Developing sustainable businesses among Self Help Groups (SHGs) formed by Arpana Research & Charities Trust, an NGO in North India.
To identify & train SHGs across villages in Himachal Pradesh, India, to setup new self-employment opportunities. The system/group should ideally be sustainable post-training.
Secondary & primary research by moving into their environment helped lay the foundation of businesses for women in three villages. Systems & processes are now installed to structure the business end-to-end.
Chamba is a district in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India, located at an altitude of 996 metres (3,268 ft) above mean sea level, on the banks of the Ravi River. Chamba is the only district in northern India to preserve a well-documented history from c. 500 AD rich in art, culture and architecture.
Self-Help Groups (SHGs)
Distance: ~1km trek
Together since 2009, these women have been involved in small trade businesses across villages.
Skilled in hand knitting, patchwork, crochet, machine knitting and corn husk weaving.
Distance ~3.5km trek
Together since 2014, these women take important decisions in village politics.
Basic skill in hand knitting, double-sided Chamba embroidery and crochet.
Distance: ~7km by road
Formed on 14 July 2015, this SHG was specifically established to be registered for this design workshop with Arpana. Elementary skill in hand knitting and crochet.
Using scrap pieces of cloth and stitching them together.
This double-sided embroidery is protected under G.I. for Chamba region.
Machine and hand knit shawls with embroidery along the borders.
Leather slippers available in variations of a popular Chamba footwear style.
Weaving corn husk to form long rugs or radial mats to sit on.
Hand and machine knitting of brightly coloured socks and gloves.
Using plastic wrappers to weave into baskets as they can't be discarded. (H.P. is a plastic free state)
Sand casting metal to form beautifully carved products.
Crochet techniques were explored only to make mats for display.
Visiting each village and several market places in and around Chamba, the following crafts were identified:
2. Chamba double-sided embroidery
3. Shawl knitting
4. Chamba leather footwear
5. Cornhusk weaving
6. Hand knitting
7. Plastic weaving
8. Metal casting
Factors to analyse strengths, weaknesses, threats & opportunities:
Time duration: 15 days/group
Length of daily session: 2 hours
Production time of each craft
Availability of raw material
Weighing all these factors for each craft, I decided to initiate the first workshop with Patchwork & Crochet due to availability of infrastructure, raw material and elementary skill.
The training was aimed at developing design skill and sustaining it independently without the guidance of a trainer. Key areas were:
Introduction to color wheel and harmony.
How to create optical illusions & use of basic shapes to create patterns.
DETAILING & FINISHING
Addition of zippers, stitch lines, piping and details like buttons, foam lining, etc.
Quicker production through efficient use of machinery.
Studying different materials to better their application for different purposes.
Where and how to source from. Tie ups with local tailors to provide scrap fabric each month.
Scrap fabric crocheted to form a floor rug.
Detailing with stitch lines on foam-lined fabric.
Using basic shapes to make patterns.
Repeating one shape to form a placemat.
Wooden buttons details.
Repeating a section crochet to form a larger pattern.
Working with large crochets to form plush rugs with scrap fabric.
Exploring optical illusions.
Single colour simple crochet cover.
Each SHG was taught a set of 3-4 products, with each member specialising in a particular skill. This way the work could be distributed and completed at home as the women could only dedicate 2 hours a day together. With every individual given a specific task, contributions were easier to track and rewards were given on the same basis.
Lifestyle accessories like cushion covers, table runners, placemats and rugs were explored in the initial workshops.
To sustain the business and product quality post training, leaders for different aspects were appointed to map participation, contribution, finances, inventory, etc.
I created a logbook to simplify these roles of responsibility for the women. Its contents were as follows:
1. Hindi guidebooks explaining production process for each product, with illustrations for further exploration.
2. Attendance list
3. Performance review chart
4. Stock Inventory
5. Meeting agenda
6. Quality control sheet
These leaders use these documents to ensure standardisation and continued progress as an independent group.
Ms. Bindu handled the finances and inventory of Devidehra SHG
Ms. Asha Devi, leader of Kujjal SHG
Steps taken to ensure continued participation after the training
The final sets of products created by the women were purchased at a generous profit by the parent NGO and were marketed across North India at their retail stores.
In the past two years, several students have volunteered to conduct workshops in fields like textile printing, bag construction, etc. The women are now notably more confident in their abilities and are rapidly growing are handcrafting entrepreneurs.