Big, bold and often brash, the global textile industry is as famous for its endless creativity as it is for its inequality and exploitation. At the same time as models strut the catwalk, stories surface of devastating events that shape the lives of the most often invisible cotton farmers and garment workers. Events like earthquakes and fires have the potential to shatter the lives of rural workers.
Sometimes it takes more than one woman to create change in an industry that’s ingrained with defects. That’s why members of certain cotton cooperatives grouped together to give a women-first focus in a space where their voices aren’t often heard. They gain independence and form deep friendships – all because of their shared skills in sewing.
Hear from, Amy from Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand writes about meeting the women’s sewing group who are dedicated to empowerment.
I slip off my shoes at the edge of the room and sink quickly on to the rug, trying not to disrupt the peaceful and productive environment around me. A few faces look up and I greet them with a smile. Around the room, mature women sit with bright fabrics spread around them measuring, cutting and sewing.
I’ve been in India for a week now and despite the many homes I have been welcomed into and all the communities I have visited, today is unique. This is the first time I have met with a group of only women. Women who have come together outside of their homes to learn, laugh and share in one another’s lives. This initiative, part of a Fairtrade cooperative, is designed to teach women how to draft patterns and sew clothes. The Fairtrade Premium supports the project by funding the teacher. The students first learn the fundamentals by hand and then progress to machines. On cooperative started in 2006 and since then, the teacher estimates 350 to 400 students have been taught by the program. However, this isn’t just about equipping women with sewing skills. Nor is it just a way for them to come together and spend time together. It represents more. It represents independence, purpose and connection.
Having a skill such as sewing gives a woman the means to earn her own money and allows her to be more independent. It also means that she can provide an additional source of income for her family, which in turn leads to greater security and opportunity. More than that, it helps to give these women a larger sense of purpose. Perhaps most importantly, the ability to sew helps to create connection and build relationships.
It is customary in parts of India for a newly married woman to move to her husband’s village. This move means that she is separated from her community, her family and her support network. By having sewing skills, a woman can more easily integrate into her new surrounds and build up a social network. In this case, her sewing ability is a source of interaction and connection, as well as status as other community members come to her due to her knowledge and skills.
During my time with the sewing group, the women told me what they thought about the program and what they are gaining from it. Many of them spoke about the opportunity to learn a new skill. One lady spoke of the independence and respect within the community that the project created. These are the memories that bring a smile to my face when I remember my trip. It’s the people – the women – I’ve met who leave the greatest impression and make me proud of the work Fairtrade does. Here, Fairtrade helped create an environment where women could safely come together and learn. The women did the rest. Sometimes it’s the simple things – those that can’t be built with bricks and mortar – that matter most.