Coimbatore, a chief city in Tamil Nadu, is an urban hub with major developments in various sectors like education, IT, healthcare and manufacturing originally well-known for its rich heritage of cotton weaves. A fast-growing metropolis today, it is home to over 25,000 textile manufacturing companies and has spawned many new related sectors. The weavers of Coimbatore are known for their superlative dyeing and weaving abilities. The metropolis is in fact often referred to as the Manchester of Tamil Nadu because of its cotton production and textile industries. During the British reign, the textile industry witnessed considerable growth. In the early 19th century, the cotton mills in Mumbai experienced a sharp decline resulting in a boom in the Coimbatore textile industry. The city, also known as “Kovai”, has since been extremely prosperous in this sector.
Its main claim to fame is that the weavers of Coimbatore were the first to make silk cotton saris, using 60% silk warp and 40% cotton weft. It is essentially a blend of a traditional silk and a superior cotton yarn. The body is made separately from the border, which bears more detail with zari included, after which both are attached. The famous Coimbatore Silk saris woven painstakingly in either Kora Silk, Silk Cotton or Pure Cotton are well known for their effervescent colours and graceful finish that make them a perfect fit for almost every occasion. The patterns vary from sober checks and simple stripes to vibrant, traditional motifs like peacocks, parrots, paisleys, elephants and swans. Kovai Kora Cotton has been recognized as a geographical indication by the Govt of India in 2014-15.
The region’s economy is largely driven by textiles and textile machinery. The industry is quite fragmented with the large scale enterprises being centered in the main city and numerous small scale units around the region. Handloom weaving is also the main occupation for almost all the villagers around Coimbatore. Venture into any of its bordering villages and you will be greeted by the omnipresent clacking sound of the rural weavers working away at their handlooms, as they magically transform colourful yarns into woven wonders. Cotton weaving involves a lot of hard work as raw cotton requires a lot of preparation before weaving. This becomes all the more cumbersome during the monsoon season due to the heavy moisture, making the cotton difficult to handle and also because of the fact that the looms are made of wood. They take an average of 3 to 5 days to weave a sari which earns them anything between 450 to 850 rupees per sari.
The number of rural weavers has in recent times reduced. Even among the ones remaining, almost 70% of them work with silk or a silk blend due to the ease of handling and higher profit margin. This has caused an inevitable decline in the production and supply of the iconic saris. Even though they take great pride in their profession, the general trend is of the next generation moving on to white collar professions. The primary reason behind this is the general uncertainty of the handloom market caused by the rise in the popularity of mass manufactured, power loom fabrics.
The ingrained textile culture of Coimbatore is however not just interested in resting on their laurels and gaining profits through their manufacturing industries. There is a keen interest in aiding further development and progress of all technologies in the field of textiles. Coimbatore is home to many research-based ideas in matters of textile and an evolved consciousness can be seen surrounding this industry to a large extent. 82 co-op societies in Coimbatore and surrounding districts have been identified as authorized dealers of Kovai Kota saris. The Govt of Tamil Nadu also sells them in all its Co-optex outlets.