The Tribal Threads women’s sewing collective seeks to provide meaningful economic opportunities to women in rural village communities we serve. The government in India provides great skills training in sewing to women in rural villages, leading GPM to step in to develop this opportunity into a platform where these women can put their skills into regular practice to create and maintain their livelihoods.
This is particularly important in rural areas where farming is the main generator of income, as this allows women in the family to supplement the household income and diversify the sources of it, giving more security in the face of seasonal farming challenges.
As one of our core women’s empowerment programs, this initiative began with only a few sewing machines in the Palghar district, where seven women used their sewing skills to fulfil orders secured by GPM like cloth shopping bags which were particularly in demand since single-use plastic bags were banned in the entire state of Maharashtra. GPM has worked to train women in the village in various advanced sewing techniques, and combines their knowledge of sewing with designs to make our eco-friendly tribal threads creations. Unlike some other models for economic empowerment groups, it is a key part of GPM’s model to ensure that members are paid immediately upon delivery of the product as opposed to only being paid once it is sold.
However, following the beginning of the pandemic and the spread of COVID-19, the demand rapidly grew for reusable cloth masks, and unexpectedly, while other programs had to be put on hold, the Tribal Threads collective grew to 27 women. In alignment with COVID-19 prevention guidelines the model shifted, meaning the women were brought sewing machines to work from the safety of their own homes – those with electricity using electric machines and those without were given manual machines (with thanks to the Good People Fund and others who funded some of the sewing machines at the begining of the pandemic). Our two sewing centers in Mokhada and Palghar remain as the situation begin to slowly shift back to normality.
The incredible women of Tribal Threads have so far to date provided over 60,000 reusable cloth masks, with at least 50% of these going to vulnerable communities, as well as many being distributed to police and frontline workers in rural hospitals.
Additionally, the collective members have started to produce higher end face masks to sell. GPM purchased an embroidery machine and brought in a designer to teach the women to create beautiful embroidered designs, using tribal area motifs to give tribute to the women’s ancestral villages. Tribal Threads has begun marketing these to a higher end clientele, such as the Hilton Hotel chain who we are developing a partnership with.
The Tribal Threads sewing collective also makes table runners and place mats, and accept custom orders. This project provides income in a rural area where there are very little sources of employment and transforms struggling rural communities to thriving ones.