What do you want to be when you grow up?

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This is a question that I have been asked countless times. It is a question that has evoked a range of emotions over the years, ranging from excitement about a vision for the future, to anxiety from having too many options, to the disinterest that comes from being asked the same question over and over again. My responses, too, have shifted as I learned about potential career paths and opportunities that awaited me. I was raised to believe that I could do anything. I could be an artist. I could be a professor. I could be an entrepreneur. Anything was possible if I worked hard enough.

It was not until later that I truly came to understand that this question is one that many girls just like me, with ambitions and capabilities, are not afforded the opportunity – the right – to answer. Many girls have their life’s path deeply etched into the walls of their homes, where rigid gender roles threaten to confine them. RangSutra Crafts works to change this narrative while honouring rich cultural traditions. RangSutra empowers artisans in remote villages across India by providing them with a steady income, a social network, and the chance to become leaders.

As an Aga Khan Foundation Canada International Development Management Fellow with RangSutra, I have seen first-hand how this social enterprise connects women to the global economy through craft. I have watched designers create beautiful embroideries, meticulously analyzing each stitch. I have heard stories from artisans about how working with RangSutra has enriched their world. RangSutra has humbled me and enlightened me about the powerful ways in which what we wear can influence our lives, the lives of others, and our environment. I have seen how all of this ultimately enables girls to be asked and to answer the question:

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“I want to be a leader in my village!” – Ashiya, Ajeri Village, Rajasthan


On September 7, RangSutra and partner organization UMBVS invited 25 women to participate in a Craft Managers Training Workshop in Bap, Rajasthan. Here, these women were given the space to have important conversations about RangSutra’s work, girls’ education, and financial management. They were given the tools to channel their drive to lead into managerial positions in their communities.

It was inspiring to see these women leave their villages for the first time to participate in the workshop. They expressed a desire to learn more than just how to stitch and sew. “We are not just here to learn ralli (a Rajasthani method of patchwork). We are here to connect with each other and to have important conversations,” Karima, from Mangan Khan Ki Dhani village, expressed to the group. The artisans spoke about saving their money, sending their daughters to school, and providing a future for their children. For these women, ralli represents more than just a sewn quilt; through craft, their lives are now woven together, interconnected through their drive for independence and autonomy.


After this inspirational workshop, I was taken to the URMUL Setu campus in Lunkaransar, Rajasthan, to meet the next generation of female leaders. URMUL is an NGO with seven platforms that empower rural Indians, including health care, education, and livelihood development. URMUL supports RangSutra’s activities at the rural level. At their campus, 2000 girls have learned a variety of subjects and skills.

What I expected to be a quick visit ended up being an experience that will stay with me forever. When we opened up the classroom doors, we were greeted by 100 smiling girls. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my own privilege as I looked into the eyes of the girls seated before me, all first-generation girl students in their families. We introduced ourselves and received a warm introduction in return, filled with poetry and song. When the time came to ask the girls some questions, I had to ask:

Aap badi hokar kya bhanaa chaahti ho?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“A teacher!”, one girl exclaimed.
“A police officer!”, another girl stood up.
“A dancer!”, a girl in the back of the room bellowed.

Before I knew it, girls all around the room were standing up one after another, proudly sharing their dreams for the future. “I want to be in the army!” “I want to be a singer!” “I want to be a social worker!” The question stirred waves of hope in the sea of students before me; students with dreams and ambitions, and a place to learn from and inspire each other.

One student stood up to describe the school to the visitors. She had abandoned her dupatta and kurta for short hair and blue jeans. She proudly explained, “at school, there are no distinctions between caste or creed, girl or boy. We are all equal until we turn 18.” This made me wonder: what happens when these girls turn 18 and they return to their villages? Does the empowerment that they experienced at school get washed away? Would this brave girl have to grow out her hair and trade her button-down shirt for a saree? I thought about this as the girls sang and danced before we said our final goodbyes. They sang a beautiful melody, with powerful lyrics that I later learned described all of the amazing things that girls are capable of doing.

