Empowering women creates a positive impact on families is a fact well known and, practicing this, nestled in the hills of Nilgiris is Sunita Suhas. Sunita, founder of the social enterprise, Indian Yards is changing lives with the age-old craft of sewing, creating patchwork quilts, helping with the revival of a dying craft whilst empowering women in marginalised communities. Believing that there lives a ‘maker’ in each one of us, she has created an organisation of empowered and financially independent women, creating positive impact within local women.
If you are fascinated by crafts and believe in sharing the joy of economic independence with others, then have a read of Sunita’s journey below. You may find some inspiration in here, which possibly may help you to kick-start your very own journey. Read on:
Indian Yards – who are they?
Sunita led a corporate life until such time she discovered the ‘maker’ in her; having just started a young family, she dabbled into her ‘top of the list’ interest, which was sewing. Sewing to her was discovering the art of quilting, especially patchwork quilting, that provided her with huge amounts of creative freedom and thus began her journey into sharing the financial liberation with other local women. Every Indian Yards quilt sold takes the art of quilting that much closer on the revival spectrum and, takes a bunch of families that work with Indian Yards, that much closer towards economic freedom.
This social enterprise started from her home, with her domestic help coming on board. She was then trained in the art of quilting and within no time, the local women wanted to join in too. Now, empowered with this women-led of quilters, a ‘unit’ for making and selling of quilts was setup, providing financial independence to all these women, one quilt at a time. Thus, began Indian Yards.
Empowering women was as important as making the ‘right’ kind of quilts. The fabric chosen for these quilts had to be sustainable and biodegradable and of course had to be easy on the maintenance side. Then came up the requirement for bags to package these quilts. Using plastic was out of the question and finding a supplier that ticked all the boxes for the perfect cotton bag was becoming an impossible task! Thus, Indian Yards then dived into the universe of the cotton bags. So, apart from these cotton patchwork quilts, Indian Yards now makes a variety of utility bags for packaging and gifting that are made of 100% cotton. Hence, they are totally biodegradable, reusable and sustainable, for customers across the globe.
So, now that you know who Indian Yards is, let me summarise once again: Indian Yards is a social enterprise running a livelihood programme for mountain women, making patchwork quilts and bags out of 100% cotton, and recycling cotton waste as well as. Their objectives are simple – empower women, offer sustainable options to eradicate plastic and to recycle waste.
How do order from Indian Yards?
If you want to order multiple bags for an upcoming wedding (for return presents or wedding favours) or simply want a few quilts for your home, contact them:
Currently, Sunita is not using handloom fabric but is hoping to do so in the near future, and thus will aim to complete the circle of a sustainable ecosystem for fair trade.
Indian Yards – practising sustainability, every step of the way
As already mentioned above, these women put in a lot of love and time for choosing sustainable fabrics and in every action of making, they try their best to be as kind to the planet as is possible. ‘Waste not, want not’ is perhaps a mantra they adhere to as well. So, if you have fabric lying at home that you wanted to get rid of, then do send it over to Indian Yards instead. They will be use it cleverly to create something useful and pretty, perhaps even find its way into a quilt (if it ticks the stringent of quality checks, of course!).
Journey of a cotton bag (from a plant in the farm to a bag)
Ever wondered where the cotton that your clothes and these wonderful bags are made of, comes from. We asked Sunita this and here is what she had to say: ‘Cotton fibre grows in the form of a Cotton Boll on a Cotton plant. This boll is essentially the fluffy clump of cotton fibre stuck to the cotton seed. The boll is then de-seeded and then the fibre is aligned and spun into yarn which then is woven into fabric. The first form of fabric is what we call unbleached cotton fabric which is also what we use extensively to make our bags. We currently source this unbleached cotton fabric from manufacturers here in the southern part of India. They come to us in huge bales which are then folded and stacked per the various bag sizes we make. The stacks then go through the cutting blade to be cut into required sizes. The cut fabric then makes its way to the women on the sewing machines who convert these cut up pieces into useful bags of a variety of designs.’ Feel a wee bit more enlightened now? I certainly did.
Insights into starting up
If you are looking to startup something similar, then here are some pearls of wisdom from the founder herself:
- Follow you heart, is Sunita’s foremost advice. Do what makes you happy
- Focus on sustainability. Our planet is precious; so do give it a lot of thought (customers respect the fact that you care)
- Try out you idea. Sunita made one single quilt to begin which she then posted on Facebook and it sold in less than hour an hour! That gave her evidence and confidence that her idea passed the ‘wallet test’
- Look for support close to home. For Sunita it began from her house-help and then when she was able to sell their work, she increased her workforce
- When it was time to increase the workforce, Sunta simply spread the word locally for women interested in sewing to contact Sunita
- Clever ‘out of the box’ thinking happened then – Sunita visited a sewing machine repair guy because she figured that women who had machines would be visiting him for repair so he would have access. She also visited other similar enterprises and advised them to redirect women who they couldn’t give employment to. Thus, the word spread and their workforce increased.
Starting-up funds for Indian Yards
If you are setting out to setup a making facility and hiring workforce, then it will need a lot of funds. There are many ways to go about securing funds – banks, crowdfunding amongst others. Indian Yards just chose to dig into their savings because that was the easiest way to get things started and then along the way, they approached a bank for a loan. Sunita tells us that she believed that they would be better off putting all their waking hours into this venture and making it profitable instead of spending their time looking for investors. Their belief was that when the time is right, funds will come their way, and this she says is now starting to happen. So, keep the faith and have patience.
Sunita, the co-founder of Indian Yards, a ‘Notjustashopper’
‘Firstly, I don’t shop much. I always ask myself if I really need it and if I can’t recycle something else that I have, to suffice the need. I also grow much of my food. But, yes, there are things that I need to buy and when I do shop it’s again about sustainability which I have talked about earlier. It’s always the local market that I go to or the grower directly. It’s always the local bakery as against the packaged stuff available in supermarkets. Just the other day, we were riding here in the hills and we spotted a guy who had parked his van on the roadside and was trying to sell strawberries that he had grown – we didn’t need the strawberries and this was one of those rare moments when I decided to buy something that I didn’t need and I made this exception for the guy. We have been conscious buyers / shoppers for a while now and we are constantly on the look out for a cause when there’s a shopping need. We want to make sure that the money we spend, isn’t just for the products we take home, but goes a lot further. So I guess this makes me ‘notjustashopper’.– Sunita Suhas, on what makes her Notjustashopper
Oh yes, it does! Sunita is most certainly a ‘notjustashopper’, a believer in causes, a safeguarding agent of our planet…