Two months back, when the flood water entered the factories of Chendamangalam village and receded only after 8 days, the machinery and weaving materials were damaged. The worst part is the stock produced targeting the Onam market got spoiled and the livelihood of these weavers were washed away.
Hence, two social entrepreneurs came forward to help the weavers of the traditional handloom cluster in Kerala’s Chendamangalam village to raise funds out of the damaged fabric stock through crowd-sourcing.
What is Chekutty?
‘Cheru’ means mud and ‘kutty’ means child in Malayalam. A symbol of hope and resurrection, Chekutty, is a tiny handmade doll made from the soiled fabric. It is almost like a phoenix rising from ashes and represents each people who have survived floods.
Located in the Paravur taluk of Ernakulam district, Chendamangalam is a traditional handloom weaving cluster that is located over 35 km away from Kochi and the iconic place is known for its handloom.
With the support of 100 of volunteers, the soiled sarees are being collected, chlorinated, boiled to disinfect and then it is converted to Chekutty. Priced at Rs.25, demands are pouring in from around the world for these dolls.
The soft handmade dolls can be used for various purposes like a keychain, wall decor or can be tied to a handbag. The idea is to remind people about the sacrifices and resurrection of a state which was ravaged by the flood.
Social Entrepreneurs behind Chekutty
The havoc that the flood caused in this village shook both Lakshmi Menon, who is one of the co-founders of the initiative and her friend Gopinath Parayil, who is a tourism entrepreneur.
While talking to PTI, Lakshmi said that some of the textiles were beyond repair and the weavers had no option but to burn them. Through this initiative, the same soiled stock is likely to fetch them much more through the cloth dolls and weavers are quite happy about it. This will also bring these weavers some relief that their months-long work will not go in vain.
Further, she said that people can read Chekutty as the child who survives the mud and dirt of floods or as a kid of Chennamangalam. To reach a wider audience, both Lakshmi and Gopinath took help of social media platforms to spread the message and urged interested persons to volunteer their services in doll making and the response was overwhelming.
Further, the entrepreneurs created a website and mentioned the purpose behind creating ‘Chekutty’ dolls. She said that the beauty of these dolls is the crowdsourcing. “It’s not made by one person or one organization. No Chekutty would look alike. Other than the basic steps on making, the painting, touch-ups, and decoration are all up to the individual doll maker,” she said.
Taking Desi Dolls to a Global Audience
“Chekutty has scars… Chekutty has stains. But she represents each one of us who survived the floods. I am so happy to see that our doll has now emerged as the mascot of Kerala, which braved the devastating floods,” says Laksmi.
According to the report, on September 21, a mobile app was launched in Silicon Valley to take these desi dolls to influence a larger global audience. Thanks to media, people from all over the world are placing bulk orders for these dolls through their website, Facebook and WhatsApp.
One of the seven Chendamangalam weavers co-operative societies, with which the doll-makers are associated, has already received Rs.5 lakh through online booking.
Lakshmi told, “A normal handloom saree may fetch Rs.1300-1500 in the market. At least 360 odd dolls can be made out of a six-meter saree. We plan to put it up for sale at Rs. 25 each. That means, dolls fashioned out of a single saree can fetch them up to Rs. 9,000. That is much higher than they receive through the sale of saree.”
‘Chekutty’ Dolls Movement
Recently, Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan has come forward in support of this unique initiative.
Apart from CM, the Kochi-based IT hub Infopark had adopted the movement to support the sales of these dolls.
The unique dolls have officially hit the market on October 2 in Kochi and the original products will have a trademark and a small write up attached to it. Before the launch, over 500 volunteers at the Maharaja’s College campus in Kochi have helped with the trademarking exercise.
Lakshmi, who also runs “Pure Living”, a social enterprise focusing on up-cycled and recycled products said that the entire amount raised through the sales of these dolls will go the handloom weavers cooperative society of Chendamangalam.
Ajith Kumar, who is the secretary of the Handloom Weavers Co-operative Society, Karimpadam, in Chendamangalam said that through online booking for the “Chekutty dolls”, they have already received Rs. 5 lakh in their account. Adding to this he said that the cooperative society has helped the weavers to clean the soiled fabric but the doll making and the sales were handled by the entrepreneurs and the money is directly credited to the Society’s account.
In a time when God’s own country is witnessing despair, these little hand-made dolls are giving them a sense of optimism.