“I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard... We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” - Malala Yousafzai
Happy International Women’s Day (IWD), green heart-ers! Today is an important day to note, especially for our own SUI team. Being that Mahima founded SUI back in 2018 and coming from a background of female entrepreneurs, she was encouraged from an early age to build a team of women to guide as well as support. And so, you may have noticed that much of our core team are women. Beyond that, we also most obviously tailor our products and story towards and for women, our customers and their stories are also a huge part of this; we strive to collaborate with NGOs who empower women like WomenWeave, Use Me Works and Pins and Needles; and we aim to always raise fellow women's voices (entrepreneurs, artists, trailblazers and more) through spotlighting them on our platforms.
We believe that there's no special day needed to recognise the strength we hold as women, however, it's important to give this day the recognition that it deserves to appreciate and remind women that supporting each other is incredibly important to do at every opportunity. So, It’s safe to say that we will be celebrating this day with fervour by appreciating women who have made differences whether big or small, who have fought for equal rights, who support other women, and more!
But without further ado, today we tell you a little bit more about why this day is important and hear from our community.
A brief history and explanation
Each IWD, a theme is always set to focus the days’ intentions, and this year’s one is #ChooseToChallenge. Here’s a more detailed explanation:
“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.”
All in all, it’s all about equality and lifting every woman up - an intention that has remained for over a century now as women throughout it have fought for various rights and equal opportunities. So, let’s rewind to where it all began.
Due to great strides, protests and movements addressing women’s rights over many decades in North America and Europe primarily, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed. This lead to the first International Woman’s Day first being officially recognised in 1977 - although it had been celebrated since 1975.
Interestingly, a day of this kind was not the first to exist with National Woman’s Day actually being celebrated and observed in 1908 in honour of the garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested working conditions. Days such as these had been a long time coming with movements dating back to around the mid-19th century, where, in the US distinctly, the first milestone came about due to women being barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention. Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott took matters into their own hands, gathered a few hundred people to create their own women rights convention, the first of it’s kind in the nation, where they demanded civil, social, political, and religious rights for women.
In India, around the same time, that being from 1850 to 1915 was a period of time recognised as being when the first phase of feminism occured for the country. Here’s a brief overview of what occurred during this time:
“The colonial venture into modernity brought concepts of democracy, equality and individual rights… This first phase of feminism in India was initiated by men to uproot the social evils of sati (widow immolation), to allow widow remarriage, to forbid child marriage, and to reduce illiteracy, as well as to regulate the age of consent and to ensure property rights through legal intervention. In addition to this, some upper caste Hindu women rejected constraints they faced under Brahminical traditions.”
Since that time, there have been obvious great strides all over the world, however, there’s still a lot that needs to occur from being rid of gender wage gaps, giving women more recognition for their work to supporting more vulnerable women.
Women and weaving in India
Looking particularly at the fashion and textiles industry, women in India have historically been undervalued. In the past, female handloom workers have often worked as “shadow weavers”, earning no acknowledgement for their skill while male family members are recognised instead, and, as of a 2018 report, it was found that although women make up the majority of the Textile sector’s workforce, on average women will earn just 57 rupees for every 100 earned by men.
Furthermore, women have often not been the decision makers, and, because of the system we live in, they do not feel the need to speak up due to widespread ignorance of their needs. In weaving itself, job roles have been defined for decades, and complex designs or tasks such as loom setting were always given to men. More so, women would do the work but never think about lifting themselves up or be given a chance to be involved in business matters. This is the case in many weaving clusters today however there are some bright examples of change which show us that when we lift women up, they have the power to achieve skills and create just as well as men. This mindset is one that we hope to change.
Take WomenWeave, for example, if you reviewed the history of the village of Maheshwar, it went through a wave of change many years ago to what it is today, a village thriving in the support for women weavers with communities such as WomenWeave and Reva.
Nivedeta Rai who has been a supporter of ours and is a leader in the Maheshwar weaving community also shared some additional insight into her knowledge of women’s roles in weaving.
She tells us about a time while she worked as an executive director at WomenWeave, about a challenge she faced while training women with newer skill sets to help make their weaving more self sufficient. It took a lot of convincing to get the women to visit the training for the same, they were not sure whether they required it and often they feel the act of new training is patronising. There was some backlash due to these factors, however, when the women did attend the training, they felt empowered and lifted. This urged them to pick up the skill faster and also find strength within their own hearts.
Nivedeta’s story is one to look out for as well, she truly believes that weavers need to be viewed as co-creators and require assistance to build self-sufficient businesses for themselves to shine the craft they are so good at creating. With the hope to bring further change in the crafts sector, Nivedeta recently founded Karghewale where she works with weavers around India who have been trained by the Handloom school to teach them business and otherworldly skills and help them connect with brands and vendors where their product would be appreciated.
Some other similar green journeys that inspire us:
- The founder of Looms of Ladakh, who’s weavers trained under the Handloom School, today, uplift women in the handwoven wool industry.
- Another shining example of a women entrepreneur in the craft sector is Pabiben, the face of the Rabari Artisan who hailed from a small Indian village, took a chance to follow a unique path that ended in success.
