Just before lockdown last year I managed to visit India for the yearly Holi festival, to welcome spring, kindly hosted by the Maharaja of Jaipur.
I had heard about Mahdu, an English teacher that had quit her job to create a fashion community to empower the rural women on the border of Rajasthan. Intrigued by this I managed to get hold of her and after a few exchanges upon my arrival to India I decided to add an additional 7h drive to visit her.
Arriving in the village of Bhikamkor, rural took another meaning to me. This was in the middle of the dessert, the sun dozing down, cows together with dogs and children wandering alongside the dusty dirt street. People looking suspicious at my grand entrance parking outside a farmyard. At times I wondered if I had completely lost my mind, a blonde swede arriving in no man’s land. Luckily my driver Raj, who I by now consider as family knew the rules and I felt very safe in his presence.
Mahdu opened the door and welcomed me with open arms, but Raj had to stay outside. Women were allowed in only. Panicked I looked back at Raj that with a reassuring nod said I was going to be fine and I stepped inside.
Upon entering the Saheli women community I realised I was witnessing what sustainable fashion was actually all about. I saw women from all ages, some with babies on their arms working in a beautiful atmosphere, doing some exquisite craftsmanship. Whatever this was I wanted me and Oramai to be a part of it.
Mahdu invited me for Indian tea and I sat down with all women, dressed in traditional saris and who were very excited for their exotic visitor (me). The room was beautifully painted in blue and had a very homely feeling, dogs came in and out and the embroidery room turned into a classroom for the ones with kids in the afternoons. Here women that normally were forced to stay at home and look after the kids, had an opportunity to craft and create their own income. The traditions are very strong in this part of India and the fact that it is women only allows many of them to join because otherwise their husbands would be jealous if other men where present.
You start as an apprentice and learn from one of the other women, I watched as a young girl who had just started last week did her first attempt of hand embroidery and she was exhilarating as she finally got the colours working. Mahdu lives in Jodphur a good 3h drive away and comes out every week.
As India went into lockdown and I flew back the whole community where forced to stay at home, I sent down some of my Nomade T-Shirts to create work for them during this time in aid of our collaboration #PlantATree
I am very proud to have found Saheli women and to be able to support this initiative, as I am a strong believer that community and craftsmanship is something that fashion should thrive for. We are working on exciting embroidery work for our upcoming collection and I cant wait to share it with you. In the meantime as a consumer, please start to ask yourself two simple questions before next buy: Who made this? Where is it made? And once you know the story behind your garment, it’s not only more beautiful for you - but for the world too.
Follow their journey on @_saheliwomen