Meet the Entrepreneur Who Has Revolutionized the Lives of Over 22,000 Women
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It takes a strong woman to transform her life but it takes a commanding visionary to transform the life of 22,000 women. Walking on the stage, dressed in a handcrafted traditional skirt, headcover with a veil is a Rajasthani villager Ruma Devi, an award-winning designer.
Holding the prestigious Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar Award by IMC Ladies Wing, Ruma Devi is an ideal example of having the courage to break the traditional bondage and being the empowering rural fashion icon.
She might not don the most glamorous couture but her clientele consists of eminent designers globally who travel to Barmer to associate with her for iconic style and talent.
The 30-year-old grew up in Rawsar (Barmer district) has gone through some of the toughest times. At the age of four, she lost her mom, dropout out of the school in the 8th grade and got married at the tender age of 17. Soon she lost her first child and found solace in her life with embroidery.
"When I gave birth to my first child, I wanted to forget all my sadness and live a happy life. But this joy lasted only two days as I lost my child as well. I felt stifled and broken for a very long time after which I decided, I will not sit at home, I will work," she recalled.
During tough times, we often give up and blame the universe. She, on the other hand, re-stitched her career from Barmer patchwork and Kasidakari embroidery. She is a motif of change that has created a network of 22,000 women in Rajasthan making them self-reliant by providing them a stable job.
"What could a veiled illiterate woman do? I thought I’ll continue with kasidakari embroidery that I used to love doing as a kid with my grandmother. For stitching, I required a machine and didn’t have money. To gather money, I spoke to ten women in my neighborhood and as a group, we bought a secondhand machine. That’s how we started working," she said.
Once she started excelling in her career, she wanted to help others out.
"We went to multiple villages and motivated women. The ladies were motivated to work but the men in their houses wanted them to stick to household chores. I insisted that men should let them work for 2 or 3 hours every day. Once these ladies were successful, more joined us. Once they started supporting the household, their families also started appreciating their work," she said.
There was a time when her in-laws were against her stepping out of the house. She had to battle the Purdah System (the practice of covering one’s face). Soon her willpower and determination won the battle. Today, her family is not just thrilled with her growth but her mother-in-law and sister-in-law also do the embroidery work from home.
The growth has been such that they have showcased and exhibited their designs at Germany’s Heim Textile, Singapore, Colombo, Thailand, followed by London Fashion Week and Colombo Fashion Week as well.
Ruma Devi's next step is to help more 1,50,000 artisans who are not highly skilled to manufacture products suitable for the market. "A few foundations and NGOs are working with us in some villages. This way, we want to work in different villages and create a large network of women and take their products to the market," she smiles.
For those who fear to break the barriers, the significantly talented designer gives a strong message. "I believe that whenever a woman will go out to work, she will face problems in society. If they don’t pay heed to it and concentrate on their work, they will succeed. This is what happened to me. When I started working, a lot of people taunted me which I avoided. Therefore, I am successful today. Since I had to do everything myself, I became a designer, I modeled and did marketing as well," she shares.
In a country like India, where women are still finding their way and trying to find a presence, Ruma Devi is a true genius who rightly defines a self-made woman. In her words, "A woman who is successful and knows her rights is independent and modern."
(This article was first published in the March issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)