Meet Shylaja!

 13th Apr 2018 |  Stories about our Makers |  Fritha Mason


Shylaja at the age of 14 had to drop out of school as her 4 elder sisters were all married off with an ailing mom. The house hold had three brothers and dad. She was studing in  Jyothi School wherein she used to pay Rs. 10/- a month to learn sewing. During her pass time, the neighbouring tailor would give her jobs of hemming or buttoning and she did it all for sheer pleasure of learning the job. Eventually, she was married to Rajashekar. Poverty at home with no income lead Shylaja to start working in a neighouring garment factory.  She worked with them for near about 10 years taking breaks when she had her  two sons Vikas and Akhilesh who are now 20 and 26 years respectively. Working in the garment factory without to answer nature’s call had it’s own impact on her health. Shylaja always had a big dream for her sons and family. Her biggest challenge was that her husband never took up any job. He continues to support Shylaja in every job she takes which is a big privilege for a woman in her community. This keeps her going undeterred with any challenge. 

Shylaja’s encounter with Secret Pillow Project happened through a local non-profit organisation called BIRDS wherein. She was a leader of Women-Self Help group[1] in her community  that was named Banashankari and was told about women empowerment training through making and selling of products. The name is derived from a place called Banashankari wherein the Dept. of Women and Child Welfare is located having a temple of goddess Banashankari. The group today has about 20 members. Padma, Renuka and Shylaja attended the training in November, 2016. The women in the community were not as trained as her and Shylaja was generous to spare her time supporting her team members in making the Secret Pillows. The group persisted with bigger dreams. The income enabled Shylaja to pay her children educational needs while supporting a deposit of INR 10,000/- to hire a local shop space that she converted to a training and sewing unit. This was a long term dream for Shylaja. She was determined to own one because she was stitching blouses for a similar boutique that charged customers Rs.350/- while paid her Rs. 80/-.  She constantly upgrades her skill in sewing and currently learning to knit tussels. Members in her group such as Aruna and Shankaramma have their own story of being associated with Secret Pillow Project. Aruna had to undergo scans and medical tests which she was postponing thinking of the costs involved while finding it embarrassing to share her ailments. Through the income from sewing, she was able to do her scans and health check-up and understood she is diabetic. This enabled her to plan her diet and address concerns. She owns an enterprise of  retailing sarees and dress material for women which all needed funding. The women took photos of themselves with the products of Secret Pillow Project sharing the skilled work they are capable of doing. They approached the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare once again. They were sanctioned an amount of Rs.200,000/- as a group to have their micro-enterprise. Shankarama and Padma have been able to have a sewing machine through the project. 

When asked about their future dreams and plans, the women all shared that they wanted a better home for their family and intend to scale their income being more entrepreneurial.  They are thankful to Secret Pillow Project in making them realise their long standing dreams while giving them scope to dream bigger. 

Since Fashion Revolution was born, people everywhere are increasingly asking ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ Here at Secret Projects we invest a lot of time collaborating across the whole value chain: from the market sellers from whom we source our fabrics, all the way to our consumer. We are working for a more ethical and transparent fashion industry, and we hope to inspire positive change.

It has been incredibly exciting taking part in Fashion Revolution Week 2018, and we have loved sharing the stories of our makers with you. They inspire what we do, and we hope that they inspire you too. But let us keep the Fashion Revolution alive all year round, and always remember to ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’

So last but by no means least in our series of Meet the Makers interviews, we would like to introduce you to Shylaja.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I am Shylaja. I have two sons and I am the sole breadwinner of the family. I trained to become a tailor and that became our sole source of income. I was used to work in the garment factory for about 10 years. But the lack of breaks and paid leave, low wages, and stringent environment made me unwell. So I had to give up the job. I started sewing in my neighbourhood and do local jobs, and that is how I came across Secret Projects.

What do you enjoy most about being a maker?

With the money I earn, I have been able to pay for my sons’ education and I am able to manage my household finances.

What impact has being a maker had on you and your family’s life?

My family has been self-sufficient and has been able to cope through tough times when we have unforeseen expenses.

How does it make you feel?

I feel happy and also liberated. I have been invited to train other women to sew, and that makes me feel really very happy.

How does it compare to other jobs you have had?

I am much healthier and have the freedom to choose my schedule for the day, and so my work fits around my family life.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future?

I would like to own a boutique selling different fabrics and with a space to train other women to sew. I hope that other women have the same opportunities as me.

What would you like to say to the customers at Secret Projects?

I have to say that Secret Projects has been a blessing in my life. I have been able to clear some loans that I had building up and mend my sewing machine. I have also been able to pay for health check-ups. I am much healthier now.

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