Mohini Netaji Avadhute was married when she was just 17. Motherhood followed soon and life was all about being tied to the household chores and struggling with inadequate income. Weighed down by patriarchy, she had little hope for a better future till she joined Abira Creations, where the 30-year-old learned to make eco-friendly jewellery and became financially independent.
But that isn’t all. “Five years back, I couldn't speak in English but today, I can. For a woman like me, it's a big achievement to step out for work. Ever since I started working, everything has changed for good. I have my savings and I can afford a better school for my kids,” says Avadhute confidently.
Women empowering women
Based in Pune, Maharashtra, Abira Creations is the modern-day story of women empowering women. The word 'Abira' has Hebrew origin and means ‘strong women’.
And it is changing the lives of marginalised women through sustainable fashion. Priyanka Khandelwal along with Anju Bansal, who was the prime investor, started Abira Creations in December 2015.
These women are trained to create handcrafted eco-friendly fashion accessories, empowering them socially and economically.
Alongside, Abira gives them a chance to boost their careers by arming them with entrepreneurial, social, language, and other skills. They are then free to work with Abira or join some other enterprise or turn entrepreneurs.
"Just training isn’t sufficient as these women belong to the bottom of the pyramid. Their need is not training but employment,” says Khandelwal.
Once they start working, they are more open to learning and exploring new areas, especially when they know where to implement it, she adds.
Enhancing skills and employability
A case in point is Savita, whose daughter is now pursuing B.Sc. in Computer Science. "Working at Abira allows me to provide her with all the resources for education," says Savita, whose interest lies in threadwork and stitching.
Avdhute, who only started working after her husband lost his job. “I always wanted to help my family in every possible way, including financially. Abira gave me the opportunity to do it.
She recycles waste through her collection, using fabric cuttings generated in garment production to make earrings, neckpieces, bag charms and other items.
Experienced professionals volunteer to train these women in Computers, English, Mathematics, personality development, yoga, etc.
"We have dedicated lawyers who provide legal knowledge and software engineers and language tutors to help them learn computers and spoken English,” she says.
Abira takes these women on industrial visits and offers assistance in getting internships with other companies, enabling them to understand customer needs and marketing strategy, Khandelwal says.
On successful completion of the training programme, they can explore various career options like child care, food chain supply, data entry operations etc.
Abira also helps these women pursue higher studies by paying 50 percent of the course fee and giving them time off.
The women are trained in online banking and using ATM cards after their bank accounts are opened. Financial independence brings along much-needed confidence, security, and the ability to speak up.
The Abira business model
To create jewellery, masks, stoles, scarves, bags and items of home decor, Abira uses eco-friendly materials like jute, cotton, silk, shell, papers, old metals, wood, fabric cut-outs, most of which are sourced from small women groups.
The company has partnered with fashion brands including Jaypore, iTokri, Global Desi, Reliance Retail and Okhai, which send the fabric cut-outs generated during garment production.
The products are sent back to these brands for merchandise. “It's not only sustainable but also matches the outfits," says Khandelwal.
Over time, these trained women evolve into micro-entrepreneurs as Abira outsources work to them. With this, they earn around Rs 10,000 a month and the amount can go up to Rs 16,000 depending on the quantum of work they undertake.
Avadhute, who is now a micro-entrepreneur, says, "We collect the materials and designs from Abira, make jewellery at our homes, and return the finished products. I earn around Rs8,500 per month."
Hundreds of women have benefitted from the platform in recent years. Currently, Abira is working with 120 women at their Pune centre. "It is the first job for most of these women. Their family income is extremely low; they are between 20 and 40 years of age and are mostly women who were married at a young age. We give them a chance to start a career," says Khandelwal.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, women have adapted to work from home but their B2B business model suffered a blow as the stores of their retail partners stayed shut.
WhebyAbira was launched in January 2020 and displays hand-embroidered masks ranging from Rs150 to Rs400, eco-friendly jewellery, dupattas, wall décor, cushion covers, table accessories and other products.
About 80 percent of the products on the platform are created by the Abiras, while the rest are sourced from other small women artisan groups. Abira Creations has now expanded to Rajasthan, where it has opened a branch. Khandelwal plans to explore and strengthen the retail business by expanding within India as well as overseas.
(Rishika Agarwal is a Patna-based writer specialising in art, culture and human interest stories)