Our family of three had just moved from Bangalore to Shillong. We were staying with a local family, the Langkumars, for a few days. As our host cooked and served us food, I observed how different everything was. The people, the food, the clothes, the language, the mannerisms. I was still in India, but my experience was nothing like southern India, where we lived the previous 10 years. Doubt, fear, and excitement overwhelmed me as I assimilated my new reality. This city and these people would be our new home.
That Eri silk shawl: An icon not forgotten
It was winter time. The climate was cold and cloudy. The Langkumar’s concrete home was chilly inside. My husband and I both noticed the shawl Kong Lankgumar was wearing. There was something different about it. Our hosts were from Nagaland, but the shawl did not look Naga. It was a natural color with a simple three-band designed weave at each end.
“Where did you get your shawl? The material and texture are strikingly different?”
My question led to an outpouring of passion for her shawl. Kong Langkumar became an instant product ambassador. The love she had for her shawl flooded out words like…
- I’ve had this shawl forever… I don’t know how long, more than 20 years.
- It's like an heirloom shawl
- It is 100% silk, lightweight and soft, but look at the warmth it gives.
- The silk is made from the Eri worm.
- I love my shawl, I wear it everywhere….
- I wear it when gardening. And early mornings and evenings, when I feed the pigs.
- It’s ideal for inside the house, so comfortable and soft
- I wear it almost every day. The weather in Shillong changes. It rains, it shines, gets windy, gets cold inside at night.
- The more you wash it the softer it gets.
- It doesn’t look like silk, but it is.
- The Eri silkworm is reared in villages all over Meghalaya.
- The silk is hand-spun by Khasi women in villages.
- My shawl is all-natural and hand woven
I interrupted, and asked again:
“But, tell me, where can I buy an heirloom eri silk shawl like yours?”
“You can only find the eri silk shawl in the villages of Meghalaya.”
That’s when my allure with the shawl ended. My attention quickly turned to my immediate necessities. Back to reality. I needed to solve current every-day life needs, like: Where’s the nearest produce market. Where to buy the school uniform shoes for our 6-year-old daughter? What will I pack for her school lunch? I was only two days into a huge move across the country of India. Hunting down an obscure handwoven Eri silk shawl was a low priority for me.
We were on a business quest. Hunting for employees. Not shawls! My mind transitioned and re-focused. We had come to Shillong to start-up a purpose-driven business in a new city. A city with extremely high unemployment and a young population exploding with untapped potential.
Fast-forward 14 years
The Iconic Shawl Re-enters My Life
The right time. The right place. With the right people. It was January 15th, 2019. A team from Zizira returning from an exploratory trip: Epic Journey #2 was eagerly sharing its discoveries with me and the larger team. The objective of the journey was to explore and discover the essence of Meghalaya and its people. The team was looking for business and market opportunities that might connect to the essence of a village and its people so they could flourish.
The Journeys We Take Are All about Our Mission:
Revive and regenerate our local people through a profitable sustainable business with purpose.
Two Promising Discoveries From the Exploratory Trip Were:
- Hand molded black clay pottery from the village of Larnai
- Handspun cotton yarn the village ladies were using to weave baby wraps.
Let’s Make Handwoven Baby Slings
This idea was generated because of connecting with what was at the core of the villages the team visited. The team's videos and photographs repeated a theme of:
- Women working,
- tending fires,
- molding clay all with their children among them.
While we observed the women working and moving about the village, the baby sling became the dominant feature. We started talking about the traditional cotton baby sling made with handwoven cotton. The comfortable way the mothers wear it. That’s when Miranda said, “Why not make the baby slings as a product.”
The Iconic Eri Silk Shawl Takes the Stage and Leads the Way
Before we knew it, we were planning Epic Journey #3. A team of curious colleagues began to research the terrain of Eri silk in Meghalaya. Even though most of the team are Khasi and speak the local tribal language, we were discovering for the first time a hidden treasure unique to the land and people of Meghalaya. Our research unraveled a world of Eri silk. Hundreds of villages beyond Shillong have in their ecosystem: rearing cocoons, hand spinning cocoons to yarn, natural dyeing yarn, and handloom weaving of Eri silk.
Within a week, Khrawpyrkhat Mynsong had connected with weavers and created a packed itinerary. We would soon discover firsthand the potential and opportunity for the people of our state. We were dreaming about what we can achieve together with the weavers we were about to meet. This is the beginning of Muezart.