We are surrounded by amazing and inspiring stories. But there’s always a distance to them, isn’t there? Our inspirations and role models tend to be on T.V. or the internet or in magazines – far from us. We often do not realize that these stories are right next to us – our parents, family, neighbours, friends, even ourselves.
For us at Swara, our biggest inspirations are our tailors, strong women who came on board with us with full support. When Swara started, we wanted a win-win situation where everyone involved in the process benefited from it, especially our tailors. So we decided to have a chat with none other than our very own Neelamji.
Neelam Kharadi, or as we have always called her with respect and love, Neelamji, joined us three years ago. She is our very first tailor! Over the years, she has helped create the amazing indo-western creations that you see today. Due to present restrictions, we were unable to have a proper sit-down interview. But even over the phone, we could feel the enthusiasm with which Neelamji shared her story.
Neelamji is a resident of Dungarpur and at 37, she is the heading the team of wonder women for Swara. “As a child, I had a habit of cutting garments up and experimenting with my clothes”, mentions Neelamji. She used to cut up her mother’s sarees to stitch clothes for herself. Her family recognized that she had a talent different from the other members – she could stitch any outfit from memory after seeing it just once. For us, this meant Neelamji was a blessing. She picked up on our ideas quickly and understood the style we wanted. “I’m very happy to be working in a field that I have been interested in since childhood”, states Neelamji.
When she started working with Swara, we were just a small brand with big dreams of empowering rural women and bringing recognition to artisans while delivering sustainable fashion to our customers. Neelamji is testimony to our goals – she is the first woman in her community to get such exposure to the rest of the world. She is no longer at the mercy of infrequent customers around her and instead, she has stable income “I am indebted to Swara for recognising my talents and the opportunities it has given me to explore and experience”, says Neelamji, adding that it changed her life. To bring recognition to traditional artisans, we pay our artisans a few above the market price. This makes sure they are able to make a sustainable income and upkeep their households.
Though Neelamji had prior knowledge in stitching and embroidery, she had to revamp it for Swara. “The process was different and I had to get used to new designs. The sewing had to be perfect, to ensure that the customer loved it”. But Neelamji was quick to adapt to the change. Through social platforms like Pinterest and Youtube, she taught herself the skill needed. Often people find it hard to get used to different technology but when Neelamji was introduced to Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube, she caught on very quickly. “Other than movies, it is from these places that I get ideas and the opportunity to learn new things”.
One of the first things we did was introduce our tailors to social media and provide them with a tablet. We did it to help them understand the cities that they hadn’t seen, and let them know that things were different in rural and urban India, especially in the fashion world. And while we expected it to create a hitch in things, Neelamji aced that learning curve as well!
With Swara, Neelamji has traveled out of Dungarpur and has had the first-hand experience of the cities she had seen in movies. “I have been to Mumbai to visit Ascend International School (their students of grades 4 and 5 had put up a fair, where we went to promote local products ), to Ahmedabad to visit the NID campus there and to Shilpgram in Udaipur (where fairs promoting diverse handicrafts of western India take place).
When I arrived in Mumbai, the size of the city was overwhelming but a few days later, I got comfortable”. She mentions that during these trips, she remembers to observe the clothes people wear and to take away ideas for new clothes.
Today, Neelamji is not just a tailor at Swara, she also helps recruit new tailors and train them.
When asked what kept her going through all the struggles, she replied, “everyone wants to be appreciated for their work. It is this appreciation that I receive for my work that keeps me motivated to go forward”. She wants to learn new techniques and perfect her skills, but right now she wants to work and earn to ensure that her daughters get to have a good education.
While talking with her, we realized the respect she has for her work and herself, the confidence with which she talks about her experiences, and the love she has for Swara. As we mentioned before, it is our tailors, including Neelamji, who keep us going. To see their happiness and their confidence encourages us to keep going. They are the reason Swara was born – to amplify the voice of women.