Published: 31st March 2021
With her start-up PinThread, here's how this 16-year-old is helping rural women in UP become financially independent
Sameera Jalan set up PinThread in June last year. She spoke to us about what they do and how they are helping rural women in UP to earn a living
For 16-year-old Sameera Jalan, the reality of rampant domestic abuse faced by women in this country became evident during the COVID-induced lockdown last year. It was in her locality situated in Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur that she noticed a woman being violated by her husband and despite this, the woman begged him to take her back. "She didn't do anything wrong but was still pleading. I thought if I was in her place, I wouldn't have done the same, I would've left immediately. After speaking to the woman and others like her in the area, who majorly work as domestic help in nearby complexes or upper-class colonies, I realised that even their parents won't take them back if they left their husband's house. These women are not educated, they have no financial independence or help from anywhere else and need their husbands. Every woman should be able to stand up for her own rights and that's when it struck me to do something for them. To help them become financially empowered," shares the feisty 16-year-old. To solve this issue, Sameera set up PinThread in June last year. Her social start-up teaches rural women and children of domestic help in Gorakhpur how to upcycle waste fabric into useful products like laptop covers, pencil cases, organisers for study tables, table mats, money envelopes for Diwali/Christmas socks, dog clothes, cosmetic pouches, masks and a lot more.
Sameera didn't know then that what started as a small school project would turn into a proper social enterprise helping needy women in the area with employment. Sameera is a Class 10 student at the Kodaikanal International School, where she first birthed the idea of PinThread. "Students need to do something that they are passionate about, something for the community that will have a positive impact. While I was brainstorming for ideas to help rural women, I spoke to my domestic help and their children and found a few common skills that these women already have. In every Indian household, women are taught to cook, sew and clean. I thought I could use these basic skills to help find them employment. In today's day and age, the urban woman's employment has been on the rise while the same in rural India is declining despite several efforts. Companies want degrees, some kind of education that these women hailing from rural areas do not possess. I thought of using their skills to their own advantage. They all know the basics of stitching, so I called in some expert tailors to upskill them, workshops were conducted to teach them different techniques, the usage of sewing machines and more," she explains.
When you learn something, no one can take it away from you, believes Sameera. She adds that the idea behind upskilling these women was to help them become independent so that, in the future, if PinThread doesn't work out, they can still do something and earn a livelihood for themselves. Sameera wanted her start-up to have a sustainability quotient too — all the finished products are made by upcycling waste fabric. "When I started this as a school project, I had to do everything on my own. I had received an amount of `5000 from my parents to do this. Buying fancy material is way too expensive and it was never the idea to make it work that way. I thought ahead and realised that what if PinThread shut down and these women still continue to work, they won't have the money to buy material. Waste fabric is free and is sustainable as, otherwise, the massive amounts of cloth waste will end up in our landfills. I collected waste fabric from all around Gorakhpur, from small boutiques, shops, people who are willing to give. To our surprise, they had cartons full of waste fabric and we got it all for free as they were unusable. We washed them, sanitised and began using them. The idea was to also teach these women about sustainability," adds Sameera.
Sameera also created recycled journals out of waste paper and gave them to the women to put in their ideas. It was a month-long exercise for her as well. "We wanted to draw on them - any kind of designs, colour combinations - we had very different ideas so I wanted to collaborate on these ideas and mingle our cultures to create uniquely designed products. We sat together, discussed the ideas, what print or colour to put on what and so on," shares the entrepreneur. Sameera started by paying the women `200 as an incentive as she had no earning at that point and could only afford that much. "Currently, we pay them `900 per week, they work for two hours on a daily basis as they also have to look after their houses and their kids. While they work for PinThread, I entertain their younger kids and look after them, play with them, read basic lessons that they are taught at school," adds Sameera.
All the work happens inside Sameera's residential complex, inside a hall, as it's just an eight-women team. "I started with five women initially, they stayed with us in our complex as we did not want too many people to come in or go out during the lockdown. The orders take time to make as we have fewer people and everything is done manually, starting from stitching to putting tags on them," she explains. PinThread's products are currently sold through Facebook and Instagram, which Sameera handles by herself. As for her future plans, she wishes to expand PinThread in order to accommodate more women. "The manufacturing process then becomes faster, they can also just come and learn to stitch. With the money we earn, I want to help women if they have financial issues and come from needy backgrounds," she concludes.