Models in fashion show. (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

Models in fashion show. (Photo: Jasvinder Sehgal)

India has one of the lowest female labor forces in the world.

According to the last census, only 33 percent of Indian women are employed – well below the global average of 50 percent.

But there are many women seeking new ways of employment.

Jasvinder Sehgal meets a group of women in rural Rajasthan who are using fashion design to become innovative entrepreneurs. 

It’s early morning in Gangwana village, 84 miles from the city of Jaipur.

And the men of the village are leaving with their cattle to plough their farms.

It’s also the time when 43-year-old Naseem Khan is free to start spinning her yarn. 

For the past month, Naseem and her two daughters have been learning how to make designer clothes by hand.

"My financial condition was very bad before. But after I learned fashion design, I am regularly getting orders at my home, she says, “Before I was confined to only home and my family was under stress. The new art has made me and all in the family, very happy. ”

Naseem along with 50 other women in the village have been learning fashion design and together formed a group to encourage each other in their creations.

All of them are busily working, planning to participate in a fashion show to be organized later this week. 

Bharathi Devi is the trainer of the group, an initiative from a resource firm operating in the area.

“For the show, they have designed and prepared many clothes, but all manually,” she says, “They have done beautiful embroidery with their own hands. Not only clothes they have also prepared rugs, mats, bed sheets, towels and jeans. They have also stitched woolen sweaters. Every woman is now earning more than US$125 every month. ”

Before the training, Bharathi says many women had little way to make money, but now their designs are attracting a lot of attention. 

Today is the day of fashion show in Jaipur. Hundreds of fashion lovers including designers, models and students have come to see the work of the rural fashion designers.

Among them are Naseem Khan’s two daughters - Akshara and Vaseema who have also been designing themselves. 

Vaseema, tells me about their collection.

“We have brought kaftans, saris, suits, palazzos pants, shirts, long skirts and shorts,” explains Vaseema, “All of these are handmade and beautifully decorated. ”

For her sister Akshara, being at the fashion show is like a dream come true.

“We never thought even in our dreams to participate in a fashion show. We have seen fashion models for the first time in our life,” she says, “We knew nothing about fashion and we are extremely happy to participate in this show.”

People in the audience here are loving the show, cheering each ornate creation as it comes down the catwalk. 

And Miss India, 2014, Koyal Rana, says she loved wearing a long skirt designed by sisters, Akshara and Vaseema.

“It’s really beautiful what these girls have made. When you know the people started clapping, it motivated me. Brand names are always attached to the designers but today we were acknowledging the people who actually work hard and put all these things together,” she says. 

Taruna Malviya is an upcoming model, who traveled to the show from Mumbai. She said today’s show felt totally different from any other fashion show she has done.

“Todays fashion show was different in the sense that it is attached to the sentiments of the village girls.  Right, and it is also close to our hearts in a way that they have put in a lot of effort like I personally felt proud to walk in those garments that they prepared with so much detailing and everything,” she says, “Designers what they showcase is something to sell; I mean it is for their personal benefit, but this is something which benefits the entire village. ”

And the young rural designers are also very happy with the outcome.

They are traveling home with a ton of new orders to stitch. 

 

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