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Sonia Deshpande
2 Feb 2016 . 4 min read

Okhai – Working Women For Working Women


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It’s hard to decide which is more appealing, is it Okhai’s tagline "working women for working women" or is it the cheerful photograph that accompanies it. Okhai is an NGO that offers handcrafted apparel for the working woman. We spoke to Kirti Poonia, the Head of Okhai, to find out more about this organisation and their work.

Tell us about Okhai

Okhai is a brand supported by the Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development. It was started in 1996 as a capacity building exercise near the Tata Salt plant in Mithapur, Gujarat. Wanting to uplift the lives of the local people, they found that the women in the region were knowledgeable in appliqué work. The Okhai Centre for Empowerment provided them professional training so that their work could be commercially viable. Eight years ago, the Okhai Trust was established. In the last one year, Okhai has gone online to reach more supporters.

Okhai’s tagline is intriguing. How did you come up with that?

The tagline “working women for working women” shows the symbiotic relationship between the urban and rural working woman. If an urban woman is wearing an Okhai kurta to work, she is creating a working woman in rural India. The relationship between the two is not only that of support as the rural working women are creating beautiful products for their urban counterparts. Okhai caters specifically to the needs of the working woman; it has options for home wear, office wear or outfits for an evening out.  

Where can we find Okhai products?

We are online and also in 13 stores across the country. But we don’t have retail outlets in Delhi and Mumbai as of now. We are hoping to open some, in the current year.

Okhai’s products are standardized unlike many handicraft products, how do you get rural women to do this?

It’s surprising to see the evolved nature of processes at Okhai since many management professionals from the Tata Group have been associated with it. And now, the management processes of sourcing, manufacturing, assembly line production are all very ingrained in these women.  The artisans are really proactive and they want to learn.

The artisans are always in the forefront in your ads…

Okhai is an artisan-led brand. Since it is a Non-profit Trust, it belongs to the artisans and all the profits are used for artisan benefit. The artisan is always there in the photo, so they feel that they are selling their products. It is important for the artisan to have that recognition. It is basically their brand.

How many women do you have working with you?

Around 500 women have been impacted by the program. Our aim is to work with 1000 artisans next year.

Our targets are always artisan-led, so we look at per artisan remuneration and number of artisans employed. In the next 5 years, we would like to become the most loved handicraft brand, empowering 1 lakh happy hands.

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Okhai has impacted a lot of women. How has working with Okhai changed their lives?

One of our artisans came back to work after the maternity leave when her husband told her “I will help take care of the baby, you continue working.” They don’t have to ask their husbands for money. They can sometimes even help their husbands financially.

People in the village respect them. They think “these women work.” The women themselves are more confident as they travel and go outside their village for exhibitions. One of the artisans said that before being associated with Okhai she would be intimidated to go to the bank, but now she is no longer afraid.

After speaking to Kirti Poonia, one understands how the appeal of the Okhai ad campaign, aptly reflects the spirit of Okhai—women empowerment, camaraderie and the shared bond between urban and rural working women.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Sonia Deshpande
Sonia Deshpande has had an eclectic mix of careers. She began by sourcing books for an art library, then moved on to a career in television by working in a TV production house and then a major TV channel. She is currently a freelance Instructional Designer, an aspiring writer and a mother to an eternally curious six-year old.

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