Bags of Mekalamaradi reach the fashion streets of Europe

Just as the bus screeches to a halt at Mekalamaradi Cross near Gokak at day break, a group of women is seen briskly walking towards a building without a board. It is an old godown with some work sheds.

As many as 40 women sit on the floor, cleaning jute, grass and cotton pieces, boiling them to separate the fibre, weaving and knitting pieces, and stitching them together. These women, unlettered and from a remote village in the State, have built an internationally respected brand of women’s accessories.

Brand Mitan

Bags and accessories made from natural material, by the women of Mekalamaradi, are ending up on the shoulders of women in Europe. Bags made of jute, bamboo and grass fibre, being sold under the brand Mitan, have a following in France, Italy and England. This is apart from the steady market they enjoy in India.

Women of Mitan group in Mekalamaradi in Belagavi district preparing fibre from natural materials.

Women of Mitan group in Mekalamaradi in Belagavi district preparing fibre from natural materials. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

This, however, did not happen overnight. Over two decades ago, a group of women from Mekalamaradi village got together to listen to a young Jesuit priest who had been organising skill training sessions for farmers.

He was Jose Chenakala of Jana Jagarana, one of the organisations run by the NGO Shramik Abhivruddhi Sangha, a unit of the Goan Jesuits.

He had taken up residence in the village and had been training farmers in watershed development and improved farming practices. Rev. Fr. Jose wanted to find a source of stable employment for the poor women of the village. He got in touch with his friend N.B. Gopikrishna, NGO mentor and handicrafts promoter.

Mr. Gopikrishna who had worked with tribal communities in the north-eastern States, suggested that women make value-added products using locally available material.

Thus began Mitan, in a skill training centre that was built with the support of Indian and external funding agencies.

“The first three years were hard. After that, the women imbibed the skills of processing fibre and making a variety of bags and accessories. They began making bags, hats, laundry baskets, belts and wallets. We were surprised at the new designs that the village women came up with, that the elite users in Europe found useful,” says Mr. Gopikrishna. He says that the success of this group led to several groups taking up production of accessories and cloth using natural fibres.

Website launched

A few years ago, a friend of Mr. Gopikrishna helped the women launch their website www.mitan.in, which contains a catalogue of their products and also takes orders.

After hand-holding the group for a few years, the Jesuits ensured that the women’s group could manage its own affairs. Dastagir Jamadar, a local youth with an entrepreneurial spirit, began managing the group’s day to day affairs. “They export bags and accessories worth around ₹ 1 lakh per month,” he said.

“As many as 42 women are gainfully employed through this enterprise. They are members of various self-help groups and they regularly save money,” Mr. Jamadar informed.

The skills have been passed on from generation to generation. “I used to work here. Now my daughter-in-law comes to work,” said Akkamma Basavantappa, a member of the group. She pointed out that the new generation of women use smartphones to spread the word about their products and expand their markets. Mitan has helped scores of women send their children to school and dream of a better life.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2022 8:37:02 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/bags-of-mekalamaradi-reach-fashion-streets-of-europe/article65592939.ece