A garment worker now the new face of fashion

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2019-05-23 16:00:00 – India

Ever wondered who cut, dyed or stitched your designer dress? Now, a few ethical brands are giving those nameless ‘karigar credit, and a share of the social media spotlight.

Laxmiben Karamta, a pattern cutter who hails from the Rabari tribe, is not your usual fashion model. But just check out Gujarati handcrafted label Okhai’s Instagram page, and you can see a cheerful Laxmiben clad in a red lehenga and black blouse posing in front of a mirror work mud wall, cutting fabric patterns or posing in a pair of sunglasses.

Somwati, who works with Delhi-based fashion house Péro, became Insta-famous when a short video of this petite middle-aged seamstress was shared on the label’s Instagram page in April and got over 3,000 views. Besides her love for singing while she works, it describes her as a stickler for deadlines. In a beautiful black and white photograph shared by Auréole, a sustainable label based in Mumbai, on its Instagram page, master tailor Akhtar Sheikh can be seen sharing a light moment with other tailors.

Karigars like Sheikh, Somwati and Laxmiben have rarely ever got the limelight or credit for the garments they help create but that’s slowly changing as labels focus on ethical and sustainable fashion.

This trend of recognising the anonymous faces in fashion started when Fashion Revolution, a UK-based non-profit, launched #whomademyclothes after the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka in 2013. The aim of this social media movement was to educate consumers to ask where their clothes were made and by who, and under what conditions.

The sweatshops that many garment workers are forced to toil in for less than minimum wages have often been highlighted in the media. At the just concluded Copenhagen Fashion Summit, Anindit Roy Chowdhury, program manager, Gender Justice and Human Rights, C&A Foundation, revealed how underage girl labourers in Tirupur, India’s cotton textile hub, are regularly given birth control pills so that they don’t get periods that may hamper their work.

Despite its noble intentions, campaigns like #whomademyclothes do run the risk of being used as a gimmick by labels. Aneeth Arora, founder of Péro, says that if designers are sharing these images and claiming to pay fair wages, they should be ready f or checks. “This movement shouldn’t be used for publicity,” Arora cautions.

Be that as it may, one cannot ignore the happy stories tumbling out of the closet thanks to this movement.

Take Okhai’s Ramiben. She used to break stones at construction sites before she started working with the label, which was set up by Tata Chemicals to provide an alternative source of income to women in Mithapur, a drought-prone area of Gujarat. But Kirti Poonia, head, Okhai, says the photos and media attention have given Ramiben greater respect and more negotiating power. “Her family seeks her approval in decisions and she’s is one of the few in her village Arambhada who is educating her children beyond class VII,” says Poonia.

Ajay Kumar Tripathi, a production hand, not only has Pero clothes that have been gifted to him, he and 150 other staff members attend the bi-annual fashion shows where the brand’s closes are showcased. “When I first attended a fashion show, I felt proud that I had reached this level. I was standing among high society people,” says Tripathi, who started out as a pattern maker and cutting master more than five years ago.

In Tamil Nadu, the government-run Co-optex attaches a weaver’s card with each handloom saree. The card lists the name of the weaver, his region, and the time and eff ort it took him to weave the saree. “Every book carries the name of the author, every painting the name of the artist, so why should handloom be any different,” asks T N Venkatesh, MD, Cooptex who says that these cards are like a bridge between the weaver and the consumer. As many as 80,000 weavers have been photographed and their details recorded f or the cards since 2014, when this initiative was launched.

Ethicus, a sustainable fashion brand based in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, also attaches similar weaver cards with its organic cotton handwoven sarees. “Many of our customers visit our weavers in Pollachi af ter reading their details on their sarees,” says Vijaylakshmi Nachiar, who co-founded the label with her husband in 2009. Meeting customers attaches meaning to the work of the weavers who otherwise never get to see the final product or how it looks on a person, adds Nachiar.

Such stories sadly may not dent the larger reality, says Gopinath Parakuni, general secretary Cividep India, an NGO that works f or workers’ rights and corporate accountability. “The industry is dominated by fast fashion brands who have scale. If they become responsible, it will actually lead to better working conditions. Smaller initiatives, while valuable, won’t bring about a structural change,” he adds.

Courtesy: Times of India

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