecting its sales to be a little over Rs.200 billion, as against Rs.2.36 billion in the previous fiscal year. Various government schemes in large part kept the handloom and powerlooms in operation during the difficult times.
Launched in 2014, Co-optex’s e-commerce portal is currently generating revenues of Rs.60 million. During the Covid times, it kept the sales ticking. The housebound weavers were kept engaged with order book of over Rs.100 crore. Exports, which had reached Rs.10 million, are growing steady with loyal buyers.
The Handloom Cafe, experiential Centre
Among various efforts putforth in promoting the brand image of Co-optex, establishment of “Handloom Café” in the premises of Co-optex exhibition grounds is a high light to capture the reminiscence of rich tradition and legacy of Handloom weaving profession.
The Handloom Cafe is an ideal place for the visitor to enjoy the art of weaving while eating their bites. A live handloom weaving of Kancheepuram/Arni silk saree is an ongoing activity by engaging two weavers from Arni area societies. The customers can give order to their taste and need in this loom and get an unique saree, customized.
The Handloom Craft Center
The another special innovative creation is, the “Handloom Craft Center” wherein mini handlooms are setup to familiarize and promote weaving as a past time among visitors. Hands on experience for recreation and to create samples by professional is enabled in this center. Undoubtedly the vocation also has therapeutic value to impart to its users. The visitors will be supported by a weaver-trainer available in the craft center. The craft center creates awareness regarding traditional skill and technique of the handloom weaving to the younger generation in specific.
Striking a cultural chord, every now and then Co-optex launches special collections to celebrate flavours of the state of Tamil Nadu. Through this unique initiative, weavers are recognised for their craftsmanship and their artistic brilliance.
Co-optex has introduced very recently the Yuva Silk Sarees to attract younger generation in appealing colours with gorgeous designs; korvai jamakkalam, woven with incorporation of geometrical patterns in hand korvai technique which is different from traditional type jamakkalam and navagraha design sarees in silk and cotton with intricate designs and hues inspired by 9 Planets, produced by the weavers of Coimbatore, Madurai, Salem and Arni.
Outlook Business initiative is a brand promotion feature