A Stitch in Time

A former banker and New Zealand national is skilling village women to eke out a living in Odisha.

Published: 06th January 2018 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th January 2018 03:37 PM   |  A+A-

Ana with her students at Holi Boli

On an ordinary afternoon at Malipali—a village of 250 families in Odisha’s Sambalpur district—men are out in the fields, women are busy peeling garlic cloves or chopping vegetables, with cattle loitering around the courtyards of their mud huts.This perfectly Indian rustic setting gets a dash of foreign charm when middle-aged Ana Wilkinson-Gee drives past the thatched huts, the lone village school to reach her destination—a single-storey building, one of the few houses with plastered walls in Malipali.

Well, that’s where this New Zealand national is living her dream. It’s the place from where she runs a tiny clothing company-cum-sewing school, Holi Boli—alliteration intended by tweaking the words ‘Holi’ and ‘Bollywood’.Not just that, the 42-year-old claims to have quit her job in the Bank of New Zealand to skill women in this village. From being a flight attendant, florist to a make-up artist, Ana tried her hands at various jobs in her native land till she decided to tailor her life for the love of fabrics. 

“I came to India as a tourist in 2006. I visited Sambalpur and the beauty of the open country side caught me. Four years later, I came back to start a new journey,” says Ana, who learnt fashion designing from Design and Arts College of New Zealand at Christchurch.Her husband Daniel takes care of the digital marketing of her business. Her three children study at a local convent school. The family has adopted the Indian lifestyle—from making adrak wali chai to eating rotis with paneer masala, and being coated in colours on Holi. And, when it comes to fashion, Ana loves being Indian at heart. With her hair scraped back into a bun, she pulls off the Indian look brilliantly in a multi-coloured kurti—paired with royal blue palazzos and red dupatta.

She trains tribal women in stitching and designing garments for three to four months. On successful completion of the course, they are given certificates. “I don’t take more than 15 students in a batch. They learn everything from basic tailoring to operating machine, hand-stitching to advanced tailoring, designing, cutting and pattern-making. I have trained at least 120 women in and around the village so far,” she says.

These women get `2,500 to `3,000 per month. But they don’t work to earn a few thousands, it is to make their families understand that they have a talent.Ana and her team blend desi prints and linen with global layers and cuts for their fusion wear collections. “Most of the dresses are sold online on the website: www.holiboli.com to the customers in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, USA, Germany, Israel and even Jordan,” says Daniel. 

Ana believes in the sustainable model of business. Step inside Holi Boli, and you will get a feel of that. She has refurbished some vintage sewing machines. “When I went back to New Zealand, some women gave me these machines. These were lying at their garages and are now obsolete. I restored them and they work great,” Ana shares.

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