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Silai School Initiative Takes Its Mission Of Changing Lives To West Bengal

Delhi: India’s fourth most populous state, West Bengal, is home to 91 million people, a fifth of which are poor.
Though the state has recorded poverty reduction since 2005, high poverty pockets still persist, and the pace of growth and poverty reduction has still been slower compared to many other states. With agriculture being one of the primary sources of livelihood, the main struggle was to create alternative employment for nearly one crore of landless labourers. Once again, it was USHA Silai School that came in as a ray of hope for the underprivileged men and women in the eastern state of India. VS

People from rural parts of the state came forward in huge numbers to be a part of the silai school initiative. There were two fundamental reasons – get financial independence and this was a job where skills were imparted, and no education qualification was required.

The sewing school made me financially independent, exclaims Lakshmi Handsa, a resident of Gopalpur village in Jhargram district, on asking why tailoring was important to her.

Echoing her sentiments were many others who, too, signed up for the programme only to break away from the shackles of poverty and make their dream of becoming financially independent come true.

I started learning sewing with an aim of earning some money, said Sujata, a Silai School trainee at the Raghunathpur village in the same district as that of Lakshmi’s.

“Learning the skill increased my client base which helped me earn more” she said. “I am now able to pay for my children’s education.”

Apart from training the underprivileged women, the silai school also creates a platform for the women to carry forward this initiative by opening their own sewing schools. Such chain of change is vital in today’s time where opportunities remain in the hands of selected groups.

If a few other girls of my village learn from me and start earning then what can be better than that? said Sujata. Today, I am not only confident about my own stitching skills and cutting techniques, but I also have an opportunity to teach my children the same.

Just like in West Bengal, the initiative has built a strong chain of assistance where USHA International offers a training of 7 days that covers topics related to sewing and tailoring. Once a trainee completes the course, they are awarded with a certificate, a signage and a black sewing machine to help kick-start their sewing career.  

“I think every single person of our 7-member unit will have a better future ahead” said Rinku Dhaka, a trainee who worked alongside 32 selected women that were responsible for the designing and stitching of the ‘Silai’ label garments.  She now owns and run a sewing school through which she earns Rs. 5000 monthly.

If we get to learn better cutting techniques and other methods of stitching then we will never have to look back. Our future is secure, she said.

Such feeling of gratitude and hopefulness is heard in all places where the initiative leaves its mark.

Going one step forward this year, the USHA Silai School gave an opportunity to rural women across the country to collaborate with India’s finest fashion designers and create their own silai label. The label was launched this year at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai where the rural women displayed their creations. The label was hailed and applauded by prestigious designers.

“We are sitting on a whole treasure of crafts in India” said Indian fashion designer and NIFT Delhi graduate Anavila Misra while) sharing her viewpoint on rural skill development.

According to her, integrating skills, focusing on honing them and creating luxury is at the heart of many high-street international clothing brands. She is among those who believe in the ‘backward integration’ model that aims at discovering rural talents and honing them in order to provide the artisans not just with employment but enable them to establish their personal identity. By this logic, the brand becomes more meaningful and has more to offer to a diverse customer base.

“I have seen the photos of the collaborative designs which went on the ramp” she said talking about USHA Silai School’s fashion display at the Lakme Fashion Week.

“The collection looked beautiful and it was a great idea to bring the faces behind the garments on the ramp” she said. “I think more brands should look into creating such collaborations and ways of creating a sustainable fashion environment.”

The ‘Silai’ label has now hit stores in prominent cities across India and the success can be tangibly measured.

“If stores like OGAAN can welcome the brand and consider it for being sold by them then the customers might also consider purchasing the garments” said Chhaya Shriram, Executive Director at USHA International Ltd.

With a launch that attracted a lot of attention and followed the rousing applause the collaboration received at the Lakme Fashion Week, the initiative is indeed on its way to reach every rural household in India and improving more lives in the not-so-far future.