This organisation is helping women artisans find their inner entrepreneurs during coronavirus
Four years ago, Samina from Vadodara found herself in a tight financial position. She wanted to help her husband by contributing to the family’s funds. Her skillset? Magic with threads.
Similarly, Naqiya, from Ratlam, recalls a time when she had very little money on her, and how she always kept ‘borrowing’ money from her ‘religious savings’ box. Like Samina, she too had grown up learning how to crochet, which is a method of creating textiles and items with a hook and lots of threads.
But what Samina, Naqiya, and hundreds of other women who grew up learning how to knit and crochet, lacked was a way to make money off of their skills.
Recognising the lack of opportunities for women to capitalise on their arts and crafts-related skills, the Dawoodi Bohra community women launched the ‘Happy Threads’ initiative, under women-focussed, non-profit organisation called ‘Supermoms4u’ in 2016. This initiative is inspired by the community leader Dr Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin's desire to empower women and enable them to use their crafts and skills productively.
At the heart of it, ‘Happy Threads’ aims to make self-sustained entrepreneurs out of women, and help them with their businesses.
“We found that a lot of households were struggling to make ends meet, and the women were not earning enough to meet the expenditures,” says Tasnim Sabuwala, Marketing Head at Supermoms4u. “After some initial research, we found that crochet was one of the most prevalent skillsets amongst these women."
The initiative currently supports 710 such women entrepreneurs in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The best part about crochet is the amazing range of products that can be made from a simple hook and a bale of thread. The organisation’s current product line includes home décor items like table mats, bookends and wall frames; fashion accessories such as tote bags, stoles, earrings and other jewellery; stationery products like diaries and notepads decorated with crochet artwork; soft toys like Amigurumi, among other things.
“Most of the consumers like our product quality and admire the colour combinations and designs,” says Tasnim.
Women make up a majority of the organisation’s clientele right now, but by offering a wide array of home products, ‘Happy Threads’ is trying to target men too.
Eventually, the organisation plans introduce items that use other forms of handiworks, such as shadow work, fabric painting, knitting, and hand embroidery, among others.
The organisation has a range of products from jewellery to Amigurumi dolls.
The products are sold through various sales channels like exhibitions, bulk orders for corporates as party favours, through the organisation’s Instagram page, and by some resellers who support the cause. The team aims to start selling directly on their website in the near future.
Training the team
Through coordinators posted at the different centres, the organisation identifies women who need increased incomes, and are familiar with handiworks such as crochet and needlework.
Once this is completed, these women are introduced to Happy Threads, where they receive a basic training in the art, or a quick refresher, if needed.
“They (the artisans) send us sample pictures of something they have made, and, if they’re approved by our designers, we ask them to make more with suitable changes,” Tasnim explains.
For customised orders, or specific designs, the Happy Threads designers send the women online tutorials in the form of videos, or PDF files. They also provide live training sessions, if required.
Irrespective of any standing orders, the non-profit buys these products from the artisans outright, and deposits their dues directly in their accounts.
These artisans are trained to make crochet articles (image taken before the lockdown)
Naqiya – one of the artisans of the Happy Threads community – talks about her journey with the organisation:
“In the beginning it was a small flower and I really had to work hard to get it right at first. I got paid a small amount of Rs 10. It was very little money for so much work but I was convinced that this was the beginning of something great. Now, my purse is never empty and I never sit idle.”
How COVID-19 has impacted sales
“Our products fall under the 'gifting' category, and that poses a huge problem right now,” says Tasnim, adding “being a non-essential service, we are finding it hard to sell anything.”
Tasnim’s woes will likely not end after the lockdown lifts either, as consumption and demand for non-essential and luxury goods is widely expected to drop after consumers reassess their spending habits.
In the current situation, the number of orders have fallen due to the lack of delivery services. Even after the lockdown ends, it is expected to be difficult to get orders, the organisation said.
In light of the COVID-19 impact, these women are making crochet masks
Production too has come to a standstill since delivering raw materials to the artisans has become logistically difficult. Some of the centres that these artisans work at are inaccessible at the moment – Ratlam, Surat, Ujjain, Indore, and others, among them – and will not be allowed to open until the lockdown lifts.
But even when it does, the organisation expects that artisans will not have any new orders to fulfill and sell, unless things go back to what they were, pre-COVID-19.
To assuage some of those earning pressures and ensure some form of income to the artisans, the organisation has started making face masks.
“Right now, we’ve come up with the idea of making masks assuming that for the next 18 months, people will continue to wear masks,” says Tasnim, adding making masks with customised motifs would help artisans earn at least something.
Along with the masks, the organisation has decided to contribute Rs 25 from the sale of every Amigurumi doll to the PM-CARES fund. This will encourage sales, as well help the artisans.