Banana fibre and sustainable business: empowering the baskets weavers of India

It’s not easy making a living out of weaving banana plant fibre into baskets. But if you organise artisans into production units, develop products suited to markets all over the world and create demand by collaborating with global brands like ours, you have a thriving sustainable business. Here’s how H&M Group is supporting Bangalore Greenkraft, which is empowering women in Madurai, India.

9 Aug, 2019
This social entrepreneurship initiative has enabled women with creative skills to lift themselves out of poverty and pursue their future with dignity.

Female empowerment

The busy production facility in Madurai is full of small groups of women in saris and short-sleeved shirts. All sit crossed-legged on the floor, their long hair braided in the traditional style. Each embraces the creative project in front of them: a basket here, a bag there… And judging by the stage of progress that each one has reached, the workers appear to be completely in sync with each other.

Perhaps that’s because the efforts of each group are coordinated by a female “micro enterprise leader” employed to oversee day-to-day production. Trained in entrepreneurship, ownership, business and finance management, quality control, compliance, market development, lean manufacturing and more, these leaders know what they’re doing. And they’re a rare breed in a country where leadership positions are most commonly held by men.
 

Having a far more decent livelihood than their average female counterpart elsewhere, these women have the opportunity to improve their health, nutrition and education (they can take training courses in financial literacy, life skills and micro enterprise leadership) – none of which can be taken for granted in a nation where the rich-poor divide is massive.

Run and led by women

Like a sisterhood, Bangalore Greenkraft Madurai is mainly run by women and led by women. Each weaver wears a smile that speaks of inner contentment and satisfaction – doubtless partly due to the favourable terms and conditions they are offered here. Benefits include standard working hours, safe working conditions and fair wages. Having a far more decent livelihood than their average female counterpart elsewhere, these women have the opportunity to improve their health, nutrition and education (they can take training courses in financial literacy, life skills and micro enterprise leadership) – none of which can be taken for granted in a nation where the rich-poor divide is massive. Not only that: the working environment is free from harassment and child labour. It also provides an opportunity to engage in dialogue with others (women elsewhere who are confined to the home often lack a social life) and – most importantly – to enjoy a sense of accomplishment and the empowering feeling of financial independence. All of the producers have their own bank accounts, and 60 per cent have savings.

 

“Now that I’m earning, I can withdraw money from the ATM on my own. I am no longer dependent on my husband.”

Presana, weawer, Bangalore Greencraft Madurai

One weaver, Prasanna, says: “Now that I’m earning, I can withdraw money from the ATM on my own. I am no longer dependent on my husband.” Her colleague Muthumari left her previous job to work here because the hours were so good and it was closer to home.

While women have much to gain from this kind of social entrepreneurship initiative, so does the rest of the world. For the results of their creativity is a range of durable, environmentally sound household wares and accessories that are full of ethnic charm and ageless beauty – just the kinds of qualities that our customers appreciate.
 

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