A striking thing about Mizo womenfolks – including the young fashion-forward ones, is the fact they love flaunting their ‘Mizo Puans’ which are traditional handwoven wraparounds (Mekhalas). Most interesting is the way how the younger generation is uplifting their traditional attire by incorporating them as fashion statement pieces – and inspiring many to copy the trend.
All that being said, we are extremely excited to be chatting with Malsawmi, founder of ‘Zo Weave’ – a handwoven Puan brand from Mizoram. This mother of four is doing her bit to reinforce the efforts in the preservation of the Puan – while also employing local women weavers through this initiative. We talk about how ‘Zo Weave’ is keeping the love for Puans alive through her growing customer base – young and old. Another interesting revelation is on how she is reinventing the humble traditional Mizo ‘Naupuakpuan’ (baby Sling wrap) by incorporating modern floral designs and motifs (all handwoven) and is another hot selling item under her brand.
Malsawmi, founder of ‘Zo Weave’ Mizoram holding her child snugly with a traditional Mizo ‘Naupuakpuan’ (baby Sling wrap) – a hot-selling item of the brand.
Hi Malsawmi, so nice to be chatting with you today. We LOVE what you are doing with ‘Zo Weave’! Please say hi to our readers.
Hello, my name is Malsawmi, and I currently reside in Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram. l live with my husband and our four (4) children. Thank you so much for your interest in my work, I really appreciate it.
Tell us more about how your brand ‘Zo Weave’ How dod it all start?
Growing up, Puan (Mizo traditional handwoven wraparounds) has always been a big part of our conversation in the family. We are a big family and majority being women..my mother has 3 sisters and we are a family of 4 sisters with me being the eldest [Fun fact: Mizoram has 1025 females per 1000 males]. The Beauty and tradition of Puan have always been appreciated in our family. So it is not a surprise then that I have started a handloom business.
“I started this business in 2016 hoping to play a tiny part in preserving our Mizo cultural heritage. Then in January 2017 after I had my 3rd child, I began my expansion to other household and home decor products starting with re-designing the traditional Naupuakpuan (Baby Sling) with floral motifs.”
Traditional Naupuakpuan (Baby Sling) with floral motifs from ‘Zo Weave’
“At Zoweave, I want to show the beauty and character of our Mizo traditional Puan patterns while displaying the vast range of talents our weavers have and help women (our weavers) like me to make a living while taking care of their family at home.”
Handwoven table runners from ‘Zo Weave’
In addition to your love for the Mizo Puan, what motivated you to start this brand?
My family visits a lot of villages in Mizoram and I also have relatives stationed in far off districts. While visiting these villages, I’ve seen many women weavers working while taking care of their families. In getting to know them and hearing their stories, I realized that they rarely get enough back in return considering the hard work and time that they put in their product.
“Along with my interest in reviving Loinloom Puan and re-inventing Mizo traditional Puan motifs, I recognized a wonderful opportunity to help my fellow women (who were sometimes exploited as they live in remote areas) to earn more money working on their art and comfortably from their homes. It has been a fulfilling and mutually beneficial business relationship. We are now a family of 63 weavers.”
A skilled ‘Zo Weaver’ in action weaving beautiful Mizo Puans
“I started Zoweave because of my passion for Mizo Puan and design and I also see it as a way I can help women earn a substantial income while working from the comfort of their home, and I immensely enjoy the interactions I have with my customers and seeing our designs and creations on these women. This has kept me going and in building a community where women can support each other – in supporting weavers in remote places to empowering a starting momtrepreneur like me to bring joy to my customers through our products.”
Young Mizo women wearing handwoven Mizo Puans by ‘Zo Weave’
How has your roots/upbringing influenced your work today?
Back in the 1990s when I was a teenager, I remember my mother and my aunts regularly discussing new designs that they got made through their weavers on loin looms (traditional weaving set up with back strap). The way they would show and discuss their Puans among themselves with so much genuine passion and excitement sparked my interest and curiosity ..not just in the Puan itself, but also in the way we can play around with new designs, color combinations to create unique personal designs each time.
“I observed that we hardly ever bought our Puans from the market. It was always personalized to our taste, and handwoven at home through local weavers. These were then handed down from mothers to daughters. Even my grandmother used to weave her own Puans, which are now being passed down as heirlooms among the women in our family.”
What do you hope people take away from Zo Weave?
I hope that people can come to appreciate the thought that in business, it is important to help one another – our workers, staff as well as our customers. That profit comes second, and relationships and support of one another should come first.
Who are your major customers? Tell us about some interesting trends you have picked up recently..
I have a vast range of customers, from women in their 20’s to mothers in their 50’s who come to Zoweave each time I have a new collection out. A lot of fathers are also interested in my collection of Naupuakpuan (baby sling). Due to limited resources, time and workforce, I still cannot meet the demands of my customers for which I am thankful and grateful.
“Our Naupuakpuan with floral Puan motifs and other traditional Puan patterns have become a hit with parents and can also be multi-purposed as a shawl and a throw.” ~Malsawmi, founder of ‘Zo Weave’ Mizoram
Handwoven Mizo Puan and Shawls by ‘Zo Weave’ in Aizawl
In terms of products that distinguish Zoweave brand, our Ngotekherh inspired Puan, an example of re-designing traditional Puan patterns(which is among my first designs back in 2016) is one of our bestsellers – it is a re-invention of the traditional Ngotekherh Puan as shown in the picture.