Handlooms

Handlooms is set in a sari shop on Wilmslow Road, Manchester, which is going through a crisis as a result of changing tastes. The saris on display and at the heart of the performance are beautiful handmade works of art – costing over £1,000 each. When you touch the material and see the unique designs you can feel the craft of the weavers. Indeed it is his love for the most beautiful saris that drives son and salesman Rajesh.

As a drama, Rani Moorthy’s story is straightforward, and the characters convincingly drawn but not particularly original. Dialogue and music are fed through headphones which are good for the scenes out of sight and to counter ambient noise in a working shop, but a little frustrating when live in front of you.

Harvard Professor Michael Porter argues that there can be only two successful strategies in any business: low cost and differentiation. In many ways it is this theory that the production plays out most successfully. Rajesh is committed to creating unique handcrafted saris, against his mother wanting to explore mass production. Porter’s ‘Generic Competitive Strategies’ would say that the shop’s strategy should be differentiation focus, not cost leadership. Rajesh is right.

‘With Differentiation Focus a firm seeks differentiation in its target segment. The target segments must either have buyers with unusual needs or else the production and delivery system that best serves the target segment must differ from that of other industry segments.’

Consistent with this strategy is Rajesh’s demand that his weavers in India are paid a good rate for their work, and to develop direct links with individual weavers. Countries also can adopt strategies of either low cost or differentiation; what a relief to move away from the stereotypes of sweat shops. Ironic then that both mother and son are prepared to take advantage of a refugee from the 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami. The production asks important questions about how we treat  people in countries not our own.

Then there are interesting questions around the sari as haute couture. People always pay for quality, but how does this shop develop its brand? Can it ever create the awareness necessary to sustain its high prices. Can a global brand be created from a small shop in South Manchester?

And what about recycling? The play starts to address these issues through the processing of discarded saris. But it can do no more than to skirt over the surface of an issue that is way too big for this production.

So the production asks us what we think about consumerism and globalisation. What is the price to pay for low cost global supply chains? Rather than exposing the inequalities of sweat shops, Moorthy considers whether the ethical model can work. Perhaps it can, but it needs people with Rajesh’s vision to succeed.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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