How this intimate apparel factory manufacturing for the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein is empowering 18,000 women in rural Andhra Pradesh

Pachipala Dora Swamy, HerStory’s Women on A Mission awardee for HeForHer, speaks about how his intimate apparel company Brandix India is helping thousands of rural women in Andhra Pradesh.

How this intimate apparel factory manufacturing for the likes of Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein is empowering 18,000 women in rural Andhra Pradesh

Thursday March 28, 2019,

8 min Read

Pachipala Dora Swamy - Partner, Brandix India addressing his employees.

Brandix India Apparel City in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh employs 22,000 people. Out of which 18,000 are women. That’s a staggering 82 percent, which its India partner Pachipala Dora Swamy tells me, makes the company one of the largest women employing units in the apparel industry in a single location in the country.

Brandix is Sri Lanka’s single largest apparel exporter, employing over 48,000 associates and supported by 42 manufacturing facilities located within Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

At its Apparel City in Visakhapatnam, these 18,000 rural women manufacture some of the finest intimate apparel for top global brands including Victoria’s Secret, PINK, Marks & Spencer, and Calvin Klein, among others.

Dora Swamy says Brandix India started out with a focussed mission - to convert ordinary, underconfident and middle-school educated women into confident professionals.

Factory and beyond

“The women we employ come from 600 villages surrounding the apparel part. Most of these women, who have just completed their seventh standard schooling are selected through a simple interview and a test. After a month’s training, they are placed in production units. We have also initiated special efforts in local villages to attract more women to join,” he explains.

Dora Swamy is a perfect example of #HeForHer, the award he won recently at HerStory’s Women on a Mission Summit. For, in a country like India, male support is also imperative to create large-scale impact and empowerment of women.

Brandix India’s success story is also one of Dora Swamy’s struggles to rise above ordinary circumstances and odds to reach where he is today - making a mark by creating employment for thousands of women. This, he does, without any fanfare or noise.

Against the odds

Pachipala Dora Swamy - Partner, Brandix India Apparel City, Visakhapatnam.

Dora Swamy was born and raised in a farmer’s family in the remote village of Baatagurrevari Palli in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. “During those days, my village had no electricity. I used to walk two miles every day to attend the village government school. My struggles during  childhood days have made me what I am today. Many things we take for granted were everyday struggles for me,” he says.

After completing his intermediate studies at the nearby town of Pileru, he explored several options like BSc, and BPharm. But, he finally decided on Fine Arts, completing his Bachelors in Fine Arts with a specialisation in Photography and Cinematography from JNTU, Hyderabad.

“Right from my younger days, I had a strong affinity and instinct towards creativity and this prompted me to start an advertising and publicity company. I was in the field for almost fifteen years and made a name for myself. I realised I wanted to work for the welfare of the underprivileged. I worked to promote government schemes by developing very low-cost promotion material for the health of rural women and children. Several of these have been done in coordination and were beneficial to many. While working on this, I realised that my  heart lies in working for this section of the society,” he informs us.

Work is worship

Women at work

During this time, he got an opportunity to join Brandix India as a partner through a common friend.  His goal was to bring together a team of Brandix India Apparel City (BIAC) under a philosophy of “creating a workplace a temple and work as worship”.

The 1,000-acre campus in the port city works on an avant-garde ‘fibre to store’ concept. The concept is simple - it brings together world-class apparel chain partners from the design table to consumer brands in a flawless integration process.

Dora Swamy says that it was a conscious effort by Brandix India to employ a large pool of women.

“We find that the selected women are skilled for the work that needs to be done at Brandix India. They are also more diligent, and an improvement in their prospects not only helps the entire household, but also benefits the next generation.”

Brandix India’s policies go even one or more steps ahead than what is mandated by law.  Pregnant women get a space to rest between work and are also provided with additional nutrition during the day. There are special programmes for ensuring bus drivers are trained to drive safely for picking up and dropping employees to and from their place of work. The work environment is air-conditioned. It also has a well-equipped and well-staffed creche for children of employees.

Women at the Brandix factory

Other benefits include attendance bonus, marriage gift schemes, school startup kits/scholarship schemes, best employee awards, subsidised food canteens, and many other labour welfare schemes. Families of employees are also encouraged to visit the units in order to understand the working conditions in which their family members operate. There is a strong connect with the villages where the workforce resides and it also has POSH committees in all the factories.

The factory faced  its own course of challenges.

“We faced opposition from local fishermen in constructing the marine outfall. We managed the situation through discussions and interventions from the state government and local leaders. We also paid a compensation to the fisherfolk households. Two things helped us overcome opposition from different quarters. First was our own connect with the employees and their support; the second was the realisation among the union/committee leaders that I was creating a genuine positive change for the betterment of the people,” Dora Swamy says.

Not an owner, but a worker

Dora Swamy says he is not only an owner, but also a co-worker.

“Having 22,000 employees working under one roof is not easy. I    personally ensure every employee in Brandix feels that I am not an owner, but a worker along with her. Every factory employee has my personal phone number and can call or WhatsApp me. I also make it a point to travel with them, eat with them, work with them and understand their problems, and address their issues,” he adds.

The women at Brandix India come from different backgrounds and battle diverse challenges. Vidya, a polio-affected girl from Orissa, reached Atchutapuram (where the factory is situated in Vizag) with her mother, unable to bear the torture of her alcoholic father. Initially, she was not selected as she had no proper identification cards or school certificates.

When Vidya approached Dora Swamy again, he understood that he had to help her so that she could stand on her own feet. “With my team, we took a special interest to get all her certificates and her Aadhaar card. She was also very anaemic, so proper nutrition was provided and she was given a month’s training. Now, she works as a sewing machine operator in one of the units, has a life, a livelihood, and is able to take care of her mother.”

Working with the aim to run a company and factories to not only make garments profitably, but to also empower rural women, Dora Swamy says that it is of utmost importance to consider each employee’s problem and issues my own.

Apart from in-house benefits for employees, Dora Swamy is spearheading a number of social initiatives in the region surrounding the campus. These include regular eye camps, medical camps, free screening for breast and cervical cancers, awareness programmes on menstrual health and hygiene, encouraging youth to participate in local sports, and facilities for disabled, among others.

Reaching more women

A view of the factory premises

This man on a mission feels his work is far from over.

“It is challenging to find more workers for the factories; requiring an extension of neighbouring grid of villages. However, given the weak road infrastructure, it is difficult to get them from afar given the distance and consequent travel-time for buses to ply them back and forth. However, we are making plans to overcome these challenges. In the next two years, we plan to add another 6,000 women to the workforce. We are also working closely with the government to take their support in the local infrastructure, including de-bottlenecking of roads, medical facilities, and schools,” he says.

According to YourStory’s India’s Missing Demographic Dividend -  a report on the falling economic participation of Indian women and its impact, the need to boost female LFPR has more to it than just economic pragmatism. Work that is gainful and remunerative has a positive psychological impact on people. It enhances confidence, pushes people to discover more of their abilities, and allows them to strive for their ambitions.

For this, employers like Brandix India are needed in the private sector to make an impactful and well-rounded change.

“Being able to bring a smile on at least one person’s face every day before I go to bed is what I look forward to. I feel that this is just the beginning and I have miles and miles to go before a larger impact is created,” says Dora Swamy.