Building Financial Stability

Sabala Handicrafts's path to Empowering Women

As one of 11 siblings, Dr. Mallama Yalawar was born at a time when educating girls wasn’t a priority for families in her community. To pay for her schooling, the young girl worked on farms as a daily wage laborer. From her experiences and observations, Dr. Yalawar reached the conclusion that empowerment for women wouldn't be possible until they achieved economic stability in their lives.

Dr. Yalawar established Sabala Handicrafts in 1986 as an NGO with the goal to create jobs for widows, destitutes, tribals, physically challenged girls and women and economically-impoverished women. The organization is based in the District of Bijapur of North Karnataka in South India and currently supports over 300 women from six Lambani settlements, four villages, and the slums of Bijapur.

In developing programs to help women generate income, Dr. Yalawar reviewed numerous handcrafts that weren’t dependent on electricity and that allowed the women to work from their homes. Embroidery, which is traditionally passed from generation to generation between mother and daughter, fit the need. And as it turned out, many of the artisans—especially those in the tribal villages—mastered embroidery early on in their lives. Instruction and training in other handcraft processes and techniques are provide by the organization.

Sabala's artisans use traditional craft techniques, but designers also examine what the current market trends. Contemporary designs are created by a set of designers on staff. Wool is one of the primary materials used, which is dyed first and then given to a group of weavers. The finished textile is cut to size for the specific product and a sample of the final product s dispatched to the workers’ villages for the stitching and embroidery, lining, leather and other embellishments. Once the products have passed quality control inspections, they are sold to various retailers in the Australia, France, Italy, Spain and the United States.

Sabala’s women have faced a number of obstacles including resistance by family members in a patriarchal society that frowns upon economic independence. The single-most challenge was for them to receive any type of financial support from banks. To further help their employees acquire loans, Sabala established Chaitanya Mahila Co-Operative Bank in 1995. Today, the bank has over 7,000 active members and 25,000 customers.

Retail and wholesale buyers will get a chance to view Sabala Handicrafts products from August 16-19 at Artisan Resource @NY NOW in Manhattan at the Jacob Javits Center. Sabala will have on display bags, laundry baskets and home products in Jute and cotton. Consumers can purchase products at the company’s website.

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