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The Women From USHA Silai School Kashmir Make It To The Lakme Fashion Week 2019


“We could not even step out of our house earlier. We wanted to learn new skills but there were no such opportunities for us. I cannot study but at least I can work now. After my training, I can now stitch all types of garments and even complete the specific orders from customers. Since the establishment of USHA Silai School here, I can support myself and I am no longer dependent on my parents,” said Afroza Bano Khan, a beneficiary of the USHA Silai School initiative in Kashmir. The USHA Silai Schools began their journey in Jammu and Kashmir back in 2012 and since then, the number of schools in the state has increased to 206, each of which is helping change the lives of the Kashmiri women enrollled for the programme. 

These Silai schools are lauded and appreciated by numerous noted personalities for their efforts at empowering women. One of the renowned social activist, Tilak Raj Sharma stated,

We could not work openly and it was difficult to interact with people freely here. We were approached for setting up the USHA Silai centre in 2012 and with the help of Ms. Shakti Rana, we have started 10 training centres till date.

In 2018 however, USHA established yet another venture in the valley, a new cluster for the production of their brand ‘Silai’, in association with the ace fashion designer, Rohit Bal. Whether its self-confidence or financial independence, USHA has helped the women in the valley in more ways than one can count. Nusrat, a trainee from the Kashmir cluster, said,

Everyone thinks that one should be able to do something in their lives. I really enjoy working here instead of just passing time. It helps me support my children by paying for their tuition fee and I can also contribute to the household expenses.

While another Silai School pass out Aliya stated, 

We would not have been able to work and earn money if not for USHA Silai School. I feel so happy, now that I can help my father by supporting his medical expenses.

A coordinator from the USHA Silai Schools program, Mohan, points out, 

Most women in this cluster belong to Kashmir. They understand the designs and their work is up to the mark. Rohit Bal is a very well-known and respected international name and when USHA got the opportunity to work with him, we could not let it pass by.

The Kashmir cluster has been a game changer for the women of the valley, creating multitudes of experiences for them which included many firsts. The ladies got the opportunity to fly in an aircraft to Delhi, for the first time, when they visited Rohit Bal’s production center. They even met Rohit Bal for the very first time, after weeks of grueling training sessions to produce the garments for his collection. 

Rohit Bal himself assessed their work and encouraged them to better themselves at every step. When asked about his expectations from the Silai School women and the collection, he said,  

There was no special thought, or any complicated thought process. It was just something we needed to try out. We needed to figure out if they are going to be able to do this and whether this is going to be something which I could put on a ramp. It is just not something that you will see me or yourself wearing, it is going to be on a ramp, it is going to be highlighted, it is going to be publicised, it is going to be in the public eye, a critical one at that.

After 30 days and nights of rigorous production work, the garments arrived in Mumbai for model fittings. After three months of hard work, the ladies are finally in the ‘city of dreams’ for the Lakme Fashion Week 2019.  

This was their first trip to Mumbai, and the excitement and happiness was apparent! The ladies took a city tour and even saw Actor Sharukh Khan’s residence, ‘Mannat’. 

Mateesa is cherishing each and every moment as she quotes,

“I’m really enjoying myself here and getting to see different things, new people and new places. Back home there is nothing like this, the music here is so loud! At home, even in our rooms, if we have to listen to music we are forced to keep the volume low so it doesn’t leak out. I’m very happy and enjoying. Our families have supported, trusted and appreciated us by giving us this opportunity to move ahead in our profession, we feel that we can do a lot more and live freely. USHA too, has taken very good care of us and supported us at every turn. They worked very hard to help us reach here, we are very thankful to USHA for giving us this opportunity by starting the Kashmir cluster. I feel lucky!” 

But this is not it, having trained and worked so hard for this moment, these women have one final task to perform. They have to walk the ramp alongside the models wearing their garments, for which they need to rehearse. The ladies are undoubtedly anxious to go on the ramp in front of such an important audience that was full of TV stars, actors and designers.  

At the end of show, the women received a standing ovation for their work and performance and the collaboration between Rohit Bal and USHA Silai was praised by everyone present at the Lakme Fashion Week 2019.  

They felt extremely proud and emotional at the same time. The audience acknowledged the fact that it takes a lot of courage for such a big designer to associate his name and brand with raw talent like the women of the Kashmir Cluster.   

Among many guests, the fashion designer, Kawaljeet Singh said, 

“I’m one of the mentors of a Fashion Institute and I always tell my students that India is Paris, in fact it is bigger than Paris. We are the fashion world, people round the globe, get inspired by our Kashmiri embroidery and our fabrics. Today I’m so happy that Rohit is showing the world that we are far ahead of Paris. I think nobody else like him would have thought of getting these women onto the ramp. I still have tears in my eyes which won’t stop. They have touched my soul and my heart with collection.” 

At the Fashion Week, Gunjan Walia, a TV Actor said,

They have done a fantastic job under his guidance. It’s beautiful. There is so much creative talent throughout the country and its beautiful to empower the women of Kashmir. What we have witnessed here today was excellent. He is an institution in himself. No wonder he has actually trained and worked with these women and they have done a fantabulous job in his able guidance. It is beautiful and more than anything this was an overwhelming experience.

Vikas Manaktala another TV Actor said,

Just look at them they are so beautiful and warm and their work is exceptional. They only need encouragement and I am so proud of Rohit Bal for doing this. He is giving back to the place where he belongs. It was really heartwarming and it just touched the right cords for every single person sitting here. The amount of love and standing ovation they got, it just couldn’t have been better than that.

Arjun Rampal, Actor thinks that,

It is very important to acknowledge the craftsmanship that the team has showed tonight. We need to end the discrimination that exists in the fashion industry today and I’m happy that the right talent is being recognised. These are the craftsmen who actually helped them put whole collection together and to give them that opportunity to come here.