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The Power of Women's Artisanship

Recent studies have shown the transformative power of artisanship: handicrafts provide a space of multicultural recognition, represent memorialization for second and third generations, hold potential for trauma expression, and a vessel to communicate a unified message that we are all part of one human family – all this while creating a platform for women to sustain themselves economically. This program describes how Women Forward International (WFI), a nonprofit that partners graduate students with organizations to make their research of service to humanity applicable today, is making the economic empowerment of artisan women possible in one of the most underserved regions of India.

Modernizing Tradition in the Service of Women Artisans in India

with ZariZar


Phase I:

Opening the U.S. Market to

ZariZar Women Weavers

The Need: The export of textiles is integral to the Indian economy, and skilled artisans are critical to that success. Given appropriate support, independent women weavers can continue to be the vital core of that workforce, maintaining a valued heritage as it provides livelihood for their families. This project demonstrates how a unique partnership can expand this cottage industry, which produces sustainable world class, “slow fashion” products, for the benefit of India, women, and style-conscious customers in the United States.


ZariZar: Founded by two entrepreneurs in the Aurangabad area of Maharashtra, ZariZar ( sells luxury had-woven shawls and a curated collection of minerals in the United States. The company builds on an established network of master weavers, mostly women, that, with their apprentices, has become one of the most renowned and honored in India. Their skill and patience enables them to spend days and even weeks at their looms, crafting a single magnificent shawl as a work of art. With ZariZar, this network of craftspeople is entering the globalized world of high fashion, using the most refined silk, Kashmiri wool, and Zari threads to weave luxurious patterns in the ancient art of Himroo shawls for a new market of customers.


WFI is partnering the Parsons School of Design in New York and students from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Mumbai, to implement a strategic plan to open up new markets, especially in the United States, to uplift ZarZar's community of businesswomen artisans, their families, and their communities.


The Parsons student Capstone Teams will answer the following questions:

  • Market analysis - What is the demand and competitive landscape for shawls and wraps in the desired price range? What are the demographics and psychographics that characterize the typical USA ZariZar buyer?

  • Social values - How might ZariZar credibly promote its ethical position?

  • Sales - What online models might ZariZar consider for a website that is appropriate for its product and market?

  • Production and delivery supply chain - How should ZariZar consider such issues as local sourcing, production capacity and training as well as expanded international order and delivery?

  • Branding, positioning, and segmented messaging - What would be a compelling brand platform, backed by a credible and persuasive value proposition?

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Phase II:

Launching a Training Center for Women Artisans 

It is estimated that by intensively training cohorts of twenty-five women over a six-week to two-month period, around three hundred new skilled artisans can enter the district workforce at the apprentice level per year. A considerable number of these women will have likely been “unpaid weavers” in their home. In addition, the center plans to be able to upskill and reskill experienced weavers.

Through donor support and upon completion of the research study in Phase One of this Project, WFI can address the need for highly skilled women weavers in the Aurangabad District who can contribute to the economic wellbeing of their families, their community, and the country. These women safeguard an important aspect of India’s cultural heritage: the modernization of a centuries-old process that needs to have a new audience.


While this area has typically benefited from its proximity to the UNESCO Heritage sites of Ellora and Ajanta, the Covid pandemic decreased tourism and depressed the area. Now, WFI offers a plan to establish an ongoing artisan training program in cooperation with two fashion educational institutions and Faisal Quraishi, the Managing Director of Aurangabad’s acclaimed Himroo Factory. Mr. Quraishi is also co-founder of ZariZar.


The need: The irreplaceable role of women artisans in rural India:  According to the India Ministry of Textiles in October 2021, the Handloom Sector is one of the largest “unorganized economic activities”, and it constitutes an integral part of the rural and semi-rural livelihood engaging over thirty-five lakh persons (numerically 3,500,000). The sector engages over twenty-five lakh (2,500,000) female weavers and allied workers which makes it an important source of economic empowerment of women. Handloom weaving also constitutes one of the richest and most vibrant aspects of the Indian cultural heritage. The sector has advantage of being less capital intensive, minimal use of power, ecofriendly, flexibility of small production, openness to innovations and adaptability to market requirements.[1]

The challenge: Bridging supply and demand. Because of the uniqueness and exclusivity of designs, capability to produce small batch sizes and being ecofriendly fabric, handloom products are in high demand in international and domestic markets.


