A serendipitous partnership to empower artisans in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

artisan woman in block printing studio

I was in India in February earlier this year, purely on a social mission. You see, I had spent the last 6+ months scouring the country looking for accountable, transparent and most importantly impactful NGOs to partner with in India, primarily those that support and empower women and girls. So when I planned my trip to India, I basically planned all my activities and meetings back-to-back to maximise my time. I was spending an entire week away from my two children, which is not an easy feat and is not an opportunity to be wasted.

As luck would have it, some of the meetings were cancelled or postponed, and I ended up having my final afternoon free before heading to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Airport in the early evening. I had pre-booked a private walking tour co-led by fellow social entrepreneurs Tribes for Good and Hara World exploring the lesser known heritage and eco-friendly sites around Colaba, one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Mumbai. The tour, aptly named Conscious Colaba, promised a morning full of conscious living in Colaba, topped off with fashion & sustainability! The tour was charming and gave an inside look to an area of Colaba I hadn’t seen. Initially I was disappointed, as much of the event was overshadowed by the iconic Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which happens to be one of India’s biggest multicultural festivals, but then it happened to work in my favour.

entrance to kala ghoda cafe and nicobar, colaba, mumbai, india

Toward the end of the tour, I was eyeing different artisan stalls to see if there was anyone I recognised from all the NGOs I had been in touch with – many of them were familiar names. And then I serendipitously found a stall full of an all-female staff, and the most beautiful handmade block-printed and Kantha-stitched homewares, including quilts, throws, blankets, towels, baby blankets, and so much more. I didn’t have much time before I had to grab lunch and call a cab to the airport, but something made me stay and chat with the ladies (wo)manning the stall.

Almost immediately, I felt as if I’d found something special. I got their brochure, found out a bit about the NGO that works to empower and support destitute street children in Jaipur, and learnt that the beautiful handicrafts were part of a separate programme to empower women (primarily the mothers of the very children the charity was working to support). I knew I was on to something.

As soon as I got to my airport hotel, I emailed Jaimala, the founder of the NGO that supports and empowers destitute street children in and around Jaipur, although disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to meet with her as my India trip was coming to an end and I’d be flying back to London the very next morning. To my surprise, I heard back from her almost immediately, and as luck would have it, she’d be visiting London the following month!

We arranged to meet a few weeks later, this time in London. Luck was on my side again! We instantly hit it off, and bonded over our joint passion to empower disadvantaged women and girls.

Fast forward a few months, and we’re currently working on product samples together. The global environment has changed drastically in just a few months, thanks to COVID-19, but we are still making progress and moving forward. We’ve had regular virtual meetings to discuss product design and development, and to discuss the details of our partnership plans. I even had the chance to sit in on a virtual artisan training via Zoom last week, where two of Jaimala’s incredible team members led a virtual sewing training session online. The virtual training was a session on sewing face masks and all the training materials were provided electronically. It was truly so empowering to see the smiles on their faces as each woman held up her homemade face mask made entirely on her own, and from home. The team are incredibly patient and supportive, and it’s a wonderful initiative which I am thrilled to be a part of.

Screenshot of remote artisan training video call
Remote tailor training for future artisans in Ajmer

I hope to have even more exciting updates (and products!) to share with you in the coming months, as we move out of pandemic-induced lockdown, and move toward solidifying our partnership and working towards a common goal to empower disadvantaged women in Jaipur and beyond.