Village Artisans build brand they hope will one day be famous

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Khairpur: November 2014: Soomer Buriro village, population 380, is a tiny, isolated community in rural Sindh. The women in particular know few of their neighbours. But that’s about to change. For a group of them are now working for the Kahani brand. And they’re so proud of the results, they want their artisanal products to be everywhere.

The Kahani brand was developed as part of an EU-funded project being implemented by Oxfam Novib and its partners. The idea was to help local artisans innovate their products and styles to broaden their appeal and so reach new markets. The project has only just finished, but already the new styled products are “in demand as gifts and wedding items”, Hussna, the group leader in Soomer Buriro village reports.

Her team is keen to show why their products are now so popular. One woman points to two dresses side by side, one made in their old style, the other a new model. “For the old one I used to get 600 rupees, she says, but for the new one I can get 1200. See the difference in colours, the techniques?” she asks. Another points to her baskets, and it’s the same story. For the old model she used to get 30 rupees each, now she can get 150 rupees each. “It’s not just fashion, our work is now more skilled, better finished,” she says.

They talk of all they have learned, everything from innovation, to the ‘family of colours, to new stitches and finishings. And about the market itself.

Not too far away, in the larger, but even more impoverished village of Lal Bakhsh Tagar, Shama is the leader of their group of twenty artisans who have been trained to produce items for the ‘Kahani’ brand.

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Shama is a widow bringing up her three girls alone, and very much the driver of her group. Before she persuaded the Oxfam Novib project to include them in their training, she’d make 100 rupees for a prayer mat – and that did not include the cost of the materials.

Oxfam-Novib agreed to help train her if she formed a group of 20. “There are 300 women in the village who do craftwork,” she said, “but I had to knock on door after door”. The community had no tradition of working together so it had even been a challenge to get them to work in a group.

Now, those that did sign up, really do work as a group. Although Shama is one of the more skilled women, and the ‘front woman’ who tries to find more clients, she earns the same as everyone else. They split the work, and the money. The weaker ones do the more basic work, which they pass on to the more skilled group members to do the more sophisticated elements. Costs are taken out before they split the earnings.

Today all the women in village want to join the group. This is because those who didn’t join the group initially are finding it harder than ever to sell now, says Shama proudly. That’s because, “everyone wants the fashionable new models being made under the Kahani brand,” she explains.

However, Shama has no problems with the idea of training the other women in the village. She is confident that when they have established markets in all the cities, there will be more than enough work for everyone. She has been to many places since this project began: to Islamabad, to Sukkur, to Khairpur, to Karachi.
Shama hopes that in the next five years their products will be in all surrounding villages and cities, and that Kahani will be a well-known brand.

Hussna feels similarly, although for now her marketing trips are more local. But she’s very happy that her husband is so enthusiastic about what the women have learned that he’s willing to take her to nearby villages to help her find new markets.

Fact Box

Project:
Oxfam Novib Project

Name:
EQUATE – Enhancing Quality and Access to Technical and Vocational Education

Contributions and Aim:
Oxfam Novib with co-financing of European Union and in partnership with Research and Development Foundation, Indus Resource Centre and Butterfly Works is implementing the EQUATE project in three districts iof Sindh province in Pakistan, namely. Khairpur, Dadu and Jamshoro. The project aims to equip 3200 poor youth with marketable skills and thereby improve their livelihoods. It also help 1600 craftswomen produce items for new brand Kahani in partnership with national and international designers.

Location:
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

“Before we wasted our time,” Hussna concludes. “We worked without thinking about what people wanted. Now we want to make what we will be able to sell.”



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