Handloom combined with blockchain: Weaving legacy and innovation together for a dignified future

At the conclusion of this month, world leaders will convene in Glasgow for the COP26 – 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The entire world will be following their every move. It will be a test for every leader, as well as the commitment of their nation and their people to the Paris accord. Although the majority of us may find the topics under discussion and the ideas presented here to be entirely strange, we are not immune to the effects of inaction.

We, as a country, are aware of how vitally important it is to respect nature, the environment, and other people; nevertheless, somewhere along the line, we managed to get off course. In addition to this, we have lost the link to the richness of our legacy, along with the value it offers to individuals and the potential answers it may provide.

Because these phrases, “sustainable,” “empowerment,” and “circular,” are used so frequently, we are led to assume that they address and solve the more significant issues that are currently at hand. If we aren’t open and honest about the process by which we reach our goals, none of these things will amount to anything or have any real influence. To put it another way, the open and transparent exchange of information regarding the how, where, and who is responsible for the production of goods is an essential activity.

Without being completely open and honest, we will never be able to attain sustainability.

Increasing numbers of companies are adapting their operations in order to satisfy clients who are more socially conscious. As a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, customers have an increased desire to make the most responsible purchasing decisions possible, not only for themselves but also for other people and the environment. The rapidly expanding consumer desire for sustainability, particularly within the fashion industry, is increasing demand for blockchain technology, which enables brands to demonstrate that their products have been produced in an ethical and sustainable manner. This is particularly true in the context of the fashion industry. Brands are forced to take responsibility when they are transparent, which results in sectors that are more moral and sustainable.

Where is the connection between this and the handloom business in Sri Lanka?

Handloom: A Look Back and Ahead

My family has been operating a social enterprise known as Selyn for over thirty years now. This business encourages the use of handlooms and provides support to over one thousand rural craftsmen all throughout Sri Lanka. Before we get into the specifics of how blockchain can be relevant to the business, it is vital to have a general understanding of how the sector got established and where it is at the moment.

The Sri Lankan handloom industry has a long and illustrious history that dates back more than 2,500 years. It has also been a sustainable industry ever since it was first established, as the amount of energy used in production is relatively low, and the industry has provided thousands of jobs for rural artisans and communities all over the country. However, in spite of many people’s best efforts, the industry is currently in a state of decline. This is attributable to a number of issues, the most recent of which being the unfavourable effect that the slowdown in the tourism business in Sri Lanka has had. However, the fundamental issue, from my point of view, is that over the past few years, the value that has been placed on Sri Lankan handlooms has decreased.

Sadly, handloom is no longer widely viewed as an object with inherent worth that speaks of our history and culture and symbolises the abilities of brilliant artisans. This is unfortunate because handlooms say volumes about our history and culture. The skill of our craftspeople is no longer revered, and instead, they are frequently viewed through the perspective of a charitable organisation. It is essential that Sri Lankan handlooms be marketed toward premium or even luxury markets, which prioritise quality above quantity produced in large quantities and quickly. In addition, and perhaps even more innovatively, increasing the transparency of our production methods through the incorporation of blockchain technology into our supply chains will be a crucial step that will allow us to better tell the story of Sri Lankan handloom. This will allow us to address the “green-washing” debate and provide customers with verifiable data that will assist them in the purchase of a textile with a higher value. These premium markets, as well as customers who are more conscientious, are now hankering after the tales of heritage and responsibility that only ethical and fair trade businesses are able to convey. Emerging trends around the world lend weight to this idea. Not just the handloom business, but also, in my opinion, a good number of Sri Lankan brands might benefit from this possibility.

A Step in the Right Direction with Blockchain

The blockchain is the ideal tool for businesses that have control over their supply chains, particularly those who are dedicated to the principles of fair trade and ethical business practises, as it can be used to confirm authenticity and communicate a company’s story. With blockchain technology integrated from the point of sourcing to the point of purchase — from fibre to fashion — a consumer can now be fully aware of what goes into their product and how it is manufactured with only the swipe of a QR code. The use of blockchain technology ensures that every step of the production process is documented. As a result, customers have access to metadata that is independently validated, updated in real time, and specific to the information that they require.

And that’s not the end of it. Consumers have the ability to add their own information into the QR code; hence, this permits the required circularity for the product, regardless of whether it is given to a friend or resold. This entails not only publicly disclosing information about how, where, and by whom a product was created, but also for us in the handloom business and even for the larger garment industry as a whole. This becomes more than an exercise in story-telling, especially considering that this technology requires us to pay attention to people at all stages of the supply chain. Who works for the brand, in what factories, under what conditions, are they safe, are they paid a wage that allows them to live, how many hours do they work, do they have workers’ rights? These are some of the questions that need to be answered. It also requires that we be aware of the garbage that we release into the environment, such as our forests and our seas, and it draws our attention to the ways in which we can maximise our profits while simultaneously decreasing our carbon footprint. It makes it possible for us to humanise our supply chains and distribute the premiums that are obtained fairly among all of the individuals who are involved in the process of bringing a product to market. We collaborate with professionals, artists, and craftsmen that have years of experience as well as a high level of expertise. They are all a part of the process, and the customer who buys the finished product has a right to know what goes into turning craft into clothing. The dignity that should be associated with our art needs to be restored to our weavers.

It goes without saying that this is much simpler to state than it is to put into practise, and it stands to reason that companies that have previously made investments in fair trade/ethical trading and operational standards will find it simpler to initiate the process of integration. Most crucially, this process will call for a mental shift, away from traditional approaches to business that emphasise industry competitiveness and toward one that emphasises working together and coordinating efforts. To ensure the continued success of Sri Lankan handloom, productive relationships are essential across the industry. The only way to preserve and expand Sri Lanka’s handloom industry is to make the transition toward cocreation in handloom, an approach in which all players enjoy recognition and economic rewards. This is also the case for the remaining parts of its craft industry.

Accepting Blockchain Technology, Selyn

Selyn is the only fair-trade handloom firm in Sri Lanka, and our mission is to create a sustainable business model that improves the quality of life for more than one thousand women in the country. As a company that has been in business for thirty years, we are dedicated to reinventing our industry by promoting complete transparency of supply chains, incorporating innovative production technology, and radically altering the product that we provide. Our purpose-driven business strategy is intended to result in increased economic benefits, improved achievement of sustainability goals, and a restoration of pride and dignity among the artisans who work for us.

The handloom industry will likely develop in a different direction, in our view. We feel that now that we have started the process of incorporating blockchain technology into our supply chain, we are in a position to genuinely walk the talk and present to the world a truly genuine and ethical craft brand. Selyn is repositioning its work in the handloom sector to target rising market prospects by drawing on its foundations in fair trade, utilising its credentials as a social company, and benefiting from COVID19’s acceleration of its work. Both of these strategies are being utilised. In the end, we want to carve out a special place for handloom as an essential component of Sri Lanka’s intangible cultural heritage, and our goal is to accomplish this by leveraging a commitment to methods that are ethical and sustainable while also increasing the level of transparency. In addition to that, we are making significant efforts to pull the industry along with us. We feel that the concept of blockchain in the handloom sector is an innovative move towards placing Sri Lanka as an industry and global leader that combines technology and tradition to achieve sustainability.

I am of firm view that blockchain is the future of handloom, and the garment sector at large. Many other industries in Sri Lanka can too profit from adopting this technology. Although there are still hurdles to be faced with the mainstream adoption of blockchain, the future potential for the technology is unrivalled. The only question now is how ready and prepared are Sri Lankan brands to embrace this future.

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