Of courage and creation: The Making of Umbara’s ‘Unlock Series’

It hasn’t been easy at all, for anyone, to make the most of the lockdown. These are uncertain times, and life is now more than ever a factor of what we do with it. The unusual thing at Umbara, something that gives us strength and joy, is the tenacity of the team not to bow down to difficult situations. It is important for us to chronicle the learnings and the breakthroughs that the team worked with to overcome the situations that being closer to grassroots often entails.

Barriers and their breaking
For women, a usual barrier is the inability to step out of their homes, there is the pressure of managing the household, juggling responsibilities, and the inevitable restrictions brought by family commitments and personal issues. When Team Umbara decided to work with them in the lockdown, these factors were the first things kept in mind. In conversation, Rama brings up more points - “remote production was determined by two aspects - not all those who have the urge to grow can be close by, and my own limitations on traveling due to health reasons.” All these factors could have been enough to hamper any idea, any enterprise. However, we are fortunate and proud to prevail.

Rama set up a remote learning and production chain. The women involved in this project came from underprivileged backgrounds. Not all of them had access to all facilities that would have aided this project. In such a scenario, it took great planning and patience and to pull off what our group of women did. 

How it worked
Team Umbara started from scratch - establishing a common platform to communicate with the women at a distance. We encouraged women to use readily available  technology to work with us. Once this common ground was established, we spent the next few days listening to stories about the lives of women - where they came from, what they go through, where they want to get to. This process is not just a rapport-establishing effort - it is a deep, guided look into the very fabric of a woman’s life.

The next steps involved doing work that would bring their inner balance to the fore, and help guide them into a state of stability. 

Of Drawcords and ‘Laadis’
Our production process was oriented towards being a sort of psychological support system for the women we worked with. Usually, any sort of production regards the people involved in it as a pair of hands that will do a certain amount of work. At Umbara, we’ve woven in the humanity of a person that we work with into our approach to creation of any kind. So for us, it was as important to make sure that the process brings support and warmth to women, as it was for us to have a line of products at the end of it (or perhaps even less).

The women started off with a task that seems fairly mechanical - putting together drawcords, or ‘naadas/laadis’ out of waste fabric. This simple task served a dual purpose. On one hand, it let the women slowly integrate themselves into feeling like they’re a part of a group together, and on the other, it helped them streamline their thoughts due to the linear nature of the work itself. 

The women stitched piles and piles of scrap fabric into drawcords. Later, when they felt a little more grounded, creatively and psychologically, they set to segregating these drawcords according to size and colour combinations. Possibilities then started emerging from this pile of ‘laadis’, and products slowly emerged from it.

Who would’ve thought that the humble ‘naada’ could bring forth such balance, peace, and creativity for a group of women? It came as wonderful learning for us, when Parimala for example, connected these drawcords to shoes - since she didn’t have the kind she would like, Parimala decided to create footwear out of these drawcords. She also repurposed her son’s unworn pants to create cloth bags.

‘Chindi’ Ki Baat
The little scraps of cloth that we used are called ‘chindis’ in most local languages. These small scraps are what introduced the sustainability element in our work. We used the discarded parts of fresh cloth, collected from many sources. These little chindis were actually the foundation of all of our work. Apart from the key element of sustainability that they bring, there’s also a lot of psychology that went into the very integration of chindis in our production process.  

Finally, after a 4-month period of learning, teaching, listening, and creating, the women of Umbara unveiled their work - a stunning collection of upcycled, sustainable, handmade products that add colour to all lives that it touches. Take a look!

Get Kitschy with the Unlock Series
Each handmade product that you see is a labour of love. Our women have created colourful and elegant products ranging from cloth pads to stationery holders, saree bags to shoes, jackets to cat mats, and so much more. Take your pick from our wide range of sustainable style options, as you contribute to the bettering of lives. With each product that you buy from Umbara, you use your power to directly uplift the life of a woman with many capabilities and strengths.

Working with women is distinctly different, in that the potential to grow and flourish is already intrinsic to them. All that’s needed is the right support and a little holding - words alien to the systems of large-scale manufacturing and production. In the face of this drive to commercialize, the women of Umbara have held their own. There were dangers, like Rama says, “When we at Umbara say that we turned the ship around during lockdown without capsizing, the possibility of moving too fast or being still for far too long was definitely there. However, the poised and nuanced exploration of their personal potential through a new style of communication is what this series and these products represent. These are not mass-produced, piece-rate products - they are things that represent a journey of revival.”

The base for our cloth shoes, made with love by the women of Umbara. Shop now!

When you visit our products and our website this time around, we hope you see the journey of the mind and the heart behind those products. We hope you realize the journey, the stories and support that have gone behind our efforts. Do spend a little time thinking about how small scraps of cloth come together to build a support system for a woman. And think about how you can pitch in or help out. We’d love to hear from you!


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