The Team in India

 The team in India works under the banner of an Indian-registered company. Though it is registered like any other company, we are committed to utilising all its profits for the empowerment of needy women. 

The Lucknow team works closely with us in Australia, thanks to the wonders of e-communication. Our current team contains both Hindu and Muslim faiths, Indian and Nepalese ethnicities, and contrary to Indian hierarchical tradition, women are the bosses. It’s a testament to the character of each individual that it all works so wonderfully well, though it can be viewed as a microcosm of Indian society, where stereotypes and the simplistic pictures of tension and violence generated by the media are very rarely true.

  • Pragya

    Pragya

    Pragya is our General Manager, and “general” is certainly the word. As in many organisations, the GM is the most senior member of the team, overseeing all aspects of the business, but in our tiny organisation this is often very hands on, and Pragya is a master of multi-tasking.

    Pragya came to us well qualified for her role. (You can read more about how she came to join us in “How we started”.) Before moving to Lucknow to be a full-time, typically Indian devoted mum to her son, she worked in Delhi in an export house producing garments and home furnishings for the US and European markets. Once her son, at 10, was less dependent, she looked for a job that would capitalise on this experience with foreign buyers and working styles – just as we advertised for a Production Manager.

    Pragya set the tone of the office from the day she started. She’s a perfectionist, so there was no training required in the high standards we wanted for our product – she runs a great quality control system. She embraced our “leave your caste, class and religious prejudices at the door” policy, and became fully committed to our objective of empowering poor women. However, she also demands of herself and all the team an efficient, professional approach that means the little office simply hums with both industry and good humour.

  • Arshpreet

    Arshpreet

     

    Arshpreet joined us in August 2010, as an assistant to Pragya, and has now assumed the position of Production Manager. Having completed a post-graduate qualification in Fashion Design at the Pearl Academy of Fashions in Delhi, and having a year and a half’s experience in a Delhi fashion house exporting to Europe, she was returning to Lucknow and looking for an interesting job in our old-fashioned city. As soon as we met her we realised she would be a great asset.

     

    With her up-to-date training in pattern-making and design, Arshpreet contributes a great deal to our sampling process, and she has learned every aspect of production. Her experience in the more modern world of Delhi means she fits right in with the professional culture Pragya has established.

     

    We are hoping that Arshpreet will be able to tap into her creative energy too, and design some interesting ‘fusion’ garments for Zenana Women.

     

     

     

  • Masterji

    Masterji

    Our senior tailor we call Masterji because he is a Master Tailor – the “ji” is for respect, as in “sir”. Masterji is the technical master of the team, who came to us for the challenge and interest of regularly making new styles. 

    Masterji’s home town is Basti, about 5 hours from Lucknow by train. He left his own tailoring business there to join us, which means he lives a long way from his family. 

    Earlier, Masterji worked in the export houses of Mumbai, so he has broad experience, but many of these businesses export to the Middle East and expat Indian communities abroad, where the most sought after qualities are Indian style and low price. So Masterji has learned with us two different drivers of his work – fit and quality. He says he has enjoyed these challenges, and he certainly produces beautiful work. He is the key to our training of women tailors to the high standards we expect. 

    Masterji is the tailor who makes all the patterns and first samples, both for the Zenana label and also for the new labels being developed by designers collaborating with us.

     

     

     

  • Amit

    Amit

    Amit joined us in 2008 as Assistant Tailor to Masterji. He was trained in his father’s workshop in the Old City area of Lucknow, and was looking to branch out from the limited scope of stitching menswear. He is now well trained in our particular needs and has become our ‘gun’ tailor, promoted to the position of Senior Tailor and acquiring the skills of pattern-making and cutting that will one day see him become a Master. 

    Amit has proven to be a gentle and helpful mentor to our trainees, demonstrating techniques and anchoring the supportive environment of the stitching room.  

  • Rekha, Sarita and Soni

    Rekha, Sarita and Soni

     Rekha, Sarita and Soni are sisters who all came to work with us in 2010, following their eldest sister Pushpa (who has since left us to marry). With aging parents, their income is needed to help support their family before they marry.

    Rekha at left, is the second eldest of the four sisters. Rekha is very quiet and gentle, so much so that she depends on her more outgoing sister Sarita to raise any workplace issues on her behalf. We encourage her to be just a little stronger, so she can take care of her own interests after marriage.

    Sarita, centre, was compelled to leave school early to contribute to expenses, but she wants a better life. With our support she has finished her secondary education, but she has also learned to use a sewing machine, which is traditionally men’s work. Vibrant and feisty, Sarita is determined to increase her skills and earn a better salary. She is now working as our fabric stock controller – and Sarita made the pretty outfits all three sisters are wearing in this photo!

    The youngest sister, Soni, needed to work as soon as she finished Yr 9, to help the family out. We agreed, on condition that she continue her education with our support. It turns out she is our most talented embroidery worker. Like Sarita, she has now completed her secondary education and is thinking she might go on to tertiary study – we’ll be right behind her, helping with fees and study leave so she can go as far as she wants herself.

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  • Rubina

    Rubina

     Rubina’s ambition is to marry a motor mechanic, so she can go for rides in different exotic vehicles! While she waits for her family to find Mr Right, she happily works with us and bides her time. She’s a good-natured and gentle member of the team, always ready with her big smile.

     

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  • Praveen

    Praveen

    Praveen has been with us since early 2011. As a widowed mother of a son and a daughter, she struggles financially and we help her out where we can. In fact Pragya’s family pays the school fees of Praveen’s children.

