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article imageSari, India: Chinese textiles cutting into handmade sari profits

By Tucker Cummings     Feb 9, 2012 in World
Varanasi - India's traditional female garment, the sari, is under threat. The culprit: cheaply made Chinese fabrics, produced by machines instead of traditional handlooms.
The finest saris are made in the holy city of Varanasi, and handmade silk saris from master weavers in this city are highly prized for a bride's wedding day. But now, cheaper Chinese knock-offs are flooding the market and causing hand-woven sari producers to go out of business.
According to Rajni Kant, of Varanasi’s Human Welfare Association, “Due to the effect of these Chinese attacks in the trade sector, right now 50% of the market has collapsed."
He added that the Chinese goods are being sold as "authentic" saris, but the government hasn't stepped up to regulate the practice. "If no agency nor the government will enforce the law, definitely the whole sector will collapse and maybe in the future the generations will see the handloom in the museums," Kant argued.
A sari can take up to 30 days to weave, and costs about $60 in US currency. For generations, handmade saris were the sole source of income for residents of Varanasi. These days, the number of trained weavers has shrunk from 150 to about 8, meaning that even if the Indian-made saris have a resurgence, there may not be enough qualified workers to increase production of these artisan garments.
A report from IBN Live revealed that last year, Indian officials lowered the import duty on Chinese silk thread, in hopes that lower material costs would help Indian-made saris compete with cheap imports.
Back in 2009, Time reported that the sari as fashion is falling out of favor, a fact which can only compound the Varanasi weaver's woes. According to weaver Bilal Ahmed, "People don't buy saris anymore. Now they buy jeans."
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