The Toda Women’s Embroidery Enterprise: The Commercialization of a Traditional Craft in South India


  • Anthony R. Walker


business anthropology, Todas, Nilgiri Mountains, South India, embroidery, commerce, fashion


The Todas are a small but very well documented indigenous community of erstwhile buffalo pastoralists, who live atop the Nilgiri Mountains in the far northwestern area of Tamil Nadu State in South India. The Toda women’s long tradition of embroidering items of clothing—notably cloaks and loincloths—to be used within the community and as important items of exchange with neighboring indigenous communities, has developed exponentially over the past hundred years or so. It is now a significant cash earner for many Toda women and their households. Over the past fifty or more years, this unique embroidery enterprise— the sole preserve of the community’s womenfolk—has increasingly caught the attention of textile and design specialists working for India’s fast-developing fashion industry. The data in this paper are organized in three major parts: the first introduces some of the principal socio-cultural characteristics of the Toda community, the second examines the traditional situation of women in this patriarchal society, while the final section concentrates on the development of the Toda women’s embroidery enterprise, in terms of design, production skills and commercial prospects.