Life, as we know, is full of uncertainties and the 2020 Pandemic proved to be the biggest example of it in recent years. We already know the worst-hit community in India is the migrant workers. With an uncertain future in front of them, they started moving back to their villages, and shockingly on their feet, many lost lives as they ran out of money to get bare minimum essentials to keep going.
Also, the unfortunate event of few tired souls being trodden by a train was something that took the nation through a nightmarish feeling. While we saw this picture of a community, there were also incidents of few wives of migrant workers coming forward and supporting their families when their husbands lost their jobs. It’s the story of how these women, who were opposed at one time to be independent, to have their livelihood, to have a voice, became the sole breadwinner of the family.
Our co-founder Tamalika is a lover of handcrafted things, especially when they are made by the grassroot communities. She feels there are stories intertwined in each thread of those products. Thus, when she stumbled upon the Khwaab page (@ourkhwaab) on Instagram, she couldn’t help but pick up a few of those beautiful things that these women from marginalized communities were offering. She loved their products and to her surprise got a call from one of the Didis who made her things for feedback. She couldn’t stop herself from asking about the organization and thus got an opportunity to talk to the co-founders, who transformed these women’s lives.
Upon interviewing we came across a story of diligence that inspired us and surely a lot of women. It all dates back to 2014 when three Teach for India fellows teaching in the Mandawali community of East Delhi, noticed that the mothers of the children they taught were the pivotal stakeholders in the family. Though they were raising the kids and building a loving home, they never got an opportunity to be the decision-makers. Thus, Shruti, Pooja, and Yash started their Khwaab (which means dream in English) to empower these women and let their passion and independence unfurl.
How the ‘Khwaab’ story started
The trio first started a skill development program called ‘Kalakriti’ with the primary aim to get the women to step out of their homes, and begin to invest time in their professional growth. The women chose to get skilled in tailoring. So the trio onboarded two young female trainers from the community to upskill the women.
When the first batch finished training, the Khwaab team realised that there was a massive gap in terms of access to localised job opportunities, which inhibited these women to convert their skills to livelihoods. Upon further discussions with the women, the founders began focusing on livelihood generation through handcrafted products.
Simultaneously, they felt the need to make the model holistic. Hence, financial literacy and management workshops were regularly conducted to help these women make informed socio-economic choices.
From 2014-2018, Khwaab worked in depth with almost 250 Mandawali women across the three pathways. Out of these 250 women, 100 were skilled, and 30 are currently working with the team as artisans who are well on their way to attaining financial independence.
Most of these women are wives and mothers, between 25 and 40 years of age. When they chose to join Khwaab as artisans/managers, their husbands were not too happy. The men felt their wives were getting ‘arrogant’, when all they wanted was a voice of their own.
But the incredible Didis of Khwaab persevered through all odds and embarked on the path to become financially independent, once Khwaab transitioned from their non-profit model to a growing social enterprise.
From an NGO to a successful business where women run the show
“Initially, we were an NGO, financed by our friends and family. Gradually, we got noticed by incubators like UnLtd India and Scotland India Impact, who graciously helped sustain our initiative. This helped us expand our spectrum and welcome more and more women into the project,” shares Shruti.
She elaborates how they were later supported by CSR funding, which ultimately prompted them to think about the need to become a sustainable for-profit venture that is self-sufficient. The aim was to prioritise the core of livelihood generation for the women. The women were handcrafting beautiful accessories, home decor items, stationery and knitwear. These were sold to Shruti and Pooja’s colleagues in Teach For India and later in pop-up stores across Delhi.
Slowly, the founders started leveraging their peer networks to spread the word about Khwaab. “It took us years to build our brand, and since 2018, we have been actively harnessing the power of social media,” says Shruti.
Like our co-founder Tamalika, most of the customers became regulars once they got the Khwaab products in their hand – everything from the fabrics to the finesse is perfection. And the best part is perhaps their affordable pricing, which does not burn a hole in one’s pocket for trying to go ‘sustainable’.
How the future looks for ‘Khwaab’ and her Didis
At the moment, one of the most popular items on Khwaab’s virtual shelves is the masks. The brand suffered a sudden setback from the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, but it was their women force behind the scenes who stepped up for their favourite label.
They started designing beautiful and effective layered masks, which were even distributed to frontline workers and the people in dire need on the streets. Eventually, Khwaab managed to overturn the loss from the pandemic, while the women became the breadwinners of their families when their husbands lost jobs.
Khwaab is presently focused on enhancing and expanding the variety in their existing product categories. They are diligently working towards making the brand more sustainable with conscious shifts in their product line. They are introducing unique products like notebooks made out of textile waste, among others.
But, we believe what defines Khwaab are not just the products or the personalised shopping experience, but the women running the show behind the scenes – Pooja, Shruti, and their team of dedicated Didis. This Women’s Day, we hope more labels opt for empowering women and give them the wings of freedom.
To know more about their work and check out their range of beautifully and ethically made handcrafted products, visit their website.
– by Tamalika Chattopadhyay and Sayantani Nath