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From 'sui-dhaaga' to sustainable fashion: Rural women weavers find new identity

Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)
Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)

What happens when women from "silai schools" in rural India up the ante under the expert guidance of fashion designers? They not only hone their skills and amplify their earning potential but also learn about fashion, gain confidence and respect and the permission to move out of their homes.

Consumer durables company Usha International Ltd, in collaboration with IMG Reliance, has launched Usha Silai, an ethical and sustainable fashion label which has clothes sewn by women from Usha Silai School and mentored by designers.

The label is a movement to eliminate gender disparity and bring rural women into the world of high street fashion garment construction.

Four clusters were identified for this initiative -- Kaladhera in Rajasthan, Mastikari in Bengal, Dholka in Gujarat, and Puducherry -- and select women from these clusters were mentored by designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, Sayantan Sarkar, Soham Dave and Sreejith Jeevan.

The initiative aims to reverse the migration of skilled workers by empowering them with skills and resources to create clothes and accessories that can be retailed in the urban fashion market as well as create the go-to-market strategy for them.

Rinku Mandal and Devdasi Mondal from the Kolkata cluster feel that their standing in their community has grown manifold after working on this venture.

"We got to know about new skills and we have learned how to work as a team," Rinku told IANS.

Devdasi said that in addition to the usual silhouettes, they have learned to texture hand-embroidery and how to dye products, which have helped them create high-end fashion garments.

Irudhayamary and Metildamary from the Puducherry cluster feel their confidence has grown immensely ever since they began working on the label, and that they now take pride in showing their work around.

"There is an increase in confidence, increase in respect from the customers at Silai School since we have begun making quality garments," Irudhayamary told IANS, adding that they feel proud that the dresses made by them are used at fashion events.

The first collection from each cluster under the Usha Silai label was showcased at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in February this year.

Metildamary said they have got "more exposure to the fashion world".

"We are now able to make any new design by seeing the garments. We are making garments that reflect our Puducherry culture -- with waves, window, pintucks and glass panels," said Metildamary.

Sunita Devi from the Kaladhera cluster in Rajasthan is proud she has her "own identity outside my home and in the home".

"Now my family does not stop me from going outside my home. My decision also has value in my home. Before being associated with this fashion label, I didn't know about fashion. In fact, the first time I heard the term fashion was when I underwent the fashion label assessment in Kaladhera.

"I had never seen fashion clothes in my life. I have only seen clothes which are sold in the local market," Sunita told IANS.

The same is the case with Rekha Ben from Dholka cluster in Gujarat.

"I have felt a lot of change in my life. I got a new identity after working on this fashion label. People (in my community) did not know about me before the training, but now many people know me as a good member of society. I am getting good work orders from local markets because my skills have improved," she said.

Priya Somaiya, Executive Director, Usha Social Services, says the idea behind Usha Silai was to facilitate the manifestation and expression of the creative potential in rural women.

"To recognise their ability to learn and hone their skills to sew and stitch, and later cut, draft, and patter-make to a level that could cater to the demands of the fashion industry. By empowering them with the skills to tailor high fashion garments, Usha Silai has grown their earning potential manifold while ensuring continuity of work," Somaiya told IANS.

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