I don’t know about you, but every morning when I sit at my desk with a cup of coffee, I say a little prayer of thanks. Why? Because my office (and hopefully yours too) doesn’t have a policy against shopping online. I spend the first 30 minutes of the day scrolling through my Facebook timeline to check out what the crazy-wild world of online shopping has to offer. Which is how I stumbled upon Okhai.
It’s not often that you come across a post that reads, ‘Working Women for Working Women.’ Especially when you’re talking about clothes. Now call it an occupational hazard, but I’m wont to bypassing the SHOP tab and head straight to ABOUT US when I chance upon an interesting brand. The whys and hows of a new brand, the reason behind entering what is already a saturated arena and where a statement like Working Women for Working Women stems from – these are stories worth reading.
They come in all shapes and sizes—from Beyoncé to Mindy Kaling, Hillary Clinton to Indra Nooyi. And in the village of Mithapur, in Okhamandal, Gujrat, the #BossLady comes in the shape of Ramiben Karamta. This 33-year-old has been a key member of Okhai for over a decade. Like all successful working women, Ramiben’s work attire is on point. She wears the traditional Rabari outfit of a full skirt, cropped blouse, dupatta and eyeball-grabbing jewellery with as much style as a city-bred woman would wear her Zara-bought pantsuit. That’s where the dissimilarity ends though. Ramiben has the marketing and business know-how of a B-school grad. Her roots have given her adroitness at applique and embroidery—women in the community spend hours labouring to create carpets and bedsheets that are used to decorate the house or accumulated for the bridal dowry.
At Okhai, Ramiben harnesses this local talent with entrepreneurial flair. “Before Okhai, our craft was only a hobby,” she says, “But the training and the exposure we have received while travelling to places like Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad has given us insights on consumer demand. Now we know what materials, colours, fabrics and products will work in these places at a given time of the year.”
The womenfolk of the Rabari tribe live their lives indoors, working as a community on these embroidered and appliqued products while their husbands work at the chemical plants set up in the region by Tata. Okhai, promoted by Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development, gives them a chance to turn their craft into a source of income. The idea is to make them financially independent, and Ramiben put herself up to the task. “The biggest challenge while setting up Okhai was to get these women out of their homes,” this #BossLady explains. “To them, the idea of being employed and earning an income was inconceivable as they are so accustomed to depending on their husbands for income. They’ve spent their lives staying indoors and were sceptical of stepping out initially.”It’s a challenge we face even today, be it in Mithapur or in Mumbai.
Before Okhai, our craft was only a hobby, but the training and the exposure we have received while travelling to places like Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad has given us insights on consumer demand. Now we know what materials, colours, fabrics and products will work in these places at a given time of the year.
Ramiben Karamta, Okhai.
They Mean Business
Let it be said that the 400 members of Okhai mean business. They have strong systems and processes in place and know their markets inside out. When women are inducted to Okhai, they are graded on their skill sets and work in their allotted sects. From bedsheets and home furnishing to women’s apparel and accessories, Okhai covers the gamut and a quick scroll through their one- year-old e-commerce site is enough to testify this.
Ramiben’s Self Help Group consists of skilled and well-trained artisans, working their way to financial independence. “These women are breadwinners and have financially contributed paying off loans and building their houses,” Ramiben adds, “They’re putting their children through school and contributing to the home economy, thereby alleviating the burden from their husbands. Many women who had to commute to far off places in search of labour now work from their homes and can balance their professional and personal lives much better.”
As a working woman myself, knowing that a workwear staple, like a kurta, is the reason for another woman’s financial liberty is comforting. I don’t know if Hillary Clinton will win this presidential election (she just might) or if we might have wage equality by 2020, but what I do know is what Tina Fey has taught me: “B*tches get stuff done.” So let’s make this year about #WorkingWomenForWorkingWomen (#WWFWW, maybe?) already.