Chekkutty dolls Image Credit: Supplied

Kochi: While Kerala is trying to secure thousands of millions of rupees to help rebuild the state’s infrastructure and facilities ravaged by the flood waters, a unique social enterprise initiated by two Keralites is quietly gathering more and more attention.

The demand for ‘Chekkutty’ a tiny doll they have created out of damaged textile materials is surging and this is being hailed as a brilliant countermove to help a group of weavers in Kerala who have lost everything in the Kerala floods.

Lekshmi Menon, one of the creators, with a Chekkutty doll she made out of damaged sarees

 Handloom village  

Chennamangalam near Paravoor in the Ernakulam district of Kerala is famous for its handloom products. Chendamangalam sarees, the handloom sarees produced by the traditional weavers here, are considered to be one of the best and top rated in the state. The handloom business is never a hugely profitable one but due to its uniqueness and quality the weaver here were able to make ends meet, though with some difficulty.

Handloom units in Chendamangalam were getting ready for the Onam production. Each unit had invested hundreds of thousands of rupees in raw materials to make the most of the season but this time fate decided otherwise in the form of floods.  

Their entire investment for the season was lost, machines were damaged and the products were left rotting in mud and flood water.

A handloom unit after the flood.

One of the main handloom units in this area is Karimbadam Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society and it is one the five units severely affected by the flood.

Damaged Chendamangalam sarees

Many government department, non-government organizations or NGOs and other groups had come up with assurances but they were not able to provide any immediate solution to the problem at hand.

Social entrepreneurs Gopinath Parayil and Lekshmi Menon had close ties with local weavers. When they visited the weaving units after the floods the situation was tragic. They learnt that in one unit alone the loss was about Rs 21 lakhs (Dh106,243 approx), Gopinath says.

They met Ajith Kumar, the secretary of the Cooperative Society who told them about the need to make use of the clothes as well as to ensure that the weavers remain in the same trade. Because, if there is no money in this trade, the weavers will be forced to move on to something else, which will ensure them livelihood, even though that is not what they are used to. This would mean the authenticity of the artistry involved in making Chendamangalam Handloom will be completely lost. The aim was to maintain the original workers while rebuilding the local handloom industry.  

A doll from damaged clothes

Gopinath and Lekshmi asked Ajith what his plans are with the finished products which are now damaged and about 100 per cent unfit for sale. Kumar said they had no idea what to do with them. Gopinath and Lekshmi then assured Ajith they will come up with some plan in the next 24 hours and requested him not to destroy the damaged products.

Lekshmi came up with the designs and other plans for the dolls and Chekkutty was born.

The name Chekkutty was something that came automatically to them, says Gopinath. It has Cheru (mud) and Kutty (kid) as its components. It also has a nuanced link to Chendamanglam. It is a kid that survived the mud flood, said Gopinath. But more that the name, it is now the symbol of the resilience of Kerala people, he adds.

For upcycling the Chendamangalam sarees they first chlorinated the damaged clothes to disinfect them. The clothes were then handed over to voluntary groups trained to produce the dolls.

Mass participation

The project has become a resounding success. The production of hundreds of thousands of Chekkutty dolls have been done by small groups in different parts of Kerala. For example, the women from the Infopark, Thiruvananthapuram have taken the initiative to make 100,00 Chekkutty dolls. They are getting orders worth Rs100,000 per day.  All the money generated is directly being credited to the account of the society.

Volunteers from a school being trained to make Chekkutty dolls.

The economics

A 6-metres-long saree that costs about Rs1, 300 is getting converted to about 360 Chekkutties with a dimension of 6 sq cm, without wasting an inch. Each Chekkutty doll costs Rs25 and thus a saree worth Rs1, 300 becomes Chekkutty dolls worth Rs9,000. Chekkutty dolls are being sold out in online stores and through social media. Thousands of Chekkutties have been sold out till date. You can order your Chekkutty dolls here