India sits at the cusp of a creativity and culture-led manufacturing revolution. A significant player in this is the nation’s vast and diverse handloom sector that offers a ready foundation to build the future of sustainable textile value-chains. The sector engages close to 2.6 million weavers, one million allied workers and three million families. The sector also supports livelihoods for traditionally underserved and marginalized communities; about 67 per cent handloom weavers belong to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes. Women make nearly 72 per cent of the total workforce (Handloom Census, GOI, 2019). The handloom sector is not only a key contributor to Indian exports but also presents many opportunities for economic growth, supply chain diversification and a climate-smart future.

While handloom textiles are increasingly finding favor across board, the much-needed backend infrastructure that is designed for efficiency, transparency, and inclusion is missing. Collectivization in the sector continues to play a critical role in organizing an informal and disaggregated artisan and weaver workforce. Yet, the weavers and their collective enterprises struggle with challenges – access to living wages, information asymmetries, access to government schemes and networks, and climate induced setbacks – that hinder their growth and a profitable business trajectory. However, accelerated digital adoption across the country presents many opportunities to bridge the gaps in information, access and market linkages for India’s artisans, weavers and collective enterprises.

This research is an attempt to understand the present landscape of collective enterprises in India’s handloom sector and the state of digital adoption. The study draws on insights and data collected from 309 collective enterprises and 1236 weavers from across four states – Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. The survey findings were substantiated with in-depth qualitative interviews with 40 weavers from across the four states and 20 key informant interviews with experts across academia, social entrepreneurs, activists and gender experts.

Ultimately, the research explores how collective enterprises can act as key intermediaries in enhancing digital adoption among communities in the handloom sector and thereby aid the creation of networked ecosystems needed for inclusive and green production.