“I was the only woman for the first 10 years of my career” – A conversation with Hema, Khaloom’s Director of Operations 

“I was the only woman for the first 10 years of my career” – A conversation with Hema, Khaloom’s Director of Operations 

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Khaloom is an India-based textile design and production house that produces hand-woven fabrics from recycled yarns: Creating value from waste and providing its workers with dignified livelihoods. Or how some describe it: Family. It is Enviu’s first venture addressing the obstacles to change in the textile industry and it is the venture that catalyzed the start of our Reweave venture building program. Hema Ramakrishnan has been part of Khaloom since 2020 as the Director of Operations. She has always been passionate about textiles and is always up for  new challenges, proven by her 30 years of experience in the textile realm.

Her experience working in the fast textile industry has changed her perspective and motivated her to contribute more into society. She wants to help people while preserving the values of arts and crafts in India, which people often are not aware of. After discovering what Enviu was doing with Khaloom, building an enterprise that serves people and the planet, Hema jumped on the opportunity to contribute with her experience. We interviewed Hema to dive into why working at Khaloom has changed her perspective on the textile industry, how Khaloom is making a difference, and what it’s like as a woman in a male dominated sector..

When we’re talking about handweaving, is it still the largest one or is it still competing with fast textile production in India? Or is handweaving surviving within its own market?

As we know, 15% of the textile production in India is from the handloom sector. And many people rely on this sector because handweaving is the 2nd largest employment provider in India. However, there is still a lack of awareness towards handweaving in the general public. They still tend to choose cost over quality. Competition between the handloom industry and the fast textile industry is not competing in the sense of production or quality, but competing in the sense of offering a different variety to the number of fabrics available in the market.

The lack of awareness has affected the numbers of demand for handweaving fabric, which creates less opportunities for local handloom weavers to earn jobs and earn less pay than what they should have earned. It’s pretty common for local weavers to have alternative jobs just to fulfill their daily needs.

What are you most proud of at Khaloom??

I feel Khaloom is very much like a family. Where there’s a belonging and they like to come to work, they’re happy to come there, they’re happy with what they’re doing. Everyone is friendly. It’s not like a big massive production house where people are just coming – weaving – and going. I have worked in a lot of factories and the handloom industry is a disorganised sector.  At Khaloom , the situation is  different. They have benefits for provident fund, which is like a saving that goes into their own account at the end of their career. They have many medical benefits and breaks in between when they feel tired and they need to stop. Handweaving is a very intense process, you have to weave with your hands and your eyes and legs, everything is in motion and coordination Khaloom has shown the importance of the staff by providing them a stable income and better work environment. We also conduct a monthly team-building exercise. In this way we can build trust and a better relationship with the Khaloom team. 

How does this affect the Khaloom team?

They’re learning new things all the time, which yarns they’re weaving with, what they should look for in quality checks, what is being made with the fabrics they weave. They’re very involved. They’re very proud of what they do. Out of 25 employees, 21 are women. They tell me that the children are so proud that their mothers are coming to work, they’re contributing to the household expenses, and their husbands are proud of them. Their work gives confidence and a feeling of self-worth.. This also changes the general public mindset of women working and providing for their families. It is like a cascading effect of Khaloom as a venture.

What is your own experience as a woman in a male dominated industry?

When I started my career in a high speed and high end fabric production weaving factory, I was the only woman. I was the only woman in the managemnet team for nearly the first 10 years of my career. I used to work a lot on the looms and participated in meetings, production meetings, audits, and everything. It took some time to get used to it, to stand up for yourself and to be strong enough to take on everything. Because it is a little daunting, when you’re the only woman in a room full of men. But it was a very good learning process and I think I enjoyed it. It brought me a lot of confidence, a lot of knowledge and courage. 

How do you experience being an entrepreneur for Khaloom?

It is very challenging, but I love the fact that I can learn more by experiencing lots of roles as an entrepreneur. I feel being an entrepreneur comes with its own responsibility, especially for the well-being of the employees. However, in the end I like the challenge of balancing my role between an entrepreneur and family. As a woman who is also a mother, who is also a wife, you know that there’s always something in the back of your head when you are thinking about your children or husband in difficult situations  even though you’re working. There are some sacrifices of course but, you learn how to  prioritize. I think the balance that you have to maintain between your workplace and to be with your family is important. This is exactly what I want for everyone working at Khaloom. Because in the end, you come home to a family who accepts you, who cares for you, and loves you

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