A Stitch In Time

It was a chilly afternoon on January 2, 2015 when Mohit walked into his centre.

A large group of women accompanied by their children greeted him with cheers and smiles.

On the table was a cake with a single bright candle.

It was Thread Craft India’s first anniversary, he realised. 

A year has already gone by but packed with priceless memories and wonderful achievements.

Mohit smiled thinking of the difference Thread Craft India has made to these women - the Chikankari embroiders, gathered around him.

Chikankari is an ancient form of white floral embroidery, intricately worked on fabric with needle and raw cotton thread. This delicate form of embroidery is majorly practised in and around the city of Lucknow, the cultural centre in North India.

Finshed kurta with Chikankari

Chikankari has survived the loss of royal patronage, suffered deeply at the hands of commercialisation, lost its way sometimes in mediocrity, yet it stayed alive. The tribute goes to those skilled artisans who have handed down this technique from one generation to the other. While India is a melting pot of rich art forms and handicrafts, not all are safe from extinction. Stiff competition, irregular demand, exploitative supply chains and lack of raw materials are just some of the few problems that plague this industry.

 Artisan women embroider with cheer while bonding with others at the centre

Mohit Verma through his Social Enterprise, Threadcraft India aims at keeping up this traditional art form alive but also aims at reviving and some of the traditional stitches that are on the verge of going extinct due to the exodus of artisans to other professions. While ensuring healthy working conditions, better income and market connectivity for these Chikankari workers, he plans to work out a sustainable model that can be scaled up impacting marginalised artisans.

 Enjoying embroidery work while soaking the sun a winter morning

Mohit began his journey in 2010 when he enrolled with Tata Institute of Social Sciences at the social entrepreneurship programme. At the onset he studied the market to get a thorough understanding of the problems associated with production. He spent time talking to artisans and getting to know their aspirations. Due to the nature of this work, the senior artisans tend to face the problem of poor vision. Also these women artisans, who are predominantly Muslim women, rely heavily on intermediaries to provide raw materials as well as sell the finished product to retailers. As a result they never get the return that they truly deserve despite skilled and high quality work. It was here that Mohit saw an opportunity - to create a better work environment for them which could in turn help them become more productive.

 Mohit monitors the work of an elderly artisan at the Threadcraft India Centre

Thread Craft India began with the intention of bringing women artisans who specialize in Chikankari work together under one roof. By creating a safe working environment and promoting group work, he successfully reached out to more than 25 artisans. Over time and with new assignments, their confidence grew and so did their income levels. These women now practice several types of stitches and participate in skill building workshops at Mohit’s centre.

 One year completion of Threadcraft India's embroiderers

His goal is to convert the centre into a Self-Help Group and facilitate them to get group loans. Mohit acknowledges that the journey thus far has seen its share of highs and lows. What helped built confidence among the women is his assurance of providing timely payment of wages to all the artisans as well as arranging for free eye check-ups on a regular basis. The eye-checks were well appreciated as intricate embroidery like Chikankari needs artisans to be very comfortable with their vision.

With international orders coming in, Mohit dreams of the day when every Chikankari artisan will work in an organized way and have the bargaining power to demand the right wages. For now with his centre, he is keen on maintaining a sense of co-ownership and transparency with the artisans while bringing in more business from neighbouring metro cities of India. – AsiaForGood

[Photo Courtesy: ThreadCraft India]

 

 If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.

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