TAMIL NADU

Sewing livelihoods

Lakshmi Meera provides free tailoring workshops for rural women at her South India Institute of Fashion Technology. Parshathy J. Nath reports

The sound of 34 feet working furiously on the pedals of the sewing machines greets you at the South India Institute of Fashion Technology. It is a school for fashion that offers many courses to students interested in fashion designing. But there is more to it. The 34 feet are of rural women who are participating in a free tailoring programme, offered by this institute that teaches them how to tailor frocks and shirts. Lakshmi Meera, founder of the institute, walks around suggesting alterations and making corrections. From hard-and-fast rules of tailoring, the conversation gradually shifts to the day-today problems faced by these women. Some talk about their marital troubles, while the others complain about the lack of safety in their villages. Lakshmi knows a lot about these women. “Many of them face so many hurdles,” she says. “Often they do not have the money to pay even their house rent. This tailoring class means a lot to them, as they can earn right from home. It is a huge opportunity for these women to earn. Some of them never handled a machine. Seeing how successful this workshop is, we have also started a similar programme in Pollachi. Eighty-two women have joined, there,” she says with pride. “Fashion is a labour intensive industry. No matter how mechanised everything gets, you always need tailors to keep it going.” Apart from producing professional designers every year, who find their way to fashion companies and design departments in Tamil films, The institute has also introduced these free tailoring programmes to make the rural women self-sufficient. Lakshmi is upbeat about how the programme has turned out. “It is a huge opportunity for these women to earn. Some of them never even knew to handle the machine. Seeing the success here, we also started a branch in Pollachi, just for this programme. Eighty-two women have joined, there,” she says. “Fashion is a labour intensive industry. However it gets mechanised, you need the tailors to keep it going.”

Even though her specialisation was in applied science and computer technology in college, Lakshmi was always interested in business management. In fact, she assisted her husband in his textile business. That was when the idea for setting up an institute for fashion technology came to her. “I was handling the exports segment. Once my two daughters started going school, I felt I should do something of my own. ”

The institute began with five students in 2005. Lakshmi recalls the reaction of some parents who wanted to enrol their children in the institute.

“‘Can a boy study fashion?’ and ‘Will you make my daughter walk on the ramp, wearing skimpy clothes?’, were frequently asked questions. I had to convince them that fashion was not just about ramp walk, and that some of the greatest designers in the world were men.”

Ten years down, she says things have changed. “Coimbatore has changed. The parents allow their children to experiment. Also, people are willing to invest. We watch television and we are up-to-date with the latest trends in fashion.”

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