October 18, 2020
In the wake of Covid-19, unfortunately, most of the Societymaker’s women’s husbands had lost their jobs and with the additional burden of the lockdown, the women were unable to come and work in our centre. After multiple follow-ups in April 2020, the team found out that the women require ration support, and therefore, we provided them ration for April and/or May 2020, depending on their needs.
In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the usage of face masks became a necessity. On the other hand, with no income and work, women faced financial challenges during the lockdown. However, the team saw this as an opportunity, and keeping this in mind, on 22nd April 2020, Agrasar’s Societymaker decided to engage in the production of cotton face masks to fight covid-19 by unmasking entrepreneurship and enabling livelihood opportunities for women in the community.
At first, our team started identifying women who knew to stitch and just needed some instructions and a little training. It all started from sourcing raw materials for masks and then they started training them for making masks by sharing videos via virtual communication tools, having video calls, and giving measurements over phone calls. Once they made an accurate sample, they started the mask production. Women were advised to follow all the safety protocols while carrying out the work. They maintained social distancing and cleanliness of hands while handling fabric and sanitized their sewing machines. It did take a lot of effort while coordinating with all the women over phone calls. But as they say, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way.’ So, we were not deterred.
We are making masks of cotton cambric fabric which is breathable. Our women artisans said, “Ma’am, kapda to bahut acha hain jisse hum mask bana rahe hai'. (Ma’am, the cloth material for mask making is good).” It was beyond our imagination and we felt extremely happy when they themselves suggested the measurements as per their experiences and understanding. In our daily conversations with the women, they shared that they feel it is becoming a little difficult to work from home. They need guidance for cutting and stitching. Additionally, they miss being physically present at our centre. In spite of these challenges, they continued their learning, unlearning, and relearning.
Eventually, the team received many bulk orders from individuals, organizations, residential societies, etc, and hence in May 2020, Agrasar launched 'Beejna', a social enterprise dedicated to producing eco-friendly, safe, comfortable, and affordable cotton masks handcrafted by women in the communities of Gurugram. Beejna |बीजणा is a local word for a ‘hand held fan’ used in villages of North India. Our masks remind of those locally made eco-friendly household products that used to comfort us all. Made in the communities of Gurugram, just like traditional Beejnas, our masks are equally loved by everyone irrespective of age, gender, religion, income group, and what not!
Marking the presence in the e-commerce space, we launched our website and listed our products at Amazon, Flipkart to increase the outreach of our products across India. Our offline sales channels included sales through centre and bulk orders from NGOs, Government departments, factories, corporate executives, and residential societies and made 22 gift hampers for Acumen Fund Trust.
There are 40 women who have been working in Sikanderpur and Sukhrali in the production of cotton masks. Each woman is earning INR 8 per mask, which has helped her to earn at least INR 3000 - INR 6000 per month, enabling them to meet the ration and other household expenses. Moreover, in the span of 6 months, women have sold over 50,000 cotton masks.
~ Encouragement from Customer
"The masks are very comfortable to wear and we can wear them for a long time like during office time also. We have distributed these masks to our security guards, maids, and to other friends, wearing these comfort cotton masks are more effective than wearing no mask at all. The fabric used is closely weaved that can protect us from viruses."
- Gurpreet, Orchid Island
In July, Beejna introduced 'Beejna Bandhan', an assorted collection of masks and rakhi gift combos for brothers and sisters to send the gift of safety. Thus, the women were engaged in making products such as handcrafted crochet rakhi, kalamkari cotton stoles, face masks, and jute bags to create beautiful gift hampers for the Rakhi festival and sold 28 gift hampers.
The team has identified 4 women who have demonstrated leadership and assumed their responsibility through this initiative. Since the master trainers and coordinators were not physically present at the centre, 4 women took leadership in training their fellow-mates in stitching masks and also ensured that women received the raw material for producing the masks. The masks have diversified over the months and are available in different sizes to cater to both children and adults and in a variety of designs, patterns, and shades of color. Besides, 40 women have been trained in basic stitching and 20 in advanced stitching. So far, at least 32 women have regularly been engaged in the production and participated in various online sessions on life skills and enterprising skills.
~ Encouragement from Customer
“We have distributed your handmade reusable masks to factory workers. They all are highly satisfied and appreciate the quality of masks. These are super hits for this summer, as they can absorb sweat and are easily washable at home. Thank you for providing cotton masks at reasonable prices.”
- Parul, New Delhi
Let’s meet our wonder women:
Sangeeta Devi expressed, “Main din raat mehnat karti hu, taki jyada se jyada mask banakar de pau, kyoki mask banakar jo paisa milta hain usse ghar ka ration kharidte hain.”“(I work hard day and night so that I am able to stitch as many masks as I can and then purchase ration from the money that is earned from it.)”As a matter of fact, she was the one who motivated others in her colony to be a part of the production of masks!
Anita Devi’s husband lost his job and our Societymaker centre was closed during the lockdown. With no savings, it became difficult to survive. In April 2020, she received a call from Sushila, our master trainer, and told her that we would start making masks.
Anita was thrilled on hearing this and said, “Ma’am main mask banaugi aur kuch paise kamakar apna ghar bhi chala paungi.” (“Ma’am, I will make masks and with the money that I earn, I will be able to run my house).”
With optimism and determination, she was eager to understand the process of stitching masks. After a few practices, she was able to make a perfect sample.
There was no turning back and she began making masks in full swing. Now, she says,“Mask banane ke paise mile, ek sukun sa mila. Ghar kharch aur apne baccho ki jarurato ko pura kar saki”, (I received the money from making masks and this brought some respite. I was able to meet household expenses and the needs of my children).”
Pooja from Sukhrali turned the tides in her favor. Setting herself on a chair, she started the sewing machine to stitch handmade masks. In a span of 15 days, she stitched 1500 masks and earned INR 12000. She had borrowed the hand sewing machine at home from someone else and with this incentive, she purchased a manual sewing machine with a stand and table costing INR 4500. The rest of the money was spent on ration and household expenses. She joyfully shared that “Ab maine khud ki ek nayi machine kharid li hai aur aage jakar bhi main order par silayi ka kaam karke, apna ghar kharch chala paugi aur paisa save karugi.”
(“I have now bought a new sewing machine and I will take up stitching work on an order basis so that I am capable enough to run my house and start saving).”
Her husband and two daughters also helped her by cutting the elastics. The whole family was involved in easing her workload. To this day, all of them wear the masks that Pooja has stitched and she feels elated and proud that she is able to support her family with her hard-earned money.
In mid-April, Anju received a call from Societymaker that the work would begin soon for making masks. She told her husband and he was supportive of the idea. The stitching began and within a matter of 2.5 - 3 weeks, Anju was able to stitch 2000 masks and earned INR 8000. Initially, she took a little time to acquire the skill but with experience, she was able to pace up.
She shared that she, along with her husband wore the mask and her husband was surprised to know the capability of her wife in stitching a fine mask. They also shared that the masks are breathable and easily washable.
Guddi Devi shared that after this experience of making masks, she feels more confident and plans to start her own small business and bring more economic opportunities to their community.
We can proudly say that like Guddi, Sangeeta, Anita, Anju, and Pooja, there are more than 40 women now who are also engaged in handcrafting masks. By sewing face masks, women are not just contributing to protecting the health and safety of the society's individuals, corporate, drivers, domestic help, cleaners, migrant population, etc, but also enhancing their stitching and enterprising skills while continuing to persevere with zeal and confidence in their learning journey. We are continually inspired by the stories of our incredible women social entrepreneurs around us. As they say, they love what they are doing while protecting themselves and society.