The Story

Artisan woman sewing a kantha blanketShakti.ism is a not-for-profit social enterprise with a mission to empower and employ women from marginalised communities (currently in India, Bangladesh and Nepal), especially those at risk of being impacted by gender-based violence.

Shakti.ism aims to preserve local skills and traditions, to have a positive environmental impact by reducing waste, and to empower women by providing meaningful and stable employment along with fair living wages. This gives them the opportunity to become self-sustaining and maintain their independence.

We focus on upcycling traditional sari fabric and ethically source materials to create beautiful products using traditional local techniques, such as block-printing and kantha-stitching. Our artisans breathe new life into secondhand sari fabric by turning it into beautiful products that are unique, zero waste and socially impactful.

Through this social initiative, Shakti.ism partners with grassroots NGOs that work to support and empower disadvantaged women and girls. We sponsor and provide livelihood skills training and additional health and wellness benefits where applicable. With our NGO partners, we ensure fair working conditions, safe supportive working and community spaces, and we encourage entrepreneurship to break the cycle of poverty.

We also work with a UK-based social enterprise which trains and employs people with learning disabilities and/or Autism to fulfil most of our orders, supporting employment locally in addition to across South Asia.

Shakti (शक्ति) means ‘power’ in Hindi, and several other South Asian languages. Shakti.ism signifies female energy and power being put into action, ‘women’s power-ism’, or women’s empowerment.

Meet the Talented Women behind Shakti.ism

Pondicherry, India

Our first maker group is based in sunny Pondicherry (or Puducherry), India, and provides ongoing work for local marginalised gypsy women. This partnership provides fair living wages for up to 10 women (depending on current demand), and products are made using upcycled saris (traditional Indian garments).

The Pondicherry Shakti.ism tailoring team members are from the semi-nomadic Narikuravar “gypsy” tribal community in Southern India. This indigenous group of people has faced discrimination against them since ancient times, primarily because of their nomadic lifestyle and consumption of animals, considered taboo by Hindus and upper-caste communities within India. The gypsy communities of India sit at the absolute bottom of society, even below the caste system. Poverty, illiteracy, diseases and discrimination are the major issues that confront the Narikuravars. Girls within the community are often married off once they begin to menstruate and many of them become mothers when they are as young as 14 years old.

The institutionalised social stigma faced by indigenous and tribal communities across India continues to be the force of oppression that keeps them trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty.

The current tailoring team members are happy, motivated and love coming to work everyday. They’re interested in expanding their sewing skills to other markets, and we’re currently planning to launch another training initiative to empower more women locally.

two artisan tailors seated at their sewing tables

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

We’ve partnered with a grassroots NGO in Jaipur that cares for destitute children. Many of these children came from families where the mother was left alone to fend for herself and her children. Since these women had limited skills for earning a livelihood, that left each mother (along with her children) exposed to all kinds of exploitation and suffering. Eventually, an NGO-led initiative that was undertaken to provide livelihood skills training to these women, and many other disadvantaged, rural destitute women. These artisans are very poor women. Although they are trained, they have no way to market their handmade products. They are simple housewives, mostly illiterate and come from rural areas.

By purchasing products handmade by these artisans, we can continue to provide them with meaningful employment. This goes a long way for many of the artisans and allows them to maintain a steady income. We are determined to protect their rights as artisans and ensure they receive the maximum wages for their time and labour. One incredible achievement for all of the trained artisans is that each of them have a bank account, which is how they receive their wages. With our progressive approach, the lives of our Jaipur artisans are changing fast. They are finding their feet firmly on ground and are prepared to take charge of wellbeing of their families. Our skilled artisans in Jaipur are trained in kantha stitching, traditional block printing, natural dyeing, tailoring, and more. They are also keen on solar technology and organic farming, which they insist on learning about in their free time. Most of the artisans working on campus can drive a tractor, which they enjoy immensely.

artisan with block printed textiles on table

Hyderabad, Telangana, India

We’ve partnered with a grassroots NGO in Hyderabad that works to combat domestic violence and sex trafficking. They have trained and hired a group of local women to sew and create beautiful one-of-a-kind items. For most of these women, this is the first skills training and first salary that they have ever received. The items they create are one-of-a-kind not only because of the sari fabric being used, but because each woman develops her own technique in creating it. She is responsible for choosing the colours and patterns she likes, and for deciding which to combine. Each woman also has a different frequency and tension with which she crochets. These women are from a very traditionally conservative community. Working in the production centre provides them with a safe place to work, a means to provide for their family and economic independence that gives them choices to live lives free from abuse and exploitation. All purchases made by the maker group in Hyderabad help our local partner NGO to empower and protect vulnerable women and children from domestic violence and human and sex trafficking.

smiling woman wearing sari

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India (and Mumbai, Maharashtra, India)

Amidst Chennai’s bustling urban suburbs, you’ll find an oasis of quiet that is Madras Fuse – a social enterprise that empowers women, by Oasis India*. There you’ll find a small group of five enthusiastic women, with differing family backgrounds and challenges, joined by a common interest in sewing and shared goals. Each woman desires to gain new skills to sustain themselves and their families, and each feels an improved sense of dignity and self-respect in the midst of unimaginably difficult challenges as a result of this initiative. With a sense of purpose and value, these five women design and create beautiful bags, accessories and home decor items. The income they receive from the sale of these products has helped Kavitha, Selvi, Sandhya, Rani and Manimegalai pay off loans and their children’s education fees. While having a stable income has made life easier, the women also benefit in other ways. Rani never imagined that her dream of becoming a fashion designer would come true. Today, she designs clothes and bags! She also has access to a local government support scheme and is in the process of setting up her own tailoring unit. Sandhya says that the respect she has gained from her relatives and the confidence that she now has in herself are priceless.

Each of the five women are excited about how this opportunity has given them financial freedom, and so much more. There is one more common thread that connects them all – the desire to give other women and girls the same opportunities that they have received as a result of this initiative. The Madras Fuse tailoring team make stunning handmade jute bags for Shakti.ism, which are biodegradable and environmentally-friendly. *Oasis is an Indian NGO that works to prevent human trafficking and other forms of violence against women and children and assists each person to flourish in the context of their community.

Woman using sewing machine while seated

Partner Brand: Basha Boutique (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

We are thrilled to partner with the inspirational and impactful social enterprise, Basha Enterprises. Basha is a social business that employs women at risk and survivors of trafficking. These artisans create high-quality, unique, handmade products, and we’re delighted to offer some of their unique pieces (made especially for Shakti.ism!) to our global community. Basha’s premises are safe and comfortable. Artisans earn a living wage and receive medical benefits. Artisans participate in training one hour per day, giving them opportunities to improve their literacy, gain confidence, and to have expanded opportunities. All employees are involved in decision making and given a voice. Children attend daycare on the premises, preparing for school, or receiving tutoring or financial support to attend local or boarding schools. Everyone has opportunities to take on new roles, to be promoted, to help develop new products. There is strong emphasis on Basha belonging to everyone, including the artisans, and that every single person involved is important and will work to build a bright future together.

Basha artisans know their creations go around the world, and they smile proudly when they receive feedback from someone in a distant country who loves their Basha product and lets them know. In an area surrounded by garment factories where conditions are often very different, Basha longs for a day when consumers will demand products that were made in safe conditions, and where everyone receives fair remuneration for work well done.

artisan women sewing kantha blankets by hand