Their white sticks guide them all the way from Negombo to Colombo whilst a sturdy young man is generous enough to ‘lend his sight’ and strength to carry the heavy bundle of bed linen, table cloths, sarees and an assortment of handloom products. Although nature has robbed them of vision, it has not dampened the enterprising spirits of Wilman Tissa and his companion S.Amarasena who have been providing many a household with durable and comfortable handlooms for over 15 years.
Having mastered the craft of cane weaving at the Vocational Training Centre in Seeduwa affiliated to the Department of Social Services, Tissa moved to greener pastures of the handloom business in the mid 80s. “With three children to feed, cane weaving was not the best of trades for me, thus I moved on to the handlooms,” recalls Tissa of his beginnings in the business.
All handloom products sold by Tissa and Amarasena are the efforts of the visually handicapped who have been trained in the art at the Vocational Training Centre in Seeduwa. “Initially, the woven products were bought by the centre itself and it came to a halt in the early 80s compelling the weavers to sell on their own and this created a circle of blind buyers like us who initiated this door to door sale of handlooms,” explains Tissa. According to Tissa, this venture is a mutual one which boosts the quality of life of all visually handicapped. “The art of handloom binds all blind together as both the weaver and the seller earn their daily bread thanks to it,” says Tissa with a smile.
Assuring the best of quality, both Tissa and Amarasena are confident about the material sold. “Our handlooms are durable and consumer-friendly as the best raw materials are used in weaving them,” explains Amarasena adding that pure cotton thread and approved dyes assure the durability and comfort of bed linen, table ware and even sarees.
According to Amarasena the ‘double threading’ is another specialty in their handlooms. “Double threading guarantees the long-lasting quality of the material and their close proximity enhances it,” he said.
According to Tissa, manually-operated weaving machines employed in the craft differ from item to item depending on their width. “For instance, the width of the pillow case is less than a table cloth for which two different weaving machines are used,” he said.
Talking about the average daily output by the weavers, Tissa says, “around 15 large-sized bed sheets can be woven by an experienced weaver and even an average weaver is capable of producing 8-10 sheets per day.” As to how the quality of a material bought from the weavers is judged, Amarasena replies, “it’s purely by the touch. With time, we can assess the quality of a handloom by touching it, although this is difficult for any beginner in the business.”
Although born to blind parents, Jude Prasanna is blessed with sight and renders a helping hand to Tissa and Amarasena in their door-to-door handloom business carrying the heavy bundle of handlooms. Prasanna who works as a machine operator in a garment factory, assists Tissa in his business over the weekends. “My parents who are now quite old, once used to engage in this handloom business to support the family and today I am glad to help out a breadwinner like Tissa,” he said.
Covering Colombo and its suburbs such as Kirillapone, Nugegoda, Battaramulla and Kottawa, Tissa and his mates make a trip all the way from Negombo five times a week.
“We generally have a decent sale but there are days that we return home empty handed,” he said adding that festive seasons such as the April New Year and Christmas are the most lucrative periods for them. “Customers who patronize our products don’t fail to buy gifts for the relations and friends during these seasons and we even get special orders at these times of the year,” he added. Since Tissa and his team walk from door to door they are restricted from many items which they all see as one of the major hardships in their business. “We cannot afford any sort of a vehicle other than public transport, therefore to fill the void, we accept orders from customers who are particular about a certain colour or length and width of bed linen and table ware,” explains Tissa.
Both Tissa and Amarasena are of the view that their business can be boosted if handloom boutiques and other similar outlets come forward to buy their goods. “When you buy our goods it not only helps less privileged people like us but you can be happy that you are taking home a product of quality,” smiles Tissa.
Tissa and Amarasena could be contacted on the following numbers: Tissa: 077-3077027 and Amarasena: 078-5409810