These are just a few of many uplifting stories that helps us stay rooted in the hope that many more women set forth their path in this industry. As Melida Gates said, “When we come together, we rise. And in the world we’re building together, everyone rises”. There is so much still for us to achieve and help women rise, which is why we celebrate wholeheartedly on this day and beyond.
Some community thoughts
It goes without saying that when it comes to sustainable fashion & many other businesses, there are some phenomenal women leading the conversation. From stylists to business consultants, we at SUI are lucky to have been able to share our platform and hold powerful conversations with women from different walks of life. They inspire us on a regular basis to keep building our platform to serve such stories. With the lead up to Women’s Day, Mahima spoke with a few women from our community to ask them their thoughts on -
- Why is it important for us to celebrate women in business?
- What have you learnt from the challenges you have faced?
- What would you like to say to fellow women entrepreneurs?
JAINEE GANDHI, Wardrobe Image Consultant and Style Coach
“In the last 10 years that I have had my consulting firm, I have seen that some women start their entrepreneurial journey out of sheer passion, some enter out of some restriction, some look at it as side hustle, and much more. There are umpteen reasons why and one thing that stays the same is the zeal to do it. We need to celebrate that zeal. That choice, to encourage the other side of work life.
There are days I have felt prisoner to my dreams, that the burden of my passion felt too much but what I am learning myself as well is to enjoy the journey with all its ups and down. To my fellow entrepreneurs TAKE THAT BREAK. We are so consumed in our work and unless you take that break, you won’t be creative.
Most sustainable brands that I know, are women-led businesses from homegrown labels like SUI to fashion tech giants like Stitch Fix. The world needs these risk-takers and dreamers who are making a change one step at a time.”
KALYANI DESAI, Digital Entrepreneur
“Often women are not taken seriously in business. The lack of emotional and financial support towards women entrepreneurs tries to deter their will to start something of their own. However, despite these challenges you see a lot of women today creating, innovating and scaling businesses no different to men.
The one thing that has stayed constant with me as a learning, is learning itself. Watch, listen, and learn everyday from people around you - from your workplace, your customers, your friends. Anyone you can observe.”
RESHMA BUDHIA, Design thinking Specialist and Founder Toss the Coin
“Lisa Nichols said: Don’t you dare dim your light. Those who can’t handle it will wear shades!
This is my mantra. This has helped me look at myself and applaud my accomplishments. More and more women are now breaking the glass ceiling and reclaiming their seat at the table. We need to highlight their stories so they can inspire many more. It’s important for us women to become each other’s cheerleaders. The world needs them!
I have worked all through my 20s and 30s. When I jumped into the entrepreneur bandwagon, people around me said it was a good time-pass for me and that I could now pace my life, especially with two toddlers around. I worked consciously to change the narrative for them. I, with all due respect, told them that my entrepreneur journey is not a time-pass. I created a boundary around my work and personal life, so that others could watch what I was doing but not come in and define how to do it.
I make mistakes, I get bitten by the motherhood guilt, and I also struggle with finding my calling - but I celebrate the fact that these have all been my choices. That’s what should matter - you must have a choice and you should be the one making it. That is what every woman should yearn for.
Finally, just sparkle. When you do that, you are not just lighting up your soul but are also helping others around you to shine.”
DELNA AVARI, Management Consultant
“Celebrations are an acknowledgment of achievement and progress, of important milestones in a journey. Significant steps have been taken towards building a more equitable and fair opportunity landscape, though we still have a long way to go. That’s why it is all the more important to celebrate the victories of women who are leading the charge.
Nothing is as bad as it seems! When everyone around you is fumbling, stay focused and committed, it will get better. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely journey, the buck always stops with you. So, get into business with your eyes wide open and do build a network and support structure that enables you. Ensure the voices around you are encouraging yet honest. I build themes for each decade of my life, so I don’t get phased by short term blips or carried away by immediate success. It's a journey that should be enjoyed, else don’t do it.”
RADHIKA GUPTA, Founder of Raaha Consulting
“We are yet to arrive at a place where women entrepreneurs & women in business have access to the same resources and tools as men. Women are still not as widely celebrated for their achievements and their contributions in business. This is what makes celebrating women in business important, it not only encourages more women to walk down the entrepreneurship road but at the same time increases representation & diversity in ideas & solutions within the ecosystem & economic growth.
As a women entrepreneur, I have constantly struggled to be taken seriously and break into networks that are still not diverse enough. To overcome this I have had to learn how to eliminate my self-doubt, own my accomplishments & have confidence in my own abilities. Building a community and a support system of women entrepreneurs has been critical to my personal & professional growth!
My advice to women entrepreneurs is - leave no space for self-doubt, learn from your mistakes & don’t give up but mostly importantly find yourself a tribe of friends & women entrepreneurs who cheer for you!”
KAJOL ARORA, Founder of The Aurora Creatives
“It’s tough being a woman running a business and taken as seriously as The men in the room, fortunately taking that as my biggest motivation has led me to understand the importance of my voice and being proud of it.
There’s always a tomorrow. You’re the reason you started, you’re the reason you have to keep going and never give up.”
We hope this has put in perspective how important today is and that you spend today, tomorrow, and everyday after that celebrating the strength of the women around you and beyond. Stay green as always!