Discerning retailers seek a reliable source for a constant, regular supply of authentic handloom products. However, handloom weavers, being unorganized, face problems in supplying their products for large orders in absence of systemized production wherein they may cater to rigorous standards of quality and timely delivery. Therefore, there is a need to bridge the gap through infrastructure development, skill up-gradation, design and product development as per the market demand so that weavers get better remuneration for their products and an assured market. Through sustained efforts of the Ministry of Textiles, there has been significant development of the handloom sector which is now able to sustain the competition with machine made fabrics.[2] However, handloom products remain far from reaching their potential.

The dynamic solution: WFI together with our university teams and partners on the ground can lay the foundation for a comprehensive, sustainable training center in rural India. This includes determining and beginning implementation of the following:

  • Greenfield construction v. repurposing designing an existing structure, which seems more advantageous under India’s building regulations.

  • What is the ideal location, balancing accessibility and cost in the Aurangabad District, e.g., proximity to a National Highway v. high rent?

  • What are the demographics of the women students in terms of geographic range and other factors? How will they be notified?

  • Who will staff the center in terms of master weavers and what should be their compensation?

  • What administrative and support staff does the center need?

  • How many trainees can the center handle initially via an estimated twenty looms? Can the center efficiently provide upskilling for current weavers as well as an introductory curriculum for those new to the craft? What stipend should they receive?

  • What residential accommodations might the center arrange for trainees and their families?

  • Can the center function as a production house during non-training hours?

  • What levels of certification should the center have to designate levels of course completion, tenure, and competence, e.g., Trainee, Apprentice, Journeyperson, and Master?

  • How will the center be publicized to the private sector as well as local, state and national government (including the Ministry of Textiles and Handloom Commission in Delhi)?


Launching the Training Center: Our funding will go directly into addressing and implementing solutions for the above key questions, resulting in the launch of a sustainable training center in Aurangabad for women Himroo weavers in 2024. As it grows, additional funding is currently being identified to ensure sustainability and expansion of the facility.


The Modernization and Globalization of an Ancient Art: 


In the 13th century, when he pioneered the linkage of East and West, Marco Polo marveled at the beauty of Himroo fabrics. He felt they were worthy of the kings and queens of Europe. As this program links East and West, the benefits would be inestimable for the women served. It will prepare them for roles in the 21st century global economy. It will take a major step towards modernizing and globalizing the ancient art of Himroo, one of India’s gifts to the world that furthers the fashion industry’s increasing present focus on sustainability.


Educating a New generation of Urban American and Indian Design Students on the Value of Artisanship: 


This program will also have an empowering impact on our student researchers who can marvel at ancient art and its practitioners. They will see that intricate beauty need not pollute and waste the environment. Most important, they will share the dreams of skilled, creative village women, forging lifelong connections in WFI’s spirit of unity, collaboration, and service to humanity.


We invite you to join us in this journey. 


[1] See National Handloom Development Program (NHDP), Government of India, October 2021,

[2] Ibid/Note the Ministry’s latest Annual Report notes that many women loom workers are in the category of unpaid women labor, not yet finding markets for their wares. See


About ZariZar

Founded by two entrepreneurs in the Aurangabad area of Maharashtra, ZariZar sells luxury had-woven shawls in the United States. The company builds on an established a network of master weavers that, with their apprentices, has become one of the most renowned and honored in India. Their skill and patience enables them to spend days and even weeks at their looms, crafting a single magnificent shawl as a work of art With ZariZar, this network of craftspeople is entering the globalized world of high fashion, using the most refined silk, Kashmiri wool, and zari threads to weave luxurious patterns for customers with universal tastes. 

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Shopping for Earrings
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Read more about how Faisal Quraishi, co-owner of ZariZar, is supporting women weavers in Aurangabad:

Thank you to our supporting partners:

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