I had always dreamed of doing something different and meaningful in my life. After leaving the corporate world in 2009, I went over several ideas of starting my own little business. During my trip to India in 2009 and while visiting my Aunt in Udaipur, I came across an inspiring women's organisation called Sadhna. Not knowing what would appeal to customers in Australia, I randomly selected some cotton clothes and accessories from Sadhna. It turned out that my choice was right. The limited number of handmade cotton skirts were appreciated by my family and friends here in Sydney. While the journey to search for quality products continues, I am happy that I chose this path that promotes such a great story..... Anu
Sadhna one of our main suppliers, runs a not-for-profit Fair Trade women co-operative that trains and engages rural, tribal and urban women from the province of Rajasthan. They use traditional techniques like hand embroidery in running stitch, applique work, natural dyes hand block printed fabric and tie and dye printing. The beautiful high quality clothes are made of natural cotton with an element of organic and raw silk. Our women co-operative project promotes good work practice that involves fair work conditions including a safe and clean work environment, fair wages, and profit sharing. They also assist our artisan women families with benefits such as healthcare, education for children, and assistance with relocation.
MESH Maximising Employment to Serve the Handicapped is an organisation in India practicing Fair Trade to provide opportunities to disable artisans and artisans affected by leprosy. They assist in training the artisans, resourcing raw materials and producing work to give full time employment to disable artisans. We have recently discovered MESH during our trip to India in Feb 2012 and we were not only overwhelmed by the quality of products produces by MESH artisans but also by the friendly and professional service provided by them.
Anokhi is a well-known clothing line in India that has been reviving traditional art for over 40 years. Anokhi’s ideals have been those of conservation and development, through the input of design, marketing and project funding. The Company is well known as an alternative role model for good business practices, and the ongoing revival of traditional textile skills. The hand block is carved out of wood and is the simplest of printing devices. Dyeing with vegetable colours is the oldest of colouring techniques. As pioneers of hand block printing for the export market, Anokhi has built on these for the last thirty years. It constantly seeks to create an environment in which traditional textiles have their place and value and to build a symbiotic relationship between the market and the design product - between skill and tradition.
Local artisans many of our products are also sourced directly from the local artisans from the Northern parts of India. These products like pashmina, bags and home décor are unique in its style and handwork. We regularly visit an ethnic market area called Dilli Haat in Delhi to meet up with the artisans themselves and hand select high quality pieces for our Australian customers.
Success stories of our artisans
Lata Yadav resides at Delwara village with her husband and 4 children; two sons and two daughters. Her husband works as a casual labourer for a construction company but does not have a permanent steady income. Lata says when she was growing up her father did not earn enough to support the family. Lata was one of five siblings. She was sent to school but was not interested in studies. She left school and her father got her married at the age of 15. Today she regrets that she did not take studies seriously, and didn’t complete her education.
After her marriage, life was not the same. Her husband’s drinking habit forced her to take the decision to work. He used to not give her any money to live and run the house. She then decided that she should be doing some work from home in order to take care of her children. She came to know about Sadhna through her sister who was already a member of Sadhna. After going through a trial period she became a member of Sadhna. Initially her husband opposed her from working but her mother-in-law supported her. Today she earns an income of Rs. 2000/- per month. She is now able to send her children to a private school. She says that earlier she used to spend all her money for personal use but now she saves for her children’s education. Mamta, another Sadhna artisan, seeing potential in Lata, encouraged and supported her to be a group leader. She is now one of the leaders of Delwara. As a group leader she faced many people management difficulties as she couldn’t allocate the work to her group members effectively, nor could she make them understand what was required. After several hours of learning and practicing leadership skills she overcame those difficulties and became a more effective team leader. Today she is more confident and while talking to us she says” Even if I have to live my life alone I can manage on my own as I feel secure working with Sadhna”. While asking her what has been the happiest moment in her life she says it is yet to come “I will be very happy when my daughter completes her education and will get a job and be independent in her life”. Today she feels safe and secure at 39 and is happy that Sadhna will be with her through thick and thin.
