Rajashree, a former domestic help, does not forget to count her blessings at each turn of a new day. She has more time to spend with her family and take care of herself. Her hands, which used to be blistered or raw from scrubbing floors and utensils, are now always busy creating something beautiful. Her small business of upcycling old, torn, and rejected clothes into utilitarian items like bags, quilts, purses, doormats and folders is a hit in the neighbourhood and her monthly income is around Rs 5,000.
More than she ever made as a domestic help.
“Five years ago, a doctor told me to quit working in houses when he looked at the state of my raw hands with their torn skin. But, I kept on working. Who would keep food on the plate then?” recalls Rajshree.
It all changed for her when her former employer, Sanjeevani Pawar intervened.
Rajashree is one of the 16 women whose lives have changed through ‘Sakhi’, a Self-Help Group in Pune started by Sanjeevani Pawar and her friend Madhuri Joshi in 2015.
“Our initial plan was to only help Rajashree but as people started appreciating the products she stitched, we expanded the movement and roped in 2-3 other women from poverty-stricken households. We helped them till they found customers,” Pawar, a biology professor, tells The Better India (TBI).
Customers from across the city donate waste clothes to these women and in return get brand new items made from them. The best part for customers is that they only have to pay for sewing charges.
So far, these women have made over 10,000 godhdis (quilts) and innumerable products, “Honestly, we have lost the count of the number of clothes we have upcycled,” quips Pawar.
Reviving Old Traditions
Like every other Indian household, Pawar’s family also followed the practice of reusing household items until they exhausted its utility limit. In fact, Pawar’s mother was quite popular in her social circle for stitching godhdis from her old sarees and other clothes.
A young Pawar would often observe her mother upcycling old clothes to create something beautiful. At times, she contributed by helping her mother choose thread colours, patterns and designs.
“I never imagined her old school methods would one day not only be an extra source of income for women but also benefit the environment. We live in times of fast consumerism where people discard clothes quickly, either because they get bored or it goes out of fashion. Thus, upcycling is not just an old tradition, it has become a sustainable practice,” says Pawar.
Taking a leaf from her mother’s hobby, Pawar now trains women in basic stitching and knitting. She also helps them with designing the products to make them more attractive.
Pawar’s initiative is also helping women who are nearing their retirement age.
“It is a struggle for old domestic workers to carry out physical work or find another job because of illiteracy. Keeping that in mind, we provided training so that in future if they want to stitch they can do so. In Sakhi, some have taken up stitching on a full time basis and others as part-time,” she adds.
Joshi and Pawar are also educating women about financial management so that their hard-earned money is judiciously used.
Initiatives such as these could be replicated among poorer communities, especially those where literacy rate is very low. Education being criteria in the majority of the jobs, such upskilling initiatives scan financially uplift women.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)