Shanti’s enlightening flight towards expert artisanship

Remote villages in Sindh have abundant artisans, especially women, who utilize low cost raw materials to create breathtaking handicrafts that help supplement their family income. The rising cost of inputs, difficult access to credit and poor marketing network, have brought the handicrafts industry to its present dismal state. Revival of the handicrafts’ industry, therefore, lies in the development of provisional support to artisans, establishment of direct links between buyers and artisans and improved marketing strategies. In this regard, Shanti, an artisan residing in Kharoro Charan Village in Umerkot, has augmented her talent to move forward in life and support her family.

A mother to a son and two daughters, Shanti, and her children live with her mother-in-law. Her husband is a tailor who works in Karachi. He sends her money on a biweekly or monthly basis, most of which is consumed on purchasing grocery for the house. There is very little or none left for other household matters and for the education or healthcare of their children. Shanti practiced basic stitching and embroidery work from home to supplement her family income. She initially received orders from residual villages. As her customers, most of whom were living in the same poverty line as Shanti, payment was low and not timely. “Once, my daughter faced a fatal accident. We had to borrow money from relatives and neighbors to manage her medical expenses. There was a time when I was very ill and as payments to me were irregular, we had to borrow money from some villagers which was very disturbing for me.”

After joining the skills centre set up by Taanka*, Shanti learnt new designs, color combinations including family and contemporary colors. “One of the most important things we were taught was to improve the quality and finishing of our products which increased the worth of our hand-made products.” Shanti has received orders of shirts and trousers and due to timely payment by Taanka, her living conditions have improved.

“Before the training, we use to make color combination of our own choice, not knowing which colors go best together. The training improved our use of color variations and increased our knowledge regarding difference between family colors and traditional colors. We are aware of the colors and designs in market demand which will allow our products to be sold at profitable pricing.”
Artisans in the rural village of Umerkot have worked on many orders received by Taankaⁱ. “I have received orders of bed sheets and shalwar belts from nearby villages. I decorate glasses with bead work which I learnt at the centre. I also get orders of glass decorations and other decoration pieces too. I used various embellishes to decorate the products. I am quite satisfied with the work I am doing.” These artisans are now capable of negotiating reasonable prices with buyers, as per the time and effort invested in developing the products. The training has made them confident and they do not hesitate to interact with buyers of both rural and urban markets now. Shanti was hesitant to travel to urban cities initially, as she did not know how to interact with the people living a completely different lifestyle from her. “I saw travel pictures of Koshlia and Dahi, when they visited Karachi for an exposure visit. Their experience encouraged me to step out as well. I, therefore, agreed to travel to Karachi for meetings with urban buyers. We met with well-known designers Rizwan Baig and Warda Saleem.” The designers shared their work with the artisans as well. Rizwan and Warda were very impressed with the work and confidence level the artisans possessed. Warda also gave them a few samples to work on and Rizwan Baig suggested to conduct a few workshops to enhance interaction and work relations between the artisans and the players of the urban fashion industry.

“I pay my electricity and water bills and contribute in the education fees of my children. If money sent from my husband is delayed, I can easily buy groceries with my own money without delaying the running operations of our home. I purchase clothing for my family with the income I earn and also save some for healthcare or emergencies.” Shanti was expecting her third child when she received payment for a bed sheets order of PKR 15,000. “I travelled to Hyderabad to get admitted in a hospital for delivering my baby. I stayed in the hospital for a week and then returned to my village. I bore all expenses with the money I made from the bed sheets order. I was relieved as there was no financial stress.” Shanti’s husband has been supportive throughout her journey of becoming a skilled artisan. “My mother-in-law took care of my children when I attended classes at the center. I am very lucky to have such a supportive family.”

Taanka is therefore helping artisan women in rural areas alleviate poverty by way of skill development trainings and creating marketing linkages to improve marketability and competitiveness of their products and empowering them to become strong agents of supporting their families.