My host, Neelam Chibber, is the founder and director of Industree Crafts, and its retail brand, Mother Earth. Industree Crafts organizes and trains groups of artisans into producer SHGs (or Self Help Groups). Traditionally, SHGs across India bring women together for group saving, banking, and lending purposes. Industree Crafts recognizes the enormous value of these SHGs, as members are typically responsible, proactive, motivated, and community-oriented. What Industree does is set up its own SHGs for the purpose of producing Industree-designed artisanal products and handicrafts, using primarily natural fibers. These products arethen sold via the retail brand Mother Earth at their boutiques in Bangalore, Mysore, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and to various export channels (like Ikea and TJ Maxx).
Industree Crafts is a hybrid social enterprise. Two channels support the development and training for the producer groups: the for-profit retail arm Mother Earth creates a reliable supply chain and order flow; and the non-profit Industree Crafts Foundation, which uses grant dollars to further support training and setting up of producer SHGs.
When I first arrived in Bangalore, I toured the main office of Mother Earth, met some of the women producers who were completing a training in tailoring, and felt the buzz of energy and designers whisked beautiful ‘tops’ and natural fibers table settings around the office.
I had the opportunity to visit two of the producer SHGs in Bangalore last on Wednesday July 17th with Neelam, and met around 25 women between the ages of 18 and 70 who were part of the groups. They were hard at work in their workshops in the city periphery, using natural fibers like sital pati and textiles designed by Neelam and her team to craft home décor goods for the Mother Earth stores. Neelam’s role that morning was to emphasize the importance of electing a woman group member as a team leader. Many of the SHGs have men leaders who are not members of the group, because the
leader role includes going to markets, bartering with producers, and organizing production flows. Some of these duties conflict with traditional roles of women in certain societies, but roles continue to be transformed and women are taking on more responsibility within the groups.