Ratan Kunwar Chouhan aged 27 is a widow and shares with us her past memories. She says her life is full of sorrow and bad memories. She comes from a poor family in Bhilwara and could only study till ninth class. She was one of nine siblings. She got married aged 12 and shifted to Udaipur with her husband. Her father died when she was 15 years of age. Her husband was working in a sweet shop but his income was not enough to run the house. As she had already learned stitching she used to do some work from home. Her husband died after a prolonged illness when her daughter was just a few months old. Her in-laws were not ready to accept her and their granddaughter and her elder brothers were not ready to keep her. Ratan recalls with pain that it was such a difficult phase that she went through in her life that she thought of committing suicide but the thought of leaving her daughter encouraged her to go on. She finally decided that she will go back to Udaipur and do some work and take care of her daughter. She only received the support of her mother. The rest of her family and other people in her community were against her decision, but Ratan was adamant to work.
She came to Udaipur and took a rented room where she started staying with her daughter. Initially she had no money and had to face a lot of difficulties. Ratan came to know about Sadhna through Gayatri Kumavat who was already an employee of Sadhna. She suggested Ratan join the stitching group. Ratan says Sadhna has given her a new life. As the distance from her home and workplace is far she purchased a scooter after saving income over a couple of years working in Sadhna. Today she is happy that through Sadhna she is able to educate her daughter and also earn a living for herself. Although Ratan is estranged from most of her extended family members, she says Sadhna is my home-“I am happy while I am working and says we at Sadhna are one big family sharing our joy and sorrows with each other”. Today her younger brother who is working in Udaipur stays with her. With a pain in her eyes she says “I know he too will leave me and go once he gets married and I will be all alone but I have the strength to fight for myself and my daughter”. The thought that she and her daughter are alone still somewhat frightens her, but she says she has emerged from her difficult past stronger willed, and motivated to succeed. She knows her journey has just begun………
Suraj Yadav is 35 years old and is a resident of Rathaket, Udaipur. She lives in a small one-room kitchen house with her husband and four children- three daughters and one son. Being born to a poor family she could not complete her education and helped her mother for the daily household chores. She got married at a very young age.
Life after marriage was also not too easy for Suraj. Her husband works as a labour for building construction and earns Rs. 100 (less than $3) per day. This income is also not regular due to less working opportunities. Suraj knew she would have to do something to make both the ends meet. She came to know about our women co-op through some of her friends in Delwara. She joined in 2003 and from then on her journey never stopped. Initially her husband resisted the idea of his wife working. Soon, however the financial benefits for the families outweighed any resistance. Suraj noted that her husband was pleased that she was allowed to work closer to their home. She puts in 5-6 hours of embroidery work daily. She continues to work till late evenings especially when there are large orders, thus maintaining balance between her routines, household chores and her embroidery work.
Seeing her determination she has been given the responsibility of group leader where she handles and resolves all the issues pertaining to the artisans who are working in her group. Today she has emerged as a confident woman and also travels alone to metros like Mumbai and Chennai to participate in exhibitions. She is happy as she sends all her four children to school. The women co-op has provided her social security through health insurance and yearly scholarship of Rs.1200 for her two children. She manages to earn a fix monthly income of around Rs. 2500 ($62.50) and her family have become dependent on her work.
She has obtained small loans and strongly believes that the work provided by the women co-op will help to repay them and also accumulate some assets for her family. Thus working with our supplier has empowered her as a woman, wife and mother. She has become a confident women and travels to the urban areas, whereas in the past she was not even allowed to go out of her home. She believes that working with the women co-op has changed her life totally and has helped her to be more of an important decision maker in the family and the society.
Shanu belongs to a Muslim minority group and is a resident of Khanjpeer. Sitting with her member friends she recalls how the opportunities for financial independence through our women co-op have helped her gain a respectable position in society. Women from her community were not allowed outside their little village. She left her schooling after 5th standard and joined her mother for household work. Shanu got married at the age of 17yrs. After marriage she was busy taking care of her husband and children – two sons and a daughter.
