Twenty-nine-year-old Tongbram Bijiyashanti, resident of a sleepy hamlet in Manipur, is looking to employ more women from her village as her business of weaving fabric from lotus stem yarns has been witnessing a steady growth.
The finished products made from the silk-like yarn, ranging from scarves, mufflers, and neckties, are sent to various metropolitan cities, including Mumbai and Kolkata, where they are in great demand.
The young entrepreneur from Bishenpur district, who lives close to lotus-filled Loktak lake, has employed 30 women, who work from homes, and plans to engage more locals in her start-up in the days to come.
“Earlier, I simply enjoyed collecting different varieties of lotus that I could find to plant them in the lake.
“The idea to extract fibres from lotus stems came to me in 2014, following which I researched and trained myself in the art by reading multiple journals and watching videos,” Bijiyashanti, the eldest of three siblings, said.
She launched her company ‘Sanajing Sana Thambal’ in 2018, opening new avenues in the field of textiles and creating job opportunities for local women.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appreciated her innovative efforts in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ programme two years ago. Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh has also lauded her endeavour.
Meet Tongbram Bijiyashanti, 27-year-old Botanist from Manipuri is a woman entrepreneur who is making silk yarn from lotus stalks, turning waste into wealth. #PositiveStory #Vocal4Local @PMOIndia @PIB_India @MIB_India pic.twitter.com/iUrQPHGLez
— MyGovIndia (@mygovindia) October 1, 2020
“First, I taught some local women for at least two weeks the technique involved in extracting the fibre and spinning the thread. Next, based on their skills, I gave them work, which they undertake from their homes,” the entrepreneur explained.
A botany graduate from GP Women’s College, Imphal, Bijiyashanti took pride in the fact that the pandemic, too, did not come in the way of her business.
“As everyone associated with the initiative worked from the safe confines of their homes, there was no problem as such. We did not have to put work on hold,” she said.
Every morning, particularly from May to December when lotus plants are found in abundance, Bijiyashanti along with some women visit the lake to collect stems, which are then washed, snapped, and split open for filament extraction.
“Filaments from the stem are gently rolled with hands on a table to produce the thread which is then dried under the sun. Next, the threads are used to make fabric, either on a spinning wheel or loom,” Bijiyashanti said.
The 29-year-old hopes to expand her venture in the days to come, employing more locals.
The aquatic plant has many uses, she noted.
Lotus has medicinal value; the roots and leaves can be used to make tea, too, she said.
“Marketing of lotus silk products, however, continues to be a challenge, ” Bijiyashanti pointed out.
“Unlike regular silk, lotus silk products are yet to reach a major cross section of people. It is expected that the demand for lotus silk will grow as the eco-friendliness and sustainability of the fibre have appealed to most customers thus far,” she added.