Tailoring dreams: The story of Swara - Voice of Women
Every single thread on a ‘Swara’ breathes the beautiful tale of how a group of tribal women from an almost obscure village in India became fashion designers. More importantly, it tells a story of how a young girl’s vision of rural development materialised into a meaningful and sustainable social enterprise.
KOCHI: Every single thread on a ‘Swara’ breathes the beautiful tale of how a group of tribal women from an almost obscure village in India became fashion designers. More importantly, it tells a story of how a young girl’s vision of rural development materialised into a meaningful and sustainable social enterprise.
‘Swara - Voice of Women’, which started as a project of the Gandhi Fellowship, is a clothing brand operating online via Instagram and Facebook. Having launched their first series, named Shadja (inspired by the swar ‘sa’ of the saptak), Swara now boasts of a wide range of happy customers, both Indian and international. Their collection includes an array of trendy Indo-western clothing such as ponchos, reversible jackets, tops and dresses, for people of all ages and sizes.
For Asha Scaria, the founder of ‘Swara - Voice of Women’, the brand is so much more than just business. In fact, and as cliché as it may sound, it is her dream come true. After months of failed attempts and cycles of resilience, her efforts to create a sustainable employment opportunity and livelihood for the women in Dungarpur took shape as ‘Swara’ entered the fashion market earlier this year.
Swara creates the perfect harmony through its clothes by employing nature-friendly methods of making and packing. Besides, it embodies the true spirit of empowerment because everything at Swara, from designing to stitching to modelling, is handled by the tribal women of Dungarpur, for whom the brand was started.
“Through Swara, we aim to counter fast fashion industries and unsafe manufacturing methods,” says Asha. “These industries use harmful chemicals to dye their materials. Moreover, the tailors employed are poorly paid. At Swara, the focus is on the makers. We source all our fabric from the Dabu printing artisans of Akola. They are the guardians of this dying craft, which is a completely organic process of dyeing. We use cloth bags for packing and most importantly, we pay all our tailors much more than the market rate. Because ultimately, this is all about their upliftment.”
Being an outsider, understanding the narrative of rural women and introducing to them the world of contemporary fashion was anything but easy for Asha. She says, “In my experience, language is last on the list of barriers. Initially, the very concept of online shopping and Indo-western clothes were alien to them. However, Youtube and Pinterest came to the rescue. I taught them how to operate a tablet and soon they started designing western wear like ponchos, with an Indian twist, incorporating patterns from their traditional wear.”
Asha had her priorities straight and clear right from the inception of the brand: the world should understand and acknowledge the skill, potential of rural women; the artisans involved should enjoy complete artistic autonomy; and all the processes involved should be completely environment-friendly. “Most often, when rural artisans are employed by huge fashion houses, all they do is replicate a base design and make hundreds of the same product. I wanted our tailors to enjoy creative autonomy so that the world would recognise their potential and realise they are no less artistic than other established designers,” says Asha.
Notably, Swara is currently the only Indian brand working in collaboration with Monica Bota Moisin to secure Cultural Intellectual Property Rights for artisans. This initiative aims to put into effect a system which ensures all artisans are given due credit for their authentic designs.Reflecting on her experience and journey so far, Asha is grateful to many people who constantly helped her, even before there was any evidence of success. “None of this would have been possible without the efforts of many kind souls. Swara is as much theirs as it is mine,” she says.