My experiences in the field have given me inspiration for my own work and hope for the future. I feel comforted knowing that RangSutra continues to support these girls long after they finish their studies so that they can continue to grow into autonomous agents.

I will never stop asking girls what they want to be when they grow up, or what they want to be now, in the present. Companies like RangSutra and URMUL grant women and girls the right to answer this question freely and with the possibility of fulfilling their dreams. I cannot wait to discover the important contributions these girls will make in their communities, in India, and in the world.

Videos from the Field

By Allie Shier

We connect…We co-create

“Co- creation as a concept has been the core of design development in Rangsutra and, as a whole in the craft sector. Every crafts community has the inherent knowledge and skill to make beautiful textiles/products. Our role as an organisation working with both producers and buyers is to strike a balance between the requirement of the urban/ export market and the inherent skills of the community. While this seems to be the ideal way of functioning as a designer in this sector, it can get pretty challenging to strike this balance. One is perpetually drawn between the two contrasting worlds to create something worthwhile.

          Krithika Acharya, Designer, RangSutra

***

Krithika has been one of RangSutra’s oldest and youngest designers. She landed up as an intern with RangSutra while studying at NIFT and grew up as a meticulous all- rounder and a gentle designer. Kritika has helped RangSutra create designs, she has also helped the women from the villages of western Rajasthan decipher the designs on paper and produce them in real. It is delightful to see how well the women bond once they learn to put on canvass their thoughts and colours and create something extraordinary.

“Co-creation is the core of our functioning and we will keep sharing stories related to the creation of products at the different clusters. But to begin with let’s start with the story of the sarees woven at Dhanau.”

Award winning sarees from Dhanau

Krithika shares, that when she first reached Dhanau, a tiny village in western Rajasthan, in June 2016, she only had an idea, a Baradi (Pattu), sample (Baradi is the name of one of the traditional woollen shawls woven in the area) and an intention to make lovey handwoven sarees for Rangsutra. She recalls, “So, there I was with a baradi and a few weavers gathered around me to figure out my intentions. These were weavers who were accustomed to weaving beautiful extra weft textiles with thicker yarns for garments and home furnishings. The idea of weaving a 2/100s count saree didn’t really appeal to them! At that moment, leave alone production of sarees on a large scale seemed like an impossible task, even sampling a saree seemed like a long haul. Fortunately for me, there was a bunch young enthusiastic weavers who had been to the handloom school who finally agreed to attempting to make sarees. The yarn broke often, we faced difficulty in winding the bobbin and in setting up the warp but we managed sampling some sarees. All this took about 3 months! Way more than how much normal sampling takes.

We still face problems in production, our sarees come in slower than our other products but the appreciation from our customers and the enthusiasm of the young weavers perpetually pushes us to keep trying. One of the weavers at the centre recently received a Rajasthan state facilitated award for innovation

From convincing weavers to work with 2/100s yarn to finally producing a few sarees, the journey has been challenging yet fulfilling. This experience made me realise the potential of the new age weavers to be part of a change for sustaining their skills in the future.”

One of the learnings for RangSutra and its employees have been the fact that our producers in the handicraft sector have been continuously struggling towards keeping alive their craft. The skills of crafting a community possesses is an identity which has been passed down through generations. At RangSutra, we make sure we do not lose this identity of the artisan, in the process of increasing the scale of production. At the end of the day, personalised designing and production found in the handicrafts sectors marks its definitive distinction from the mass made machine produce. RangSutra is proud to say that every thread that makes your wear has been individually put in place by the artisans and designers.

Krithika says, “The sarees from Dhanau feels like a second skin. The care bestowed in their making is felt while wearing.”

 Check out the Sarees made at Dhanau- http://shop.rangsutra.com/category/8542/sarees/

Crafts and Mathematics

Craft, is basically a hobby, used as a tool by the men and women to make the world identify their cultures and existence.

