Two months ago, 18-year-old Riya Singh had to go to places looking for part-time stitching projects to make both ends meet as her father can’t work due to illness and her mother also does some part-time jobs. But she is happy today as she has got a dignified job with Vardi Ka Samman NGO. The NGO was started in January by Major General (retd) Ashim Kohli, who felt the need to repurpose old and used uniforms of defence personnel into other useful articles.
Riya is now earning Rs 10,000 a month. “I live in Tehkhand, which is four kilometers from our unit in Khanpur. I reach here at 9:30am everyday and leave by 7:30pm. We make several things out of the uniforms and I have learnt that we should not waste anything and put it to best use. Moreover, this job has given me the respect that I would have not got anywhere else,” adds Riya.
Up to 16 women like her work here and do it all, from cutting the fabric, and stitching articles – masks, bags, pouches, backpacks, and bottle covers -- out of them, to packing them. It was the attack on Pathankot air force base, where the terrorists had come in army uniforms that made Kargil war veteran Kohli think how the misuse of uniforms can be prevented in case it’s being given or sold to someone.
Mona Singh, Vice President, Strategic Alliances, Vardi ka Samman, says, “People retiring from the armed forces – army, navy and air force – and even serving officers can donate uniforms to us whenever they want to discard them.”
All centres from across the country can donate uniforms to Vardi Ka Samman through their central points in Pune, Lucknow, Delhi, and in other areas. It could be from Leh, Kargil, or even Galwan — any part of the country.
“From these centres, our teams bring all uniforms to the unit in Khanpur. All the uniforms are first treated and sanitised. Post that, the medals, ranks, pockets and other accoutrements are taken out by the women to turn it into a flat cloth. Some uniforms are faded, so we send them for re-dying and make only shopping bags from them. The ones that are in good condition are used to make masks and backpacks,” adds Mona.
Then these articles are sold back to the armed forces at a minimal price, depending on what requirement they have put in. “We charge because we have to pay people and women hired to do the job on ground. But we don’t specifically send back the articles made from their own uniforms because all uniforms get mixed here. We have also written to corporate companies that if they wish to buy our products and give them to their beneficiaries, we can provide them with that.”
All the articles are proudly emblazoned with the words Vardi Ka Samman, and through that the employees repurposing them are encouraged more and more officers to donate their uniforms. The Army Wives Welfare Association further sells these articles. “We get all kinds of uniforms — camouflage, OG green, black, grey, and even white. But we haven’t started making anything from the white ones yet because it’s a high-maintenance colour. But if we get an order from the navy for anything specific in white, we will make it,” adds Mona.
Apart from upholding and restoring the dignity of the uniform even after the soldier retires, their other aim is to reduce the overall carbon footprint by reusing the cloth. After fulfilling orders for the army, they will start providing it to the general public also. “Our products will be available for sale on Amazon in the next 15 days or so. We have also approached some sports apparel companies to supply our products but nothing has been finalised yet,” concludes Mona.