How Hyderabad-based clothing label Kritikala provides livelihoods to women artisans, using ikat, kalamkari and Mangalagiri cotton

The Kritikala store at Shaikpet, Hyderabad, is the face of a collective of enterprising women who design garments and products using ikat, kalamkari and Mangalagiri cotton sourced from craft clusters in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Displayed on the racks and stacked on the shelves are garments for women seeking fashion and comfort. The store stays true to the ethos of the non-profit organisation that the label has emerged from — Kriti Social Initiatives.

The women who have tailored the garments on display, embellished with Lambadi embroidery, hail from low-income group households and have been trained in garment making and tailoring by the organisation. They also work on bulk orders for corporate gifts and delegate bags for large events. Also displayed on the shelves are lac bangles made by women artisans as part of a project named Pehchaan (identity).

Himani Gupta (centre) with a few members of Kriti social initiatives

Himani Gupta (centre) with a few members of Kriti social initiatives
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Handloom garments and accessories are among the organisation’s several focus areas over the last few years. Kriti social enterprise set up its production units with the help of Telangana State Minority Finance Corporation in the form of industrial tailoring machines that ensure good finish for the products. Kritikala was formally established in 2018, says Himani Gupta, director of the label who co-founded Kriti Social Initiatives (KSI) with Sreelata Chebrol.

The sustainability factor

Himani recalls that while launching the label, the idea was to tread on the path of sustainability in sourcing handlooms that use vegetable dyes, designing products that benefit the women who work on it as well as weaver clusters and are easy on the pockets for the buyers.

Most garments are priced under ₹2,000 and some under ₹3,000. “We find more takers for garments priced in the ₹1,500 to ₹1,800 bracket than those priced over ₹2,000,” says Shristy Kumari, a NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Design) alumnus who heads the design and production. 

The label primarily works with cottons for daily wear and rolls out a smaller collection in Chanderi silks for the winter-festive season. Plans are also on to design garments using ajrakh, bagru and other block print materials. “We want to gauge the response and then step up production,” says Shristy.

Some of the artisans who design Kritikala’s products

Some of the artisans who design Kritikala’s products
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

She observes that the women at the production units were adept in making bags, pouches, bedsheets and a few garments but the design ethos was mostly basic. Shristy helped tweak the design elements to cater to urban women who want trendy dresses, kurtas, skirts, tops and jumpsuits. Think halter neck long and short dresses, jacket dresses with applique and midi dresses.

Kritikala also has a collection of men’s shirts. A few women from the Banjara community, specialising in the Lambadi embroidery, trained the artisans. “The women at our units were quick to learn. The embroidery adds value to the garments and accessories,” adds the designer. Today, the product range extends to jackets, saris with embroidery, duffle bags, laptop bags, aprons, cushion covers, table runners and more. 

Learn, upskill

The garments and accessories are made by women who work at three small production units set up in different parts of Tolichowki, Hyderabad. “The units are within walking distance from where the women employees live, in each of these localities,” says Himani.

While 30 women work daily at the tailoring units, 30 embroidery artisans work from home. At the production units, a few specialise in garment cutting and pattern making, and others in tailoring. Those who are quick to learn are upskilled and given more responsibility and supervisory roles.

Himani Gupta

Himani Gupta
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

The late Suraiya Hasan, renowned in the handloom sector in Hyderabad, was among the first to encourage Himani and her team by handing over leftover handloom pieces that became useful to design patchwork products in the label’s initial stage.

Kritikala’s online presence began in 2020 and now the collections are available on their website, Instagram and Shopify. With the marketing budget remaining a challenge, Himani concedes that the main income comes from bulk corporate orders. Kritikala also participates in exhibitions hosted by the Crafts Council, Dastkar, GoCoop and others who provide a platform for those working with the handloom and craft sectors. 

On average, the women at the tailoring units earn between ₹8,000 and ₹15,000 per month, depending on the orders, and the embroidery artisans earn between ₹3,000 and ₹5,000.

In the months ahead, the label hopes to increase its visibility on social media for online sales, but Himani hopes for more walk-ins at the store. She is also pitching the idea of designing handloom shirts and kurtas as corporate employee gifts.

Healthcare to education and skills training

Himani is a chemical engineer and an MBA who worked with the corporate sector before taking up an assignment with a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru; she then moved to Hyderabad and established Kriti in 2009 with Sreelata. The initial focus was in the primary health care sector; the organisation helped establish clinics for low income groups. 

Some of the women at Kriti Social Initiative’s tailoring unit

Some of the women at Kriti Social Initiative’s tailoring unit

Later, Kriti began focusing on education and skills training. The education arm mobilises scholarships for students who are at high risk of dropping out of school, raises funds for infrastructure of government schools, helps place teachers in government schools on request and conducts computer training for students. The skills training arm has tailoring and beautician courses. 

Among the vocational training centres set up, four teach tailoring and three train women in beautician courses. The tailoring workshops are at Suraram, Bhoiguda,Talab Katta and Nallagutta. A four-month tailoring course has approximately 100 women learning the skill sets. These units use domestic tailoring machines and the women are trained in garment cutting, pattern making and tailoring. Himani explains, “Nearly 80% of the women use the skill to tailor their own clothes and for their families and friends while 20% look at it as a means of employment. All the women leave with the confidence that if required, they can use their skills to earn.”

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