Customers checking the handloom products displayed at the expo on Saturday Credit: EastMojo image

Imphal: Ima Keithel is the most famous all-women market in not just Manipur but India. However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the market is yet to open, let alone return to its previous glory. And Ima Keithel is not the only market suffering.

The threat of coronavirus has shut down all women markets in all district headquarters for the past nine months.

Amid this, the National Handloom Expo at Urban Haat Nilakhuti in Imphal East district, which started yesterday, is nothing less than a blessing.

After a long time, women weavers are back to trading and marketing of their locally-made handloom and handicrafts products.

A total of 30 stalls are displaying traditional handloom and handicrafts items at the expo which has begun from December 10 and will continue till December 24.

Also Read: Manipur: 15-day National Handloom Expo begins in Imphal

Bembem making a traditonal jewellery at the expo on Saturday
Special design given by Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla

A resident of Thangmeiband, Bembem is happy to have finally got an opportunity to showcase her traditional handmade jewellery products at the expo after months of being indoors due to pandemic lockdown.

A self-taught traditional jewellery maker, Bembem has been into the industry for over 20 years and most of her traditionally-inspired beads jewellery pieces are highly demanded both by locals and people outside the state.

Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla has been very supportive of her work and often paired with her traditional jewellery pieces on various occasions, Bembem says.

“For designs, I got inspired by the rich traditional costumes of the tribals and accordingly, I recreated it on my ornament collections with a modern touch. Though it’s time-consuming, I am happy that those people who are not much into gold pieces of jewellery often prefer my designs,” says Bembem.

An array of colourful traditional ornaments collection displaying at the stall brings out the aesthetics crafts of the rich folk of the state.

The prices of her products range from Rs 50 to Rs 1,500.

For last 8 years, K Sobita is making Potloi bags
Manipuri Potloi Sengao bag by Sobita

A mother of three children, K Sobita, who has also put up a stall at the expo, is hoping for a good sale in the coming days.

For the last eight years, Sobita has been making Potloi Sengao bags, a Manipuri bag made of velvet and hand-embroidered for women.

However, according to her, during the lockdown, she had to switch from making Potloi bags to making fishing nets to meet her family’s daily needs.

“During the lockdown, I stopped making the bags since the materials that were normally supplied from Moreh stopped due to closure of markets at the border town owing to the outbreak of COVID-19,” says Sobita while weaving a fishing net at the stall.

Those bags displaying here were made from the leftover material, she adds. She hopes to resume her work as soon as she got a fresh supply of the materials.

According to Sobita, the bag costs between the range of Rs 100 to Rs 1,600, varying on sizes and intricacy of the designs.

Weaver L Saroja from Imphal East district
Saroja used to export Dulit phee/scarf to Israel

Since 2005, L Saroja from Thunju Part II Leikai in Imphal East has been promoting the rich Manipuri handloom and has trained unemployed women under Sintha Handloom and Handicraft Company.

Unlike the other women vendors whose business suffered huge losses, Saroja says that during the lockdown, she received higher demand for her handloom products from the customers.

“It could be because people do not have access to shops other than essential items due to closure of markets,” explains Saroja.

“For many years, I used to export the hand-woven product Dulit phee/scarf made of silk to Israel, however, unfortunately, it stopped after the buyer passed away,” she says.

She is now looking for other buyers to export her products. “Till now, we haven’t got many customers at the expo. However, since all the stalls have different products, it has taught us what our customers are looking for, adds Saroja.

Also Read: Manipur: Why we celebrate ‘women’s war’ on Nupi Lan Day

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