Although sold locally, the main buyers of clothes weaved on the looms are tourists
With winter setting in across the country, Bawm women are busy selling different kinds of woven warm clothes – colourful and designed in their ethnic traditional styles.
There is good demand for ethnic clothes especially in tourist spots across the country. And venues in Bandarban have several markets that showcase ethnic clothes among other things for the visitors.
Weaving clothes actually goes on throughout the year. One or more women in every Bawm household can be seen on their waist looms, weaving winter clothes, mufflers, scarves, even quilts.
When winter comes, traders get busy buying clothes wholesale. The collected clothes then go to various tourist spots and city markets. Some clothes are sent to Dhaka. These clothes are sold at different Burmese markets in the district town.
Around 200 Bawm families live in the Laimi Para and Faruk Para located 5km from Bandarban town.
Locals said once 11 ethnic communities in the Chattogram Hill Tracts used to weave on looms in their own style, but only Bawm women still retain the tradition. They are making extra income by weaving winter clothes and selling them.
Zinroon Bawm of Laimi Para told The Business Standard that it takes two days to make a large scarf. In a week, three such scarves can be made. Each of the scarves can be cut into two smaller scarves. Wholesalers buy each scarf at Tk450-Tk550.
"Two scarves can be made from 1 kilogramme of yarn, the price of which is Tk150. Deducting all expenses, an income worth maintaining a family can be earned at the end of the month," she added.
Zinlim Moy Bawm of the same neighbourhood said she has been making blankets using waist looms for a long time. She makes two types of blankets, thick and thin.
She said, "Two kilograms of yarn and three days are needed to weave a thick blanket while 1.5 kilograms of yarn are needed for a thin blanket which can be made in two days. The blankets are then sold wholesale."
Another two weavers – Royal Singnem Bawm and Flory Bawm – have been making mufflers for a long time in between their daily household chores.
They weave mufflers throughout the year and store them to sell them in winter.
A number of Bawm women are also involved in selling these clothes. They sell the products at retail prices in makeshift shops at tourist spots such as Shailaprapat, Chimbuk Hill and Nilachal.
Lily Bawm and Zinsiam Kim Bawm are two shopkeepers at the Shailaprapat tourist site.
They said they buy a muffler for Tk130 and sell it with a Tk20 profit. A scarf bought at Tk350 is sold for Tk400.
"The sales jump, keeping pace with increased numbers of tourists. The business of winter clothes woven on waist looms gains momentum depending on tourists," said Lily.
Haolian Bawm, the karbari (chief) of Laimi Para, said one or more women in all the 86 houses in the village make winter clothes on waist looms.
"In Bawm society, besides men, women are also very hardworking. They also work on gardens and farms all through the year. Apart from this, almost all Bawm women are skilled in weaving loomed clothes," he added.
Haolian said besides Laimi Para, weaving clothes on waist looms is still practised in other Bawm areas such as Faruk Para, Hebron Para, Sadar, Ruma, and Rowanchari upazilas.
Atia Chowdhury, women's affairs officer in Bandarban, thinks providing additional income to the family by these Bawm women weavers is a positive aspect.
The Department of Women Affairs provides personal loans worth up to Tk15,000 each at 5% interest to support women entrepreneurs, she told The Business Standard.
"An initiative has been undertaken to increase the amount of personal loans to Tk25,000. In addition, a market has been set up next to the Meghla tourist site for registered members of the Women Affairs Department, to sell anything they produce," Atia said.
"Additionally, arrangements have been made to train women in tailoring, handicraft, weaving, jute bag making, and other sectors," she added.