Role of Co-optex in preservation of handlooms

CHENNAI: A n enraptured audience at The Park recently witnessed 80 years of handloom history flash by, during a special talk on ‘The Co-optex Story’ by its TN Venkatesh, IAS. The talk detailed the history of Co-optex, also known as Tamil Nadu Handloom Weaver’s Cooperative Society, and its’ efforts to promote the work of hand-loom weavers.

It initially started out with individual weavers pooled into a few primary societies. Today, Co-optex is the apex body for close to 1,163 weavers’ societies. The logo of the company was and still remains the varnapuchi (butterfly), albeit today the style has changed a bit. “The consolidation years of the organisation were given a boost when office was set-up on Pantheon Road in 1956. The building was inaugurated by then Chief Minister K Kamaraj,” shared Venkatesh.

He went on to narrate certain milestones, including when Jawaharlal Nehru visited it. “At that point, an entire memorandum written on handloom and different sari designs was presented to him, and we have that memorandum here to be showcased,” he said, drawing gasps as the actual memorandum was exhibited. “From then, Co-optex grew in leaps, even appointing sales executives in Ceylon, Malaysia and the Middle East. We were also the pioneers of the ‘Bleeding Madras’ handloom, which we exclusively exported for 20 years,” claimed Venkatesh, of the hand-woven, yarn dyed cloth that became Co-optex’s familiar product.

He also elaborated on how Co-optex achieved many ‘firsts’ during its growth stages, including being the first to introduce a ‘salesmen year’ in 1972 where they got better incentives, introducing Management by Objective (MBO) and opening 40 showrooms in Calcutta in 1974 to cater to their customers in Bangladesh. “In 1985, Co-optex International was launched, and the European Fair Trade Association bought exclusively from us due to the quality of our products and how it is sourced, which includes no child labour, no artificial dyes, completely skin-friendly and so on,” he beamed.

A proud moment for Co-optex in 1986 was when the, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s delegation took a Co-optex shawl to be presented to the premier of the Soviet Union, who was extremely pleased with it. “A replica of it was also made with the visages of Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi,” he added, surprising the audience yet again by bringing out the original for all to see.

Over the years, focus has always been to support and revive the weaving community in Tamil Nadu. “We were able to revive the weaving communities that produced exclusive saris such as Koodali Karuppur Sari, Kornad Sari, Dindigul cotton sari and Madurai Sungudi saris, bringing communities that had left weaving as a profession back to it. Co-optex has also pioneered the weaver-identity tag, which not only has the weavers name and photo, but also their experience and the amount of time taken to complete the product,” he said.

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