Most developing nations around the world harness the potential of the country’s native creative industries in gaining economic development and empowering craftsman communities. Mostly involving traditional handcrafted products, unique to each country and region, many countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America have invested widely and heavily on their unique handcrafted products, that combine traditional knowledge, native skills and a wealth of indigenous resources.
From Bangladeshi Brassware to Persian Carpets, Japanese lacquerware, Chinese Porcelain and Belgian glassware; countries around the world have built a unique global market for their traditional handcrafted products.
Sri Lanka too has a rich history of traditional craft-based industries including textile crafts such as handloom textiles, batik and Dutch lace, wood carving industries such as masks and crafted furniture and reed and rattan crafts. Due to the country’s close association with global fashion and apparel industries, Sri Lanka’s traditional textile crafts are being thrust into the global limelight again.
The Handloom sector is a highly labour-intensive industry. It can also be considered as an environmentally friendly option for economic growth. It plays a vital role in reducing poverty. The industry is located in rural areas.
Inspired by the motifs of colours in the local landscape , the history of Sri Lankan handlooms goes back to thousands of years.
According to the Mahavamsa, Princess Kuweni, the native princess of Sri Lanka was busy using her weaving wheel when prince Wijaya arrived in Sri Lanka. According to records, cotton has been in trade between Sri Lanka and other countries. The current designs also exhibit characteristics of Indian and Egypt art that is believed to be passed down back in the day.
Sri Lankan weavers are traditionally divided into two main indigenous weaving communities. They are Thalgune and Migrants. Thalagune textiles are known for their special designs that depict inspiration from nature. Some of their famous designs are Katuru-mala, Botapata, and Mal Petta. The local sector is further influenced by the Moor community who are descendants from Arab traders.
The Sri Lankan Handloom industry mainly comprises three main segments namely community-business, provincial council-based handloom business, and private business. Independent weavers who work within the context of areas that are dedicated to the industry are considered under community business. Production centres owned by the provisional councils and private owners are scattered across various parts of the country. These weavers are focused on both local markets and export markets. Most of their products include sarees, other womenswear, menswear, curtains, bed covers, cushion covers, bed covers, toys, and other accessories.
The industry has helped the country to develop sustainable employment opportunities during the process of rebuilding industries after 30 years of war. The high demand for environmentally and socially friendly products allowed local producers to show off their talents by delivering high-quality products to global markets.
The local industry can supply both small and large quantities when it comes to addressing demand. Most of the products are made using rayons, polycotton and silk yarn. Sri Lanka is also known to be a country that comprises raw materials in abundance. This is a great strength to a low-cost involved industry such as handlooms.
Government involvement is also an appreciated fact within the industry. The state offers confectionery income tax rates and exemption of certain levies when importing yarn for handloom manufacturers. Training facilities and centres are also made available for upcoming weavers who wish to enter the industry with fresh ideas and sound knowledge. State universities commence technology and design programs to train new entrants to the industry. Vocational education centres also provide knowledge to these individuals with the motive of re-establishing the Sri Lankan handloom sector based on educated youth.
The industry also comprises a lot of strengths. The employment opportunities that are offered to the rural communities provide them with a source of livelihood. Handlooms require low capital investments. This reduces a lot of costs and attracts more investment opportunities towards the sector.
Even though Handloom weavers are mostly based in rural areas, the industry has the potential to be based in any area. Some of the major government institutions dedicated to the development of the Sri Lankan handloom industry are the Ministry of industry and commerce, Department of Textiles, Sri Lanka Institute of Textiles and Apparel, University of Moratuwa, and National Enterprise Development Authority. With all this support and opportunities including the Sri Lankan government’s major decision of developing the handloom industry, the sector is in good hands and is looking forward to reaching new heights.