Handloom weavers at Chendamangalam in the Ernakulam district thought that they had lost the only source of their livelihood when the floods destroyed their weaving units and washed away all their stock and raw materials. That was when two social entrepreneurs in Kerala decided to give the state Chekutty, a handmade doll that has become a symbol of hope to almost 600 weavers.
The brainchild of Lakshmi Menon and Gopinath Parayil, Chekutty or Chendamangalam Kutty is the name given to the dolls made from the garments at Chendamangalam that were soiled and destroyed during the floods.
“A mascot of the emerging Keralam, being rebuilt through our solidarity, resilience and beauty of hearts despite some of the stains and scars that will remain in our lives. Chekkutty has scars. Chekkutty has stains. But Chekutty represents each one of us who survived the floods,” reads the Chekkutty website.
One significant reason behind making Chekutty is the emotional connect that Lakshmi and I share with Chendamangalam and our common interest in the handloom heritage of this place.Gopinath Parayil, founder of Blue Yonder, a travel company based in Kerala.
During the floods, Gopi has been actively involved in the rescue operations in the Chendamangalam area. “After the water receded, I had visited the textile industries in Chendamangalam as I often used to bring my guests over to visit these industries. I found out that the weavers were affected badly,” Gopinath tells TNM.
When people started sharing stories about how the Chendamangalam weavers need urgent help, Gopinath discussed the problem with Lakshmi Menon, the founder of Pure Living, an organisation that upcycles waste materials.
“The main challenge in front of us was the large heap of soiled garments that could not be cleaned despite washing with chlorine. What can be done with those clothes? That was when Lakshmi came up with the idea of making dolls from these soiled clothes.”Gopinath Parayil
Thus, Cherukutty was born.
According to Gopinath, 360 Chekutty dolls can be made from a single piece of saree.
“One saree would generally cost Rs 1,300. If we can make 360 dolls from one saree, with each doll costing Rs 25, the value of the saree goes up to Rs 9,000,”Gopinath Parayil
“We have upscaled the fabric to make these dolls. The money we get from the sale of these dolls will go to the Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative society.”Gopinath Parayil
Talking about their strategy, Gopinath says, “Kerala has been in a charity mode all this while. We are trying to channelise all this energy into an enterprising mode. If you work in a micro-level in a decentralised fashion, addressing local issues and looking at upcycling as a solution can make a huge difference`.”
The Chekutty initiative has now turned into a volunteer-driven programme. From writing content and creating the website to making the dolls, people have volunteered to be a part of this initiative.
Even Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan came forward in support of the initiative. “Chekutty, the child who overcame the floods. This doll is turning out to be the symbol of a Kerala that overpowered the crisis,” the CM said in his post on Facebook.
Incidentally, even before the sales have begun, Gopinath has already started receiving bulk orders from different parts of the world. Some have even offered to take the garments to their schools and colleges outside Kerala to make and sell these dolls in their places.
(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been republished with permission.)