The Okhai Story
The Okhamandal region of Gujarat has been home to many tribal cultures and nourished them from the very earliest periods of history. The stark monotony of the arid landscapes in this region is relieved by the bright shades in the handicrafts made by the tribal women belonging to tribes like the Rabaris, Vaghers and Ahirs. The most prominent tribe here, the Rabaris, are a semi-nomadic tribe, known for their survival and adaptation in arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan – pursuing a pre-agrarian, pastoral lifestyle found mainly in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. The Rabaris today lead a quaint, colorful and rugged lifestyle, which finds a manifestation in the embroidery and crafts made by them.
The motifs of their old world custom are replicated in the intricate embroidery patterns. The objects that they embroider highlight important events, rites and rituals and values in their lives. Rabari girls traditionally embroider blouses, skirts, veils, wall hangings, pillows, purses, etc. It is only recently that this form of art has found its way to the commercial market. The various forms of artwork of Gujarat are Appliqué, Heer Bharat, Kathi and Bead Work. Of these, the Appliqué work symbolizes the integral part of the decorative needlework done in Okhamandal. It is based on patchwork, in which pieces of colored and patterned fabric are finely cut in different sizes and shapes and sewn together on a plain background to form a composite piece.
How it began
In the absence of any other significant income earning opportunity for the rural women of Okhamandal, it became imperative to provide them with a source of livelihood. Okhai gave these women the to earn for themselves and their families. Economic empowerment of women as a precursor to their social empowerment helped in improving their status, both socially and economically.
- Artisans are earning a monthly income of Rs 500 to Rs 11,000 depending on the hours they work at home or the centre, their skill level and design difficulty. The idea is to ensure that the women can work at their pace and in their homes while managing their household.
- Around 470 families are benefited from this rise in income levels. With the average family size in Okhamandal being 7 to 8 members, Okhai has helped improve the economic condition of around 3200 people directly.
- Okhai plans to reach over a 5,000 women over a span of five years, which means it would potentially affect 8,000-10,000 people. This means a substantial population of Okhamandal would directly benefit from Okhai.
- With improved skills and the enhanced capabilities, Okhai has helped the rural women of Okhamandal to become financially stable and self sustainable.
- Women's role in decision making, both at home and in their village has increased, as they have become financially independent.
- They have become agents of change in the village.
- Various exposure visits to related works and work sites have increased their outlook of life. It has boosted their self-confidence.
- The outlook of the villagers towards their women has undergone a major change. They get more respect from the family members as well as from the members of the village.
- As women get work at their doorstep, they are in a better position to balance their family, social and work life. They can devote time for their household chores as well as take care of the family while working from out of home. Okhai has successfully enhanced as well as helped to maintain the social fabric of the village.
Preserving the culture and art:
Over the years, Okhai has expanded its reach to bring more rural communities into its fold. Beginning with Saurashtra handicrafts at Mithapur (Gujarat), the rich traditions of the Karjobi art form of Babrala (Uttar Pradesh), and jute culture from Haldia (West Bengal) are very special since they depict the culture of their respective regions. The local folk have inherited it from their forefathers. In the absence of any incentives to continue the art, these communities were not in a position promote it among future generations. With time, the unique art would have been lost to the world. With Okhai stepping in, the fear of these art forms dying an unnatural death has been curbed. Okhai strives to save their identity from getting lost in the long run.
Okhai continues its march towards fulfilling its vision of being a brand that symbolizes empowerment of rural/semi urban women and at the same time recognises and promotes the dying handicraft of each of the region.
Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) has played a pioneering role in promoting the Saurashtra handicrafts at Mithapur, Karjobi at Babrala and jute craft at Haldia under one brand “OKHAI”. The members of the Self Help Groups (SHGs) formed by TCSRD are the backbone of this handicrafts project as they themselves are involved in developing and promoting their native craft.
This year’s main focus has been on the development of the brand and the business. To ensure this, a number of steps have been taken to help improve both – the back-end, i.e., the process of production of rural goods, and the front end, i.e., marketing, sales and branding. At the back-end, production has steadily increased through sustained efforts and better planning. The turnaround time from the placement of order to production to delivery time has been drastically reduced by over 25 hours! The setting up of a design studio at Ahmedabad has helped in better showcasing of samples and designs of the products.
Employing an experienced and dedicated tailor-master and a designer on the Okhai rolls has enhanced production to display a wider product range. This has also encouraged the women at Mithapur to venture into trying to develop new cuts and patterns. Ongoing training in the various processes is carried out on a continuous basis at the stitching center at Mithapur, which, in turn has contributed to enhance quality and increase the speed of production. The raw materials too are being procured directly from manufacturers with no middlemen, thereby acquiring them at optimum prices.
Raw material sourcing options are evaluated regularly. This has helped in getting regular orders and generating business. Special training on costing and visual merchandising has also helped staff at Okhai to work out the right costing. At the front end various positive moves were taken to promote Okhai as a brand which helped to increase and widen the customer base.