 The spaces we call home and the workplace are but, holistic units defining the foundations of civilisation. In the process, it is always delightful to observe a woman become an agent of change when she chooses to step outside of her house, and participate in the activity, most commonly termed as, trade. Working with RangSutra made me realise that, when a hobby is taken as the base reality of extending skill and livelihood, the community is more interested to learn as it is in a language which is already known.

There are generations of weavers, dyers and craftsmen for whom, the ‘craft’ was first an ‘art’ passed on to them, lovingly by their grandparents and parents. There are few who learn this art simply because they are best friends with the girl whose grandmother taught her how to make the crochet top. The persons grew together in a community and had tea, while their children practiced their home works from their S.U.P.W. class.

For the girls who were denied participation in the schooling system, their needle works became their sole escape into creativity. A space where they could express themselves through their needles and thread. RangSutra is a window for many such women, who stay indoors and behind veils. The women come together at a centre where they have to sign their daily attendance, a space where they are pushed to think about bringing a change in themselves and their families through better health and fair pay. The centre is a ‘learning space’ where the women are introduced to right angles, circles made with stencils and quality checks, done with precaution.

The activities involve use of pens and pencils, erasers and sharpeners to perfect the cutting of the drape, signing the challans for the customers, keeping a track of inventory, ensuring quality check and delivering finished goods as per the production schedules. The entire process focusses on making the women better equipped to handle the responsibilities of a successful craft manager. Craft managers are also responsible for , adherence to policies such as regulation and control of child labour, fighting gender discrimination and promoting a healthy work culture at the village based centre. Working at the centre, along the lines of the carefully developed work formats of RangSutra, helps develop a craft manager’s mathematical, entrepreneurial and leadership skills.

Above: Karimatji with her group.

RangSutra is witness to the reality of women became first generation earners, in their family, and the community. One of the newest women to join this group is Karitmatji from Bhadla, Bap tehsil, Jodhpur, Rajasthan. She leads, guides and assist the group of women in her village, on the production orders and leads by example for the many women in her village to step out and speak the language of maths for a better life.

  • By, Meghna Chatterji

Rangsutra- The Beginning.

The idea of RangSutra came to me, in the year 2002, while I was on a sabbatical, studying for a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution at the Eastern Mennonite University, writing a paper on Organizations needed for Conflict Resolution in the 21st Century.

It was 10 years since India had opened up her economy to the world, and the impact of that was beginning to show. There were several benefits – especially for middle and upper class educated Indians, who got access to more and newer job opportunities, as well as to training institutions both within India and internationally.  The not so good part was that rural Indian, especially those with little access to higher/ job worthy education were not faring as well. They were not skilled for the higher paying jobs, and at best they were benefitting by getting manual jobs in the construction industry in towns and cities of India, thus having to migrate from their village and having to live in slums and temporary settlements on the outskirts of cities.

Herein was a conflict: Unless India’s growth story was inclusive there was bound to be conflict due to unequal growth and large numbers of people being left behind.

The good thing was there was also an opportunity: Middle class incomes were rising, with people having more purchasing power. There was a growing demand for hand crafted contemporary clothing and home decor items. And India had millions of craftspeople who still retained their craft skills, as well as young ones who were keen to learn.

Upon returning home I met with craftspeople from the URMUL network of organizations I had worked with earlier, as well as other artisan groups and craft lovers. We decided to set up an organization that would be market oriented, but would ensure that hand crafts and rural livelihoods remained at the centre.

And so Rangsutra was created: first in 2004 as a Producer Company and then again in 2006 as  Private Company which later grew into a Public Limited company as the number of artisan shareholders grew.

Envisaged as a bridge between rural producers and urban customers, between traditional crafts skills and contemporary needs, between change needed in the 21st century while keeping in mind continuing our craft and cultural traditions, we embarked on a journey, encompassing both social and economic goals.

By Sumita Ghose