These women from Aseem Shakti are empowering themselves by producing instant wear sarees with invisible pockets
While the elegant saree is yet to establish itself firmly as workwear for women, there are attempts to make the garment functional and easy-to-wear.
That also means giving it an instant drape and also pockets, as designed by the women of Aseem Shakti, a social enterprise based in Mumbai.
Founded by Swati Singh, it was incorporated in 2018 to create employment opportunities for women of a self-help group she had started in the city in 2016.
These women from less-privileged backgrounds make functional and utility clothing for the modern Indian women and applied for a design patent for its instant wear saree with an invisible pocket.
While Swati and her team wait for the patent to come through on the saree, HerStory caught up with them to know more about how this enterprise is changing their lives by making them independent.
The instant wear saree
The enterprise transforms any existing saree into a ready-to-wear one with pockets for just Rs 850. And if you don’t have one, there is no need to fret, they also offer you an extensive collection to choose from.
Swati says, “The instant saree can be worn in 15-30 seconds, and has an invisible pocket that is deep enough to keep your phone, keys, pens, visiting cards, etc. It has a lining attached so there is no need to wear the underskirt. Women can wear their tights or shorts since most of us are used to wearing jeans, leggings, pants, salwar, etc., and wearing underskirt/petticoat feels uncomfortable and wearing tights with the underskirt is too much clothing.”
Instant saree with pockets made by Aseem Shakti team.
Aseem Shakti has started selling these unique sarees to friends, family, and local customers, and soon plans to make it available to a larger audience.
It took them 10-15 days to develop the design, but they spent 6-8 months to train the women to make the sarees from scratch.
Other products from the women at Aseem Shakti include fabric bags and jewellery. Swati started with 10 women and now they have trained 15 women out of which some have started their own small tailoring business.
Aseem Shakti, which translates into “infinite power”, was started when she saw women from the urban slums and underprivileged families struggling to make an income.
She had completed her Master’s in Commerce and was working as an Assistant Professor at Shree G.P.M. Degree College when she was moved by the plight of these women and decided to start Aseem Shakti.
“All of them have different challenges. One is the sole earner of her family, one wanted to overcome her financial struggle and depression after she lost her autistic child, many want to be independent and need an escape from the daily struggles of living in a joint family,” shares Swati.
Some of these women were already working by going on “panels” to launch new products. There were others who tested products on themselves, that even caused burns. Swati felt disturbed by what she saw and decided to create a self-help group to empower them.
Initially, the group made candles to sell during Diwali. However, soon after, Swati spent a year trying to figure out how to get them a steady stream of work and prevent them from attending those “panels”.
Eventually she decided to leverage fashion and make it a sustainable stream of work for these women.
“I had no intention of creating something innovative or causing disruption. My sole motivation was to help these 10 women sitting in front of me in my house and get them rid of their ‘panels’.”
Swati says, “For women between the age group of 30-50, we have trained them in sewing and embroidery. We had started with their self-development and grooming by conducting spoken English classes for them. We train them in interpersonal skills and for those who can't sew, we train them into making fabric jewellery. For younger girls we are coming up with web development courses which we are starting this Diwali.”
Swati says, their biggest challenge has been getting a bank loan. “Lack of funds still remains one of our biggest challenges. Training and managing women too is not easy. We had to ensure that the end-product had a good finish, and would meet customers’ expectations. We try to understand their views and problems and come up with solutions so that they don’t have to leave their jobs and can maintain a work-life balance.”
Though the journey has been a long one for Swati and the team working at Aseem Shakti, they believe it’s just the beginning of good things to come, especially when they receive the patent. Swati, however, also has other plans.
“We aspire to make Aseem Shakti a go-to place for women who interested in a career. We are trying to figure out challenges that working women face and come up with a solution. We dream of being a successful company solely managed by women.”
(Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan)