Fabric of change: how this 18-year-old turned industrial waste into a tool for women empowerment
Savita, a woman in her mid-30s from Tarapur, a village in Maharashtra, was confined within the four walls of her house by her husband, and was also subjected to domestic abuse. When asked if she would like to work, Savita would say, “No, I cannot. My husband might beat me.”
But today, things have changed for Savita, who is working as a digital marketer at BigPA Initiative, a social enterprise, in Mumbai, which makes products from textile waste.
Here, she handles the company’s social media accounts and markets its products, which are sold on Amazon through the Amazon Saheli Programme. Savita earns Rs 60 per hour, higher than the national average of Rs 46 per hour, and works for just three days a week.
And she is not alone. Two other women from her village, Asha and Pallavi, also work with her, running BigPA’s day-to-day activities.
All this is thanks to 18-year-old Raena Ambani, Founder of BigPA, who is fighting for two important causes - women empowerment and waste management.
BigPA uses textile waste to make felt spectacle cases, floor-protecting devices, and coasters, which are not only attractive but also eco-friendly.
After realising India’s waste problem to be getting out of control due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, Raena decided to find a solution to curb the industrial waste menace, especially textile waste.
Speaking to SocialStory, Raena, who is currently pursuing Sports Engineering in the United Kingdom, says,
“I used to visit factories a lot, and during those visits, I witnessed tonnes of poly textile waste, which is made from plastic, being generated every day. This waste couldn’t be recycled later, and my initial motive was to build products from this waste.”
Raena also realised there were no women employees in these industries even though most of these factories were near villages where women needed employment. She also noticed that the women who did work didn’t earn enough.
So, she decided to employ them. Raena visited Tarapur to tell them about her initiative and how it would not only tackle textile waste but also help them earn money.
“It wasn’t an easy job to convince them to work with me because they still had that old mindset that women should stay at home, cook, clean, and do domestic chores.”
Raena also realised the women themselves were not yet ready for change as they wanted to be home to be with their children.
Eventually, Raena managed to convince some of the women with the help of her father, who owns a textile manufacturing unit. She set up a small space in his factory in Tarapur.
To help them manage both work and family, Reana also offered these women the option to work from home. She says she gets in touch with her 12 part-time women employees only when she has large orders to ship.
“Asha takes care of manufacturing and quality checking of the products. She contacts the part-time workers and tells them how many pieces to make and by when they are needed. The women then come to the factory and collect the material and tools,” she adds.
The women are given a week to complete the products and they get paid for every piece they make. At the deadline, the pieces are collected and sent to the main office in Mumbai.
Education and training
Raena’s next challenge was to train and educate these women. For instance, she taught Savita, who didn’t even understand English, how to use social media and handle the marketing for the company. Raena even arranged a Hindi-medium laptop for her convenience.
According to her, the three women are quite dedicated and want to do more. Savita, Asha, and Pallavi were also trained as quality checking officers, product designers, and in manufacturing.
Raena taught Pallavi stitching and designing, who soon started making products with part-time employees. She also inspects the textile scraps brought to the factory and segregates them according to shapes and sizes. Pallavi was specially trained to handle the enterprise’s finances as well, and Raena taught her the basic skills of Excel sheets.
So, how does Raena manage her time between college and BigPA? She explains,
“When I am in the UK, Pallavi takes care of coordination and supervising the work. If there are any persisting issues, she shoots me a mail and I address them at the earliest. Also, education in the UK is quite flexible, allowing me to spend three months annually in India, during which I look over the progress and follow up accordingly.”
Savita, Pallavi, and Asha work only four hours a day, three days a week, primarily because it all depends upon the orders they receive.
Now, Raena says BigPA went online on Amazon with three of its products this month.
Earlier, she would sell through her website but wasn’t making profits. The products were sold to companies who needed them for social causes, says the founder.
The path ahead
After seeing success, Raena is now planning to induct more women, not only from Tarapur but also from other nearby villages.
Thanks to Amazon Saheli Programme, Raena claims BigPA’s bulk orders have gone up, for which she keeps the stock ready.
According to Raena, the enterprise is getting a lot of word-of-mouth promotion in the villages, thanks to the women who are spreading the word about the skills they have learnt.
This has also motivated other women to come forward and work at BigPA.
Raena adds, “I cannot employ them all at once as it is financially not possible. Moreover, if orders come up, we’ll need more employees to complete the work.”
(Disclaimer: The names mentioned of Asha, Savita, and Pallavi are aliases and not their real names.)
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta and Megha Reddy)