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From India's Remotest Villages To High-Street Fashion Stores: Silai Label's Journey Of Empowering Rural Women

From India's Remotest Villages To High-Street Fashion Stores: Silai Label's Journey Of Empowering Rural Women
Delhi: A journey that started almost eight months back has today finally reached its destination. OGAAN, a high-street fashion brand that has stores all over the country has become the first retail brand to host the clothing line 'Silai' that has been conceived and manufactured by the USHA Silai School women.

"It is quite unbelievable," said Priya Somaiya, Executive Director at USHA Social Services. "The feeling is of extreme happiness and contentment to see such talented women reach newer heights" she said.

The journey, where over 30 rural women from four states - Rajasthan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Puducherry -  were shortlisted from the USHA sewing schools first made its mark at the country's most reputable fashion event - the Lakme Fashion Week 2018 in Mumbai.

Since the label landed on the runway, where actresses like Sushmita Sen, Dia Mirza and Kareena Kapoor Khan walked for the reputed fashion designers, the women behind the clothes received astounding levels of appreciations and motivation to keep growing further in this new life of theirs.

We could never imagine that our clothes will be sold at a high-end store and that we will be able to earn from them said Raizaben, one of the women behind the collection created by the cluster in Rajashthan.

"It is a moment of pride for us" said Santosh Kumawat, another woman from the same cluster, at the launch evening. "We have our own identity now. To see people admiring our clothes and paying money to buy them makes me feel proud of our achievements."

While the women were praised for their hard work and dedication towards their craft, the designers who have mentored them throughout the journey, too, received the crowd's adulation.

"It is not easy to achieve this quality of work in such a short period of time and that's why I have such high respect for the USHA Silai School women" said Soham Dave, designer and cluster head in Ahmedabad. "If their work is appreciated then I am sure they will be motivated to continue their journey".

A similar feeling was echoed by other cluster designers such as Sreejith Jeevan who put up a symbolic collection to reflect the tropical vibe of Puducherry.

"For me, one of the most important aspects of this mission was to not make it a charity project," he said. "The idea was always to create quality products that the customers could buy. A lot of hard work was put in by the women to make the clothes match the price value."

Even though our clothes come from simple villages, they still shine leaving a lasting impact, said one of the cluster women from Puducherry.

Her words were reiterated by the customers who felt delighted to be part of the evening. Having an opportunity to not just learn about the label's manufacturing journey but to also meet the women behind the clothes proved to be a one of a kind experience for many attendees.

"Each piece is so ideal" said Rina Dhaka, fashion designer and owner of her Namesake clothing label.

"I love the designs. In the current time, in today's weather, these designs are great for lunch outings and can go in your daily wear wardrobe" said Rina who even bought a pair of trousers from West Bengal's collection.

Another known designer who made his way to the launch was Nikhil Mehra of Shantanu & Nikhil Designs.

"I love the detailing and the stitching that the lovely Usha Silai women have done," he said admiring one particular item from Puducherry's collection.

"The designs that I see here today are representative of the skills and craftsmanship of the area where the designers are from and when you see these clothes, you understand the soul with which these clothes have been designed," he added.

Just like Rina, Nikhil too bought an item from the Puducherry collection. As one chapter comes to an end, the initiative's aim is to look towards newer ways of broadening its horizon.

"Since, USHA Silai Schools started 7 years ago, we have trained over 16,000 women in over 60,000 villages across India," said Chhaya Sriram, Executive Director at Usha International Pvt. Ltd. "Now we want to take this to another level" she said.

Looking to expand the network, the initiative hopes to gather other talented women from their schools and bring on board more designers from different parts of the country to make the 'Silai' label even more diverse than it is today.

Explaining the way forward, Priya Somaiya, Executive Director, Usha International Pvt. Ltd, highlighted their new plans. "We would like to update our clusters and start new ones in Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh to name a few. Moreover, we would like to bring more designers to associate with the platform and introduce an integration of ethnic styles and colors of different Indian states with the label's items. This way we can incorporate different flavours of the country's cultural legacy."

"Essentially, if people at OGAAN can admire and agree to carry our label and sell it at the prices they do then it helps to convince the customers to invest in our items" said Chhaya Sriram.

Kavita Bhartiyam and Aasthi Bhartiyam, the mother-daughter duo who own OGAAN India said, "I just want to congratulate Usha International for bringing forward such a magnificent collaboration of fresh designers and working women from villages" said Kavita. "The whole initiative is such a learning experience for all of us, and especially the designers and women involved in it. It is an exciting collection and to see these designers work along with the women from different parts of the country to put together this line is great" said Aasthi.

Although, the launch has happened, the journey is far from over. With newer paths being carved, USHA Silai Schools across India are gearing up to get involved in the 'Silai' label's production, a label that not only sells clothes but also enables rural women of the country to become fashion entrepreneurs.

Also Read: USHA Sewing Schools: The Solution To Andhra Pradesh's Migration Problem?

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Adopt a Silai School

Adopt a Silai School

Do you want to be a part of the huge change that Usha Silai School is bringing about in the lives of millions of rural women? With just a simple click of a button, you can now contribute towards the opening of an Usha Silai School or support various other aspects of the school.

About the Initiative

About the Initiative

Kushalta Ke Kadam, an initiative by USHA Silai School and NDTV has entered its eighth season. The aim is to empower more women across rural India by teaching them sewing skills and helping them open new doors of opportunities for themselves. The initiative encourages rural women to become financially independent and entrepreneurs by taking up sewing and training others in their respective communities.


Since 2011, the USHA Silai School initiative has trained more than 12 lakh rural women through over 33,000 Silai schools, spanning over 20,751 villages across India.


The women earn Rs. 4,000 – 5,000 per month on an average, with the highest recorded monthly earning being Rs. 84,000 in a month. This earning works as a catalyst towards building their self-confidence, reducing gender inequities, and raising their stature within their families and in society at large.


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In Pics

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching
Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Rebari girls grow up learning traditional embroidery, which along with their new found sewing skills developed at Usha Silai Schools, is helping them earn a living.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School has empowered many rural women to support their family and send their children to school.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The Usha Silai School, established in a small nondescript village that goes by the name of Kottai, is helping empower people from varied communities.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The all-inclusive Usha Silai School Programme covers the entire nation from hamlets tucked between hills to villages cast by the sea.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Vegetables farmers from the Mizoram hills earn very little given the topography of the area. Usha Silai Schools have played an important part in this region by skilling women to financially contribute towards their households.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School learner Lucy has trained seven other women in her community, helping them to become financially independent.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Women like Kaviben from the nomadic Rebari community are finally laying down their roots as they begin to gain financial independence and thereby stability through Usha Silai School.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, located in the Gujarat's Bhuj village, is enabling rural women to earn as much as Rs. 2,500-4,000 each month.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, in association with a Gujarat based NGO called Kala Raksha, is trying to bring about a Silai revolution in Bhuj.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Besides training other women from their community, many Usha Silai School learners have become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

With sewing becoming easily accessible and lucrative, the silai schools are also helping revive traditional motifs and designs.