SPOTLIGHT: Arushi Aggarwal

The Initiative  not only aims to join the dialogue between artisan and consumers, bridge the gap between beauty and functionality, but also to provide sustainable livelihoods to craftspeople. Before what is now known as The Initiative, came a long line of women who inspired founder Arushi Aggarwal. This is her story.

Arushi-Aggarwal-The-Initiative-INDImage: Founder Arushi Aggarwal

In 2012, Arushi began working with a self-help group of women at a school in Panchgani, providing vocational training. For months, they struggled to sell their crafts and handmade products. Arushi realised that they would always struggle to compete with NGOs and manufacturers from the city.

The question became eminent: why compete with craft being made in the city when these women have a unique skill of their own, a skill unavailable anywhere else in the city? This skill was an art they grew up with - Godhadi quilting - taught to them by their mothers, who were taught by their mothers. It wasn’t just a means to earn some money, but preserve an art, a heritage, for generations ahead. 

Arushi grew up inspired by her grandmother and her appreciation for handmade. She watched her mother sew dupattas and her grandmother crochet cup covers so that Arushi could hold a hot cup of Bournvita. In 2013, Arushi’s grandmother passed away. She stumbled upon a cupboard full of her grandmother’s cotton saris. Even the simplest of saris were adorned with beautiful borders and hand embroidered motifs. These fabrics that her grandmother had worn since she was 11 years old, were steeped in history and memory.

As she was visiting Panchgani, Arushi got the women to make a Godhadi (quilt) for her using her grandmother’s saris. Eight years later, Arushi still uses these quilts, keeping her grandmother in close arms. 

Godhadi-The-Initiative-INDImage: First Godhadi made from Arushi’s grandmother's saris

The Panchgani self-help group of women came from marginalized communities, a community that never raised women to become self-sufficient. These women didn’t know how to go to the post office on their own or how to write their own name. Arushi had seen her grandmother struggle with the same difficulties these women were struggling with – a lack of confidence in her skills and craft. Arushi wanted to show them that there was unclaimed opportunity, and more importantly, that they could claim it for themselves. 

It’s been eight years since her grandmother passed away and her mother still calls up to say, “oh amma had made this!” Eight years later, Arushi’s home is still filled with handmade items, treasures by her grandmother - the embroidered tea cosies and napkins she eats breakfast with every morning, the patchwork dohars she goes to bed with every night. It is this connection between her and her grandmother, between her grandmother and her passion for craft, that inspired The Initiative. 

The-Initiative-INDImage: Steel glass with crochet cover embroidered by Arushi’s grandmother

Over the course of eight years, Arushi traveled back and forth between Panchgani, Mumbai, and Chandigarh, working with the Panchgani women’s self-help group and establishing The Initiative. Their products are made out of quilted garment waste fabric - and include organiser books and tote bags. Check out the collection here.

"We currently train and employ talented and motivated women who are seeking economic independence but may be unable to take up regular jobs due to lack of education and/or family obligations." - The Initiative

Arushi-Aggarwal-The-Initiative-INDImage: Arushi working with two craftswomen, Sunita and Renu

The goal of any self-help group is to attain financial stability and independence through communal efforts. The Initiative aims to support this ambition by providing sustainable livelihoods to their practitioners. When asked what this money meant to her, one of the Panchgani women said, “now I can buy myself a clip or a pair of chappals without asking my husband for it. If my kid wants a packet of biscuits I can afford it myself without asking my husband for it.” 

Today, The Initiative partners with NGOs and SHGs that are working on livelihoods and upskilling. Independently, Arushi also works with NGOs and organisations on their design skills, providing training and setting up systems. Arushi still travels to Panchgani and visits the women’s self help group.

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