Two years ago she came to know about the women co-op. She expressed her willingness to join the patchwork program. Initially her husband and other family members resisted the idea of her going out and working. But later on her husband was pleased that she was allowed to work closer to their home. She puts in 4-5 hours of embroidery work every day and is also happy that she earns around Rs 800-1000 ($25) ever month. She is now self-sufficient and saves the amount for her daughter's education as even now many young girls in rural areas are not considered worthy of any education. She is happy that she can travel around the city herself. Earlier, she had to depend on her husband for every little thing.
Seeing her determination and hard work she has been appointed group leader of Khanjpeer centre. Today she has emerged into a confident woman and motivates other women from her community to join the group. A new sense of confidence can be seen in Shanu with a changed personality. She says where she could not go out of her home and speak to anyone, the women co-op has provided her platform to learn and grow in every way. She says earlier she was afraid to express her views to her family members as she knew no one would pay any attention. But after joining the women co-op her family members started respecting her and she is also considered an important member in the family and her decisions are accepted with respect. She says her in-laws are also happy with her working as she manages both her home and work in a systematic way. Today Shanu is happy that she has the confidence to manage her group of 15 members and also tries to settle their problems and issues at her own level. She proudly says that seeing her work, other women have expressed their views to join which in itself is a great achievement because our women co-op's motive is also to bring forward the minority groups and bring change to their lives. She says, "I am happy to be a part of the group." No doubt you can see a twinkle in her eye and the smile on her face. The women co-op has provided her a platform to open up, put forth her views and grow in every respect.
Kanta Devi, is 43 years old and is a resident of Devali lives in a small room with her two children one daughter and one son. Being the second eldest of the eight siblings she could not go to school. Her father was an agriculturist and owned a small piece of land in Bihar. Kanta got married at the age of 12years. Her husband had a private job and used to work with a security agency. She was happily married with two children. Her husband provided her with all the little comforts he could with his income.
The year 2007 brought a drastic change in her life. Due to her husband passing away, her life was totally shattered. Life without her husband was too difficult. She cannot read and write and her in-laws and parents did not support her, as they wanted her to come back and stay with them in the village. But she knew there were fewer opportunities in the village. Due to the lack of educational facilities, she decided to stay back in Udaipur itself. Her parents and in-laws strongly resisted against her decision. Kanta discovered our women co-op by observing other women in her village who were involved in the handicraft program. She joined in October 2007 with the stitching group. She puts in 6-8 hours of work daily. She is very happy today that she is able to educate both her children.
Kanta believes that her work has allowed improvement to her life by providing consistent income. She says that she was in the stage of committing suicide as there was no one to support and help her. She says the women co-op has given her strength to move forward, she believes they have given her a new life. She says that the fellow members have been very supportive and says that the love and support through financial assistance provided by the women co-op, helps her overcome her sorrow.
Reviving traditional art
The running stitch embroidery or straight stitch is the basic stitch in hand sewing and embroidery, on which all forms of sewing are based. The stitch is worked by passing the needle in and out of the fabric. Running stitches may be of varying length, but typically more thread is visible on the top of the sewing than on the underside. Close stitches give the fabric a certain texture. Running stitch is used in hand sewing and tailoring to sew basic seams, in hand patchwork to assemble pieces and in quilting to hold the fabric layers.
Hand block printing is believed to have originated in China towards early 3rd century. Records of its presence in Egypt and some Asian countries were also found around the 4th century, from where it spread to Europe and other places. Apart from wood, blocks were made of metals and porcelain also. But wooden block remains the most sought after apart from metal ones which have gained popularity in recent times. In hand block printing, the design is first drawn on wood using a sharp needle and then the desired design is carved using the chisel, hammer, file, nails etc. The printing involves laying the cloth/fabric, which is to be printed, on flat tables and impressions are made using the beautifully carved blocks. In case of direct printing, the block is dipped in the coloured dye and impressions are made. In case of resist dyeing, impression of an impermeable material (clay, resin, wax etc.) is made on the fabric which is then dyed in the desired shade. The block image remains un-printed and reappears in reverse. Traditionally natural and vegetable sources were used for dyes. But with the advent of synthetic dyes, things have changed. The ease of usage and the availability of synthetic dyes have replaced the vegetable dye in many cases.