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The Red Orchid project

Tailoring in India presents challenges that can be costly and time-consuming. When we came across a sewing business that matched our organisation’s values and standards, it felt like a godsend. Blossoms is a tailoring business run by Raja, in a small town called Auroville in South India. We have been working together for a few years now, with great results.

At the end of 2016, Raja needed help to grow Blossoms’ operations. It takes at least three months for new trainees to reach the standard that Blossoms requires, and during this time, the trainees are not producing finished garments. Covering the costs during this non-productive time is a difficult task for Raja.

As a result, Red Orchid was born.

Red Orchid is our programme to financially support women in difficult circumstances to learn the art of quality stitching by hand and machine. Jointly run by Seed to Self and Blossoms, the programme is currently working with two Indian women – Saranya and Lakshmi – to upskill and empower them to full employment. Raja trains them up, and Seed to Self covers the cost for this three-month training period.

Production will soon be finished on a small range of our completely organic cotton hand painted dress and tops.

Raja’s story

“Like so many of Indians, I come from a poor background, but I am proud of what I have made of myself given the circumstances of my childhood. I finally went to school at the age of 15 at New Creation and Last School in Auroville, in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. I later joined Auroville as a community member.

I meet my furture wife, Auromeera in Auroville. We married young, a love marriage not supported by Auromeera’s or my parents. We were poor but happy living in a hut with no bathroom that we shared by others. I worked as a taxi driver and Meera at the Auroville Visitors centre. Auromode, a fashion label and production house asked me to join them as the factory driver picking up and dropping of the workers and doing errands. Meera joined the Auroville Dental Centre as a trainee dental assistant

Finally we got a small house which seemed like palace to us! Auropremi, our first child arrived in 1977. I stopped working at Auromode and obtained work experience managing and co-ordinating teams of gardeners and construction workers. After three year I become more adventureous and opened a taxi company with friends. This turned out to be disastrous painfully huge learning curve.  Rivalry between villages was and is still prolific and volatile. Business are destroyed in an instant. During this period Auromeera was pregnant with our second child, so she and was not working.

I rejoined  Auromode with guts and determinations. Prema the director of Auromode took me under her wing and taught me everything about the fashion design and production company. Finally I was running all departments including all aspects of production which I supervised for 10 years.

Prema become terminally ill. Before she died she encouraged me to start me own production unit to take care of the production team and keep them together. I am now a registered within the Auroville Trust and my unit is called Blossoms. I have recently moved to a bigger premise. We do work with other fashion units in Auroville and with Theresa from Seed to Self. Theresa and I  have started a womens empowerment programme, Red Orchid, to teach two women per year to learn hand stitching and machining. We call it Red Orchid because this was Prema’s favourite flowers.”

Lakshmi’s story

Lakshmi lives in Pondicherry and it takes an hour and a half each way between work and home. Raja pays for her travel expenses to help ease the pressure, as he does for other members in the Blossoms team. Lakshmi has two sons and invests in their education as she feels this is very important for their future. One son is training as a chef and the younger son is still at school.

Lakshmi is learning quickly and well, and does what is asked of her. She is doing most sewing work and will next learn piping and zip stitching. She has learned how to do sleeve placement and collar work with good skill and results. Through her work with Blossom and participation in Red Orchid, Lakshmi has gained confidence in her ability overcome difficult circumstances, earn her own living and grow in a nurturing environment.

Saranya’s story

Saranya lives in Kuilapalayam, which is close to the Blossoms unit. She has a two-year-old son and, like Lakshmi, the wellbeing of her son is a priority. Her hope for the future is to provide for her family, gain stitching skills and work in a friendly and clean environment.

Saranya is currently learning the art of controlling her stitches; where to stop and where to go slow or medium speed. She has been practicing making Seed to Self envelop bags, and next, she will be given tops and dresses to sew. Saranya started the Red Orchid programme a month later than Lakshmi. She is managing very well and is working hard to catch up to Lakshmi’s work.