‘Stree Shakti’, empowering women at the foothills of Himalayas
They say change begins at home. For Chinni Swamy, it really did, when she started her initiative Stree Shakti with one woman at her own home in village Purkal, in Uttaranchal.
It was back in 2001, when Chinni and her husband Swamy thought of moving ‘to some place in the foothills of Himalayas’. For most people that would mean a charming town like Dehradun or the picturesque hill station of Mussoorie. The Swamys chose a little village, Purkal, which falls somewhere between Dehradun and Mussoorie.
Once there, Swamy started a school for children from nearby villages and Chinni decided to introduce the women of those villages to a little known craft form - quilting. Slowly, over the years, Chinni has introduced the world to these quilts through her entrepreneurial venture, 'Stree Shakti'.
I first went to Purkal couple of years back. Since then, I have been there every year to support this awe inspiring venture. In conversation here, with Chinni Swamy, on her extraordinary journey.
Started with one woman
Speaking of the humble beginnings, Chinni says, “I wanted to help one poor woman from our village. I have always been interested in patchwork, and together we made a couple of quilts. When they were appreciated, I thought we could make it a project for the village women".
Stree Shakti is now a registered non profit organisation empowering women to produce textile products such as quilts, cushion covers, bags, stoles and other accessories. “Our signature product is the patchwork and applique quilts”, says Chinni, proudly.
What started with one woman then, has grown into a team of over 130 today. This includes the women who make the products, the designers, accounts manager, purchase and marketing manager, store manager, office assistant, supervisor, quality controller and trainers.
Stree Shakti retails its products through their shop at the women centre in Purkal, their online store and at exhibitions across the country. They also have retail partners in the US and the UK.
Entrepreneurship and challenges go hand-in-hand
While sales are growing steadily, the venture is facing challenges with production and meeting the demands of a seasonal market. “We need to stock up for the entire season and often the stocks are in our workshop for 4-5 months. This blocks our working capital”, says Chinni.The other challenge they face is the money crunch, which Chinni says is more for their welfare programmes than scaling up the business itself. “The welfare programs are a very important part of the venture. Many women have children, too young to go to school. We look after them so these women can work peacefully”, says Chinni. Besides that, Stree Shakti also organizes regular health check ups for women and gives medical support. They also arrange transportation of women from their villages to the center and back.
Some journeys are worth it
Today, Stree Shakti employees women from 15 villages around Purkal. Speaking of the impact, Chinni says, “as the women bring money home every month, they command better respect in their families and this has impacted their confidence level positively". Besides the financial stability and the consequent position in the society, Chinni prides herself for creating a community where women gain moral support and a have sense of belonging with the other members.
The first time I went to Purkal, it felt like the longest journey ever. A flight to Delhi, a train to Dehradun, a taxi to a small town called Rajpur and finally the school bus, which took me to Purkal village. When I saw the impact of the venture on the women in the village, the cheerful kids at the learning center, the colorful products they make, it made me realise that some journeys are worth it.
Website: Stree Shakti