Life & Style

A close-knit sisterhood

Veronique Thomassin (64) arrived in Mamallapuram 12 years ago with a mission to set up a business model which will employ only women and provide them a livelihood. But the task was not easy and it was a long struggle.

A close-knit sisterhood

“In 1996, when I came to Mamallapuram as a tourist, it used to be like a prison. No cabs, autos or no ATMs... and it was less populated and there were no roads either,” reminisces Veronica Thomassin, the 64-year-old French entrepreneur behind Akka Creations, an online clothing and accessories store, based out of Mamallapuram.

When she left India for France, she planned to return, but not as a tourist, instead she decided to establish a business that would provide jobs and impart skills for women. Thomassin was working as a photographer in Paris then and was keen on empowering women in villages in India by involving them in her business. She returned to Mamallapuram in 2005 without any concrete plans. That is when she started teaching patch work to the women in the villages nearby.

A close-knit sisterhood

“Adapting myself to the local culture was a challenge, and language was a big barrier as my mother tongue is French. I managed with little English I knew. I was in awe of the sensibility of the women in the neighbouring villages who were receptive to any ideas I shared or suggestions I provided.

After a few months, I recruited Lakshmi Murugan, from Poonjeri village, who knew the basics of tailoring, and started developing products and outfits using cotton fabrics, and named my venture Aval Creations,” recalls Thomassin.

A close-knit sisterhood

As years passed by, more women joined Thomassin as it assured them a steady income and safe workplace. Says 44-year-old Lakshmi Murugan, “I was keen on educating my children and I could hardly make ends meet with the meagre amount I was making by tailoring costumes for villagers. When Veronique came forward and offered a full time job six months after the tsunami struck, I took it up.”

Today, the company is called Akka Creations, where about 45 women from Poonjeri, Venpurusham, Kokkalamedu, Pattipulam, Elanthoppu and Devaneri villages work. “The company van picks us from our doorstep and drops back. It is a 10 to 6 job, where we get to do our chores at home and also earn a good amount every month,” says Radha Jayakumar. Today, Lakshmi’s daughter is pursuing her engineering degree and her son is in Class 12.

A close-knit sisterhood

“I think Akka Creations is apt name. I call them all akka and they also call each other akka. The products are handmade by these women ,” says Thomassin.

While 30 women are involved in tailoring, there are 12 other women trained in art, craft and painting. “I have found one fantastic carpenter who is immensely creative and develops such artistic products, a painter who teaches miniature paintings and an automobile painter who is good in spray painting, who joined the team recently. Apart from these three men, the rest of the staff are women,” she points out.

The employees get paid anywhere between ₹3,000 to ₹14,000, based on skill and years of experience, and there is an annual raise.

A close-knit sisterhood

“I have started teaching them spoken English, meditation, yoga and also using the Internet. The akkas are always willing and enthusiastic to learn everything, but a bit hesitant to learn Yoga as they need to change costumes. So I am teaching them meditation instead,” Thomassin says.

“Today the company runs like clockwork. The akkas manage all the affairs themselves, be it a fault in machine or buying raw materials. Our accountant Padma was 16 when she joined me; and, today, she is 24 and has learnt accounting software and is groomed by the auditors so well that she single handedly manages all the accounts,” says Thomassin.

“So am confident and assured that in future even if I am not around, Akka Creations will run seamlessly.”

Mahabs to Paris

Thomassin says that a huge chunk of her customer base is from France, parts of Europe and the US. The demand for good quality cotton outfits are sought after.

A close-knit sisterhood

“Our patch work curtains and all kinds of bags are fastest moving. In US, we are known for very big size tunics, and when compared to stores over there, it is much cheaper. We also ship it free of cost and every order is sent with a gift or two. “But our prices seem steep for Indian customers.

So in our store in Mamallapuram, the sales is mostly supported by the tourists. Akka Creation’s annual clearance sale begins on from May 25 till June 7, where all items in the shop will be sold at a 20 to 45 per cent discount. The shop is located @ 28, Othavadai Street, Mamallapuram. For details, call 27442113.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 7:03:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/how-akka-creations-empowers-the-women-of-mamallapuram/article23913921.ece

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