We all remember the luxury of a family tailor visiting our homes, or rushing to his shop at the last moment to give measurements for bespoke suits, uniforms, traditional outfits and other day-to-day clothes.
The masterji with a measuring tape around his neck would jot down your measurements with a blue chalk on the fabric, in tandem with his protégé spelling out the measurements. Pages of torn, earmarked, old and new magazines were flipped to check out new designs. Once the design was finalised, the dependable masterji made a pattern on the fabric before it went for cutting and stitching. The turnaround time typically depended on the family rapport with the masterji. A sense of nostalgia?
Modern Day Tailors
Cut to the present day, larger-than-life boutiques and designer stores sprawled across malls, markets and the advent of women designers armed with latest designs, techniques and the works.
In some tier-2 and many tiers-3 towns, the old traditional masterji is still the flag-bearer designer for families, but in big cities, though omnipresent, his job has been altered. With new-age designers coming in, masterjis are now seen taking measurements and making patterns after consulting designers with professional degrees.
Tailors with a sewing machine perched on a wooden table are still prevalent, but largely for quick alteration jobs and sometimes to stitch the everyday wearable. Their skill sets are unmatched, the art of designing is orally passed down from generation to generation but the problem is, it is passed on to mainly male family members or protégés in the age-old
Skill sets are rarely passed on to female members. Women in tailoring households and even in the industry are merely given the task of sewing. Women masterjis are few and far between.
Gayatri: The Female Mastrji
Enter Gayatri Jolly, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who is trying to change this very fabric of the garment industry, where the 'masterji' tag is synonymous with a male tailor. While growing up in Delhi, Gayatri was privy to this ground reality.
Though her innate love for the fashion industry took her to Parson Art and Design School in New York, she could not get over the thought that the industry lacked women masterjis.
Silai centres are filled with women, but the industry is filled with men," says Gayatri. "Why is that masterjis are always men? It is not the curriculum, but the mindset. 70 percent of the garment workforce in India comprises of women, but you will not find women in top rung jobs in manufacturing which includes pattern makers and fabric cutters. If you take the example of 'Khandani Darjis', the skill goes down from one generation to the next, from the father to the son and then his son. I am sure they have sisters, why aren't they being taught?"
Gayatri decided to cut away from the traditional pattern and began the journey of MASTERG - a skill and development programme for women from marginalised communities. But this was not the first time she was dealing with such women. She had earlier worked in Adharshila, an NGO run by her mother.
MASTERG was started with a particular aim - enable these women to find jobs in the industry and create entrepreneurs. With three centres in Tigri, Tughlakabad and Gwal Pahadi in Delhi, MASTERG charges Rs 250 a month for a one-year graduate training course. The training centres operate independently with the help of CSR funding from Fena Foundation and ASF Infrastructure.
Tailoring The Women Empowerment
We visited the Tigri centre which was filled with women of various age groups. The passionate bunch was learning the art of designing from an experienced masterji who moved swiftly between students as they raised their hands and called out for him.
From a corner of the room came the sound of a few children playing with measuring tapes while others were distracted by the new age toy, the mobile phone. I must admit, it was heartening to see the toddlers keeping themselves busy, unaware that their mothers were learning life skills so that they could give their children a bright future.
"We encourage the girls to know how to use technology, figure out what's in fashion, what are the trends. Let's say, if everyone is asked to design a type of dress, they have to come up with their own research of what they think the market wants right now. Based on that research they make a technical drawing, which is what the industry would find in a tech pack, and then from there comes the step of pattern making. Next step is cutting the fabric and then the sewing and the high-quality finishing which would be accepted by the industry," says Gayatri.
Within two years of operation, MASTERG has trained 400 women. The enrollment is done every six months with 150 girls per batch. So where do the trained women go from here? They either turn entrepreneurs, setting up their own shops or find jobs in export houses and independent designers that MASTERG facilitates.
Some of them land a job in Gayatri's own business venture - contract manufacturing of garments at a factory in Okhla. This month, Gayatri will launch her own brand of clothes. "we have hired about six girls at the moment and the vision is to bring in more women from these training centres to our factory, says Gayatri. "This month, we are going to launch our own brand called 'Heimat', which in German means homecoming or a sense of belonging. The girls are very involved in the design process, we have a co-creative, collaborative process on design."
Though there is a sense of belonging in the training centres, the women have their own share of challenges - some perceivable and some unperceivable. Changing their mindset has been the biggest challenge, according to Gayatri.
"The women don't see themselves in the role of authority and don't have the confidence to follow through… it takes a lot of counselling and a lot of support," she says.
Sometimes the confidence infused through training also wears off. "An interview was lined up for a girl at one of India's largest garment export houses. She declined the night before… her drunk father came on the phone and started abusing. I felt helpless but sad for her. But that doesn't mean you stop doing the work," says Gayatri.Gayatri says that it is due to her love for fashion, garments and the industry that she is using her skills as a medium to bring about change. "We need to ask questions about everything and not accept things that people tell us just because it's been going on in a certain way for so many generations."