As a part of India Fellow, I’ve been working with Chaitanya WISE to bring gender equity through financial literacy. For the first three months, I was involved in the formation of self-help groups (SHGs). We were financially supporting women weavers or those interested in starting something of their own in Maheshwar; to create more work opportunities and expand the market for Maheshwari sarees/cloth.
My daily routine included visiting different areas in the town, talking to women working on handlooms or just spotting a group of women and explaining our work and our purpose to be in Maheshwar. The idea of an enterprise also came up through one such interaction with SHG members about re-using the leftover thread from handloom. There is also a plan to start a thread jewelry initiative which still in its prenatal stage.
One group, in their 2nd month of formation, started making jewellery using silk threads. Meanwhile, I was in Indore, doing a market survey for procuring material. I got to know that Ranipura is the place to go to get raw materials in bulk. I listed down the items that could be used to make jewelry and did a quick cost-analysis with the help of a busy shopkeeper who was definitely not pleased with all my questions as customers were rushing in-and-out of his shop.
After the survey, we recognised our buyers and sellers, and then it was time for action and implementation. We brought the raw materials to Maheshwar, had a series of meetings with interested and identified SHGs and then the required material was given to them. A longer discussion was held on pricing, considering the cost, effort and time invested.
Our main goal was to capture the market by increasing the demand for products and meeting the cost. To our surprise, the results were beyond our expectations. The women were enthusiastic about coming up with more such elegant pieces. Subsequently, the team started to work on marketing and sales strategies.
The focus is currently on building a business model in Maheshwar. We have decided on our brand name: ‘Kala Sutr’. Kala here means skill and Sutr signifies a unifying thread binding all the entrepreneurial women showcasing their talent via these handmade products.
Once we started working with women weavers and women entrepreneurs in Maheshwar, our next aim was to get customers for these products. Little did we know that the opportunity was knocking our door itself! We got a call about a fashion show that was to take place in Indore and the organiser offered us the chance to participate in the show with our collection. Even though we were working with weavers, we had no clue as to how to come up with a collection.
Nonetheless, we got connected to a designer who agreed to design clothes for us, and our job was to procure the materials that will be used. The next step was to get the clothes stitched by women in SHGs. We invited all the women who were ready to participate in the event and witnessed a mix from most of the SHGs.
There were women who were ready to provide us with Maheshwari fabrics for making the attire collection, those who were involved in jewelry making, and women who knew to stitch as well.
After an elaborate meeting where we discussed the motive behind participating in the event, we started off by visiting various looms to check fabrics being made in small kaarkhanas, finalised a few, arranged for a training for women to be able to stitch clothes that are ready for the show and got sewing machines.
Our workspace turned vibrant! In one corner, women were cutting and ironing the fabrics to be stitched, in another room, another group of women was stitching on the sewing machine guided by the trainer with methods and tricks to make a perfect costume. Another room was filled with women making jewelry to be worn by the models.
Our usually silent office was turned into a ‘laughter club’ with women singing, chatting with each other, shouting, directing and explaining. Oh! What a sight it was to witness so many of them who used to say “Humein kuch nahi ata” (we don’t know anything) or “Hum toh bas ghar ka kaam karte hain” engaged in work being done by them. They were going on to become owners of this enterprise.
The day was finally here. Weavers from Maheshwar started reaching Indore and their interview was also fixed with the Times of India team. The rest of the team was busy arranging costumes, welcoming women who were involved in making other products or had provided the fabric to make clothes. We were the first set of participants to walk the ramp. The assistants were rushing to the models to dress them up. At last, it was time to go on the stage.
The entire team was anxious while the models were posing for the media, clicking selfies with the crew. The music started playing and one by one, the models walked the ramp. We were featured in various local newspapers like Patrika and Bhaskar. After the show, we received our first two online orders from Mumbai and Uttarakhand.
Subsequently, we have started gearing up for training in various groups across Maheshwar, Indore, and Ujjain with a vision to create a dedicated team of women involved in production process of various handmade/hand-stitched products that will be sold under their own brand, Kala Sutr.
The post was originally published here.
About the author: Sanra Shaw is an India Fellow from 2019 cohort, placed with Chaitanya WISE in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh as a part of her fellowship. She is working with women collectives to set-up and run a social enterprise, Kala Sutr, that aims to empower weavers and other local artists in the region.
India Fellow is currently inviting applications for their next cohort starting in June 2020. To know more and apply, go here.