Panchachuli is a women’s weavers co-op founded in 2005 and based in India. They make beautiful fabrics and pashminas using natural fibres and traditional techniques. I first came across Panchachuli at the Eco Luxe exhibit during London fashion Week in 2010 and later heard Mary King, UK agent, speak at the Ethical Fashion Forum Source Expo. Panchachuli provides opportunities for training and employment for marginalised women, currently working with nearly 800 women in 32 villages. They have a waiting list of girls hoping to start training and the enterprise has enabled schools and a hospital to be developed. Mary answered my questions below.
1. What does your role for Panchachuli in the UK involve on a day to day basis?
In the U.K. I liaise with designers and retail outlets to sell the items which I import from India. Admin takes up a considerable amount of time as well as meeting customers.
2. In what way does the Panchachuli women’s weavers’ co-op help the women involved in the enterprise?
It has empowered the women totally in a remote and economically backward region of India. Before the co-operative these women would not have been employed in this way. It also provides health care, eight schools and a hospital for the entire community so benefitting not only the women but their families as well.
3. What do you think these workers in Almora would be doing if Panchachuli had not been established?
They would be leading extremely difficult lives. A recent World Bank study concluded that Panchachuli should be used as a model for socio-economic change. The problems range from alcoholic husbands, single parent families, and other social issues. Today a Panchachuli woman stands for an independent wage earner.
4. Where do the raw fibres come from for Panchachuli products?
Lambs wool from New Zealand. Cashmere from Mongolia. Local products are Oak Silk, Himalayan Nettle and Sheep wool.
5. What is the biggest challenge Panchachuli has faced as an enterprise?
Persuading the local population to accept the changes in lifestyle and training the women to export standard.
6. What does the future hold for Panchachuli?
More expansion. It is hoped to train a further 500-1,000 women across the area.
7. How are the products and the enterprise as a whole marketed to consumers?
All labels are beautifully hand painted and name the weaver and village. In the U.K. the business is “ethical luxury” and works with The Ethical Fashion Forum so it adheres to ethical guidelines and banking.