Tailoring many lives

Tailoring many lives

l Helping hand

Tailoring many lives

What started out as a hobby is now helping women out of poverty. Veena Dhuler has been teaching impoverished women to embroider since 2012, selling their wares throughout the expat community and giving them a reliable income that has transformed their lives.

Veena says most of the women are Muslim and aren’t allowed to work outside the village, but embroidery is a unique opportunity to work from home. They just have to come in once a week to pick up material and patterns. Parveen has been with Lotus Vibe since the beginning.

Veena says she came from difficult circumstances — her husband had left her with a large debt, she had a son and daughter yet to be married and her diabetes means that sometimes she’s too sick to work.

Now she has married both her children and supported her daughter while she had her first child. Veena says the work suits Parveen as she’s able to do a lot or a little depending how she’s feeling. “She says her life is much much better now. She’s managed to take care of her family. Now her daughter is also doing some work for Lotus Vibe.”

The women are paid Rs 40 or 60 per embroidery depending on the size. Parveen is prolific and does around 30 a week. She says they take her two hours each. Some of the women earn up to Rs 7,000 a month.

Veena, 41, moved to Whitefield, Bangalore in 2007 after 11 years in North Carolina, America working as a computer engineer. There she met her Dutch neighbour Tinekke Otter who was “full of energy and wanted to help everyone”.

She roped Veena into teaching English at a slum school in Kammanahalli but it was too far for Veena to attend as regularly as she liked. That’s when Tinekke suggested that Veena help with fundraising for the mothers of the children. So Veena started working with a group of women to embroider simple white swim bags. They sold these throughout the expat community, at festivals, flea markets and through word of mouth over 3 years. The money raised would go back to the women in slums. This was a natural thing to do for Veena who has been embroidering as a hobby since school.

Veena says using her time and energy for volunteering was a “god send”. “This gave a great deal of satisfaction and also filled me with the desire to do more. I was impressed by Tinekke’s zeal and spirit to make a difference in the society and how the very minute she landed in India had taken up social service.”

Then in 2012 they had to shut down because Tinekke, who was doing much of the coordinating, had to go back to the Netherlands. “I was devastated as the women who were depending on the work started to suffer from the loss of income. I could not let all the effort and good work go to waste, so I started Lotus Vibe.”

Veena went from just making the swim bags to producing around 45 different products including yoga covers, back packs, laptop covers and pouches. Now she employs 3 full time tailors to make the bags and around 7 women from Ghandipura Village to embroider the fabric. She makes around 100 handcrafted items every week. She says she couldn’t have done it without the enthusiastic encouragement of her brother and husband.

“I didn’t believe in myself but they believed in me.” It’s not only the impoverished women who have benefited from this social enterprise. Veena says the work has eased her out of her shell. Before she started volunteering she was very shy and would go out of her way to avoid clients. Now she’s happy and confident in herself. She often stays up working on new designs and plans past midnight.

“That's when I can really focus. Everything happens in the nights. When it’s quiet. It makes me happy. I’m just happy to do this. I wish I could help more and more people.”

Veena hired a French couple to design a high-end kiosk that opened in UB City Mall four months ago. She also has clients who buy the products and sell them in Japan, Germany, France, America and Puerto Rico. The organisation plans to open a new store in New Delhi next year and hopes to sell online too.

Veena keeps the work simple and teaches them the running, blanket, chain and cross stitch to embroider or attach material to their fabric, after a few practice pieces they’re ready to start earning. The fabric is then taken and turned into a bag.

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