    Praveen represents the women we hoped to work with from the start. Women in Praveen’s position can so easily be exploited. We hope that secure, fairly-paid employment with flexible working hours and a supportive work environment means that Praveen is better able to provide for her young family.

     

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  • Shazad

    Shazad

    Mr Sajjad Mehdi is an experienced tailor with a BA who, at the end of 2012, moved to work with us from the largest export house in Lucknow. He brings a quiet dignity to our team that we appreciate as a steady influence on all.

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  • Suman

    Suman

    As one of our valued married women workers, Suman is looked to for advice from her younger colleagues. She is comparatively fortunate. Her husband is employed and her sons work while they study. However, there is no money for anything extra and Suman works to gain some discretionary income of her own.

     

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  • Farheen and Roshan

    Farheen and Roshan

     

    Farheen and Roshan look like impish children, but when this photo was taken in 2013 Farheen, at left, was 22 and Roshan 19.

    Roshan worked with us since the beginning of 2012 and in April 2014 she left to be married. And impish she is, with a wicked send of humour that was often the source of much giggling in the embroidery circle. Now when she visits she is much more subdued, as is appropriate for a married woman. It was Roshan who brought the skill of crochet along with her embroidery skills, and she taught others how to crochet so the skill wouldn’t leave with her. We do wish her well in her new married life, where she is mostly confined to the house, not so far in reality from the zenanas of old.

    Farheen has fought to grow into the tiny woman she is. Malnourished as a child, she has permanent, though thankfully slight, disabilities as a result. When we met her mum, we were saddened by her story of a drunken, abusive husband who did not support his family. Like so many women, Farheen’s mother has supported her family through her own work as a seamstress. Farheen is independent and wild – in the nicest sense of the word. She runs her own race in a culture and community group where that is hard to accept. We admire her tenacity and her will to survive.

     

     

     

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  • Gudiya

    Gudiya

     

    When Gudiya joined us in late 2010, she brought a welcome dose of liveliness into our workshop. Though a member of a conservative community, she is feisty and strong, with a great sense of humour; a delight to be around.

    Yes, she will marry according to her parents’ wishes, and be a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, and stay at home after marriage if that is what is required of her, but her strong character is also likely to help her maintain her sense of self. It will be her best defence against mistreatment, in the hopefully unlikely event that she finds herself in a cruel household. It was Guriya’s response, in a workshop on women’s rights organised by Pragya after Shabana’s cruel death (see ‘Those who have left us’), to declare, “If my husband tries to do that to me, I’ll grab him and hold onto him so tight he’ll suffer the same fate!”

     

     

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  • Akhtar

    Akhtar

    Akhtar has worked with us since a fortnight after her elder sister Gudiya started. Like many of our unmarried staff members, she expects to work only until she’s married. Her husband and his family will decide if she should continue after that: this is normal in her community.

    With one of the sweetest temperaments one could hope to come across, Akhtar turned out to also be one of our best workers, producing lovely, high quality embroidery. For this reason it was difficult not to hesitate when she was the first embroidery worker to express a serious interest in learning how to use the sewing machine. With sewing being a higher paid job, of course she had to have the opportunity, and she has taken to it with the same quiet dedication she brought to embroidery.

    Marriage will happen when it happens. We just hope that Akhtar’s success in making the transition from embroidery worker to trainee seamstress gives confidence to others to do the same.

     

     

     

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  • Nafisa

    Nafisa

    When Nafisa first came to us in mid-2012 she had a permanently long face, and no wonder given her violent marriage. With her own job and the independence that came with it, she moved out to live independently, and the sad face gave way to smiles and humming.

    In time, Nafisa made a decision to return to her home, where she feels she has a right to live. Life may not be wonderful, but the balance of power has shifted in some way through her independent income, because she says she is no longer abused. We understand the social pressure to stay in her marriage, to avoid the sidelong glances that come with being separated or divorced, and we’re glad Nafisa has made her own choice about how she wants to live.

     

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  • Kiran

    Kiran

    Kiran is our first fair dinkum seamstress, and it’s great to have her as a role model for our embroidery workers. She demonstrates that it is indeed possible for a woman to do this man’s job, which is more highly paid than embroidery and available for all to learn in our workshop. Though not a fully-fledged tailor, Kiran has done a year’s sewing course and was working at home, making clothes for the women who live nearby, before joining us late 2013. Now she is learning how we do things, and improving her skills by working beside our tailors.

    As a married woman, Kiran also shows our unmarried workers the value of working after marriage; the value to the family, and to the worker who has her own independent income. For us her married status means she is a more stable employee, and we hope she will quite quickly develop her skills to become our first female tailor.

  • Iti

    Iti

    Iti is our Office Administrator, starting with us in mid-2013. Like Pragya and Arsh she has a very varied job, assisting both of them in their admin and financial work, and occasionally with final quality checking of our product. With a degree in English, Iti is our third English-speaker on the team, which makes it easier for those of us who don’t speak Hindi!

    Iti also has computer training, and experience in admin work before joining us, so she is well placed to continue learning on the job and develop her career in a range of directions.

  • Kausar

     

    Kausar, 18, lives in one room with her older sister and younger brother, all orphaned in their early teens and supporting themselves since then. Luckily their mother taught Kausar how to use a sewing machine, so when her neighbour, our lovely Kiran, knew we needed another seamstress, she recommended Kausar.

    We were so glad to meet her and to discover that she had good basic skills and was keen to learn more. She has developed these skills, in training with our Master tailor, and thanks to the request of some of our partner designers that their easier pieces be stitched by our trainees, she has been a valuable part of our production team.

     

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