BEHIND THE SEAMS: WORKPLACE EMPOWERS WOMEN IN SLUM MUMBAI
Mumbai, known as the financial centre of India, but also a city of immense poverty. Roughly half of the metropolitan area’s 22 million people live in informal settlements, or slums. Although India is developing fast, the increased wealth doesn’t reach the poorest of the poor. One of the causes is social discrimation, still rooted in the country’s culture. One of People Tree‘s production partners, Creative Handicrafts, is a social enterprise founded in the slums of Mumbai with the aim to build sustainable communities where respect for people is held high and there is no differentiation based on caste, gender or religion.
We visited the Creative Handicrafts Head quarters, which moved to a nice office building in Mumbai 5 years ago and a few of the production facilities still located in the slums. Mr. Johny Joseph joined Creative Handicrafts in 1999 and explained us a bit more about the history of Creative Handicrafts first.
Creative Handicrafts was founded by Sister Isabel Martin, who during her work in Mumbai felt the suffering of the women, uneducated and unemployed. She felt the best way to help people overcome poverty was to provide them with the opportunity to work. In 1984, she started Creative Handicrafts, training poor women to make toys, bags and home textiles.
Today, Creative Handicrafts provides training to the women to produce garments and fabric handicrafts and to market their goods to earn a living.
Creative Handicrafts currently employs over 300 women. Before the ladies start in the so-called Cut, Make and Trim departments they get a 6 months training to learn all the tailoring skills.
A lot of women want to work with Creative Handicrafts but there are two criteria, which might sound a bit odd, but unfortunately this is the situation for a lot of women living in Indian slums. These criteria are that the women: 1. Have a difficult life situation and 2. Have no skills.
This difficult life situation often hasn’t only to do with being poor and living in the slums but also with the fact that they have an abusive husband or a husband with an alcohol problem. It’s important for these women to be able to take care of themselves and their families, without being dependant on their husbands.
Women who do not make the grade as tailors aren’t sent back on the streets but they are trained in cooking to join The Lunch Box Catering Project. This project is supplying lunches to hundreds of office workers around Mumbai. The Lunch Box Catering Project is located in the Creative Handicrafts Head Quarters, which houses a professional kitchen.
The Creative Handicrafts HQ is very modern and they work with the newest textile techniques.
‘Fair Trade or not, it’s trade!’ Mr. Johny Joseph explains. ‘We can not compromise on quality, nor on style or delivery.’
‘When I started here in 1999 it was a question of make or break and we had to change the kind of products we were making to be able to guarantee the demand from our international customers and our long term growth.’
People Tree started to work with Creative Handicrafts in 2011 and together they have developed a new organic cotton collection.
To guarantee the quality all of the product development, pattern and sample making is done at the Creative Handicrafts HQ by highly skilled tailors and garment techs. From here the pattern parts and technical drawings are divided over the cooperations in the slums.
When we were there they were working on the latest People Tree collection, made of the sustainable fabric Tencel®.
This fabric is new for Creative Handicrafts and People Tree is currently running a crowdfund campaign to start a production line of this new innovative fabric at Creative Handicrafts.
Working with Tencel® is a chance to up skill the workers and provide them with a greater range of fabrics they can offer to their clients, providing more business opportunities and, eventually, more job opportunities within the community.
The cooperatives where the actual production takes place are located in the slums.
‘It’s a terrible logistic nightmare of course but it’s so valuable to be there’. ‘We want to reach the women where they are and it’s important for the women to be able to stay close to their families.’ Mr. Johny Joseph explains:
Many of the hundreds of women who work for Creative Handicrafts are the main bread winners for their families.
Creative Handicrafts runs a crèche, providing day care for the toddlers of working mothers living in the slums.
Being in the slums and facing poverty straight in the eye we had a very open discussion with Mr. Johny Joseph about whether the women are really able to work their way out of poverty. Even if they receive a fair wage…..
His honest answer was no; ‘It’s still not enough, even though it is Fair Trade. You have to realise that the background the women come from is not so great and they still receive low wages. You have to imagine that most of the time they live in a room of two by two meters in a not so nice environment, not suitable for studying for example. Working for a fair wage gives them an opportunity to be able to besides feeding their families rent a small house (still in the slums but safe and ‘private’) for their family. Their children can go to school, these are English schools and good schools – my children go to the same schools. Basically earning a fair wage enables them to give their children a better chance for a future out of poverty.’