artisan groups >> Amitava Basak, Phulia


Amitava Basak, a young entrepreneur of the Phulia scarf unit; one of Sasha's major producer groups, has reasons to be proud of his achievements. In his twenties only, his dying and weaving unit's turnover nearly tripled in the last three years, and now provides employment to around 50 families of weavers. But this is today. The foundation was laid in the past. Rajen Basak, Amitava's father had migrated from Tangail, now in Bangladesh to settle in Fulia, West Bengal. He had been engaged in the ancestral occupation of weaving and was an active member of the weaver's cooperative (Tantubay Samabay Samiti). Shubhasisni- founder of Sasha and others knew him from his Samity days. But significant business association with Sasha began in 2002 when the Basaks began to execute export orders of Sasha.

Rajen started his work as an employee at the weaver's cooperative society of Fulia all the while practicing & learning the art of weaving. In 1978, for the first time he participated in 'The Festival of India' where handlooms Saris from Phulia were showcased. He left his job, and began organizing looms & weavers to produce specific handloom products- mainly scarves. During that period handlooms were facing stiff competition from power looms. But Rajen Basak managed to successfully organize them.

In 1983 as part of the Festival of India, prominent Japanese designers visited West Bengal & specifically Phulia. They were impressed by Basak's work and placed orders. By this time Rajen Basak had already established his own business and single handedly managed to revive the traditional looms in his area & had been able to employ 50-100 weavers from time to time. Along with his son Amitava, he introduced significant changes in the mode of production and made the handlooms export oriented that resulted in better margins & profitability.

In the initial days, the living conditions as well as the social status of these weavers were poor. A situation came when all the looms were on the verge of shutting down owing to lack of demand in the domestic market. Migration further aggravated the situation with widespread unemployment in the Phulia region. With Sasha's intervention- namely export orders for scarves & stoles for fair trade buyers, the things started looking up for some of the weavers. Sasha encouraged use of Azofree dyes & safe materials and facilitated improved processes to meet international standards and prevent environmental & health hazards.

With the export-led growth, the condition of both men and women within the weaving community associated with the Basaks at Phulia has improved. Today, Phulia scarves and stoles by Amitava Basak have gained almost an iconic status, owing to their exquisite designs and excellent quality & are being featured in catalogues of renowned Fair Trade Marketers in Europe. Rajen & Amitava Basak in partnership with Sasha has brought this weavers group of Phulia into international limelight, showcasing their immense talent and skill.

Despite the nature of the weaving community in Phulia, where weaver loyalty is hard to find, Amitava and Rajen Basak have been able to garner commitment to a handful of weavers to continue to work regularly with them so that the benefits of Fair Trade can directly reach them. The Basak's have been motivated by Sasha to make arrangements for systematic effluent treatment and to provide extra social benefits to the committed weavers to set an example in the area.