Inspiring India


From Kathy, Founder and General Manager of Sabahar:

In December, 2017, I had the great opportunity to travel to India with 4 of my colleagues from Sabahar. Shiferaw, our production manager, has travelled there a couple years ago, but for Yeshiwa (finishing supervisor), Degu (weaving supervisor) and Ermias (master weaver) it was the first time. We had a busy schedule, starting as the invited guests at the Loin Loom Festival in Nagaland, NE India.

About 60 weavers (only women weave here) brought their looms and participated in the 3-day festival.
About 60 weavers (only women weave here) brought their looms and participated in the 3-day festival.

The festival was established in order to keep alive the traditional weaving practice and designs of loin loom (back strap) weaving. Nagaland is famous for their highly symbolic woven designs which women painstakingly produce on simple looms. There was great interest when we set up the Ethiopian loom which we had brought along, and Degu and Ermias (men!!) were weaving. 

This woman was especially eager to learn the new technology, and she is now responsible for this Ethiopian loom which we left for her/the group.This woman was especially eager to learn the new technology, and she is now responsible for this Ethiopian loom which we left for her/the group.

We were all amazed at the detailed weaving, and complicated designs the women produce. I am excited that we are trying some of the new techniques in Addis.

From Nagaland, we travelled by train to Guwahati – the capital city of Assam State. This is the area of India most famous for eri silk production and processing, as well as their distinctive traditional weaving. We had 3 amazing days of non-stop silk and weaving experiences and stories.

Our first stop was to visit a local NGO called Grameen Sahara, about an hour drive outside of Guwahati. This organization has assisted women to form a community-owned and managed business which links thousands of women who are producing eri silk with women who spin the silk thread. Their success in building the capacity of women to manage the silk value chain was inspirational…a model which we hope to try in Ethiopia.

Ermias trying out the jacard weaving technique at the Grameen Sahara training center. 

On the second day, we visited Sualkuchi village. The “Manchester of the East”; It is estimated that there are about 12,000 looms in this town. However, just as in Ethiopia, traditional weavers are looking for alternative livelihoods that pay more. Local business people and NGOs are promoting innovations in weaving technologies that would enable more efficient production and greater market potential. What a feeling to walk around a town where one can hear the sounds of weaving coming from all houses. We thought of the similarities with Dorze in southern Ethiopia.

Large and small sheds in Sualkuchi are extremely busy places with men and women weaving, seemingly all on jacquard looms.

Then, we met Fabric Plus – an Assamese company devoted to producing and selling beautiful eri silk fabrics and products. We felt extremely fortunate to visit their large factory, where we were astonished to see huge amounts of eri silk being processed. Such a different story than ours!! In Ethiopia we mostly see eri silk production as a cottage industry of household cocoon production and hand spinning on drop spindles or spinning wheels. Fabric Plus also feels that household production of cocoons is appropriate, but in order to be sustainable, the producers need a reliable supply of high quality silk eggs, and a collection system for cocoons. No such services exist in Ethiopia. In terms of thread production, Fabric Plus has learned that spinning on wheels will never be sustainable. Instead, silk processing needs to be mechanized and done on a large scale. This enables the production of silk thread which can be used for a greater variety of products – including clothes and household products. By good chance, the Ethiopian Government is convening a meeting in early April to discuss the silk strategy…so we will present these ideas for discussion and see what can be done.

This is all combed, eri silk at Fabric Plus– ready to go into the spinning mill. Beautiful!!

We then headed south- in search of improved spinning technologies for cotton.

Our visit to Chennai was an introduction to ‘crafted yarn’.  Microspin founders – Kanaan and Hema – are passionate about enabling ‘micro-spinning’ of locally grown cotton at community level, to produce lovely soft and slubby cotton yarn that is a pleasure to wear. This approach recognizes that historically, cotton has been baled (compressed into big bundles) only for the purposes of easier transport to the cotton gins.  At the ginneries, it had to be ‘de-compressed’ but often never totally regained its natural softness. If ginning is located close to the cotton fields, the processing time and cost are reduced and it usually results in a softer yarn. In addition, the micro spinning mills are managed by communities, which means they benefit more from the value addition rather than just being a raw material producer.  We are hoping we can find a way for Kanaan and Hema to work in the Ethiopian cotton sector in the near future. 

Our last stop was Hyderabad – to meet the amazing Ms. Uzramma – the founder of Malhka. We learned more about the passion in India to enable cotton processing closer to cotton farms.  We returned to Ethiopia determined to explore how we can improve cotton spinning technologies – to keep our lovely soft feel but find spinning technologies which enable sustainable livelihoods.



What an amazing 3 weeks. A highlight for me was to see the excitement when traditional weavers from Nagaland and traditional weavers from Ethiopia communicated perfectly with only the shared language of weaving!!

All of these artisans are facing an unsure future…as their hand made fabrics which they produce with such pride, are being totally replaced by mass produced cloth that in no way honors the producer! Indeed, we don’t even know where most of our clothes come from let alone who was involved in their production. What a loss for us all if we lose these traditional skills!

We returned to Ethiopia inspired, and ready to work harder to keep hand weaving not just alive….but also expanding and thriving!

We thank all of our customers and friends for also believing in this dream!

Thanks for coming along on this journey with us,