Sustainable fashion is the way forward
I have grown up in a household where doing social service was part and parcel of life. When I say social service I don't mean just giving money to anyone who knocks my door, but I try to empower them by helping them find a way for a sustainable source of income. I have taken tuitions free of cost for the maids' kids so that they can have a better future. My parents have both been actively involved in various NGOs and this is why the idea of a fashion brand that works for a social cause, such as women empowerment, excites me.
UMe is just that. Taking the concept of sustainable fashion, Rekha Jacob has empowered women from a small village in Kerala to be able to stand on their own two feet. I asked her some questions, ans she was sweet enough to answer.
Here is what Rekha Jacob has to say about UMe.
A little bit about yourself. Your background etc.
I was born in Kerala but I spent most of my childhood in Lucknow and some of it in Bangalore. As a child I loved painting, was curious about fabrics and I loved crafts. I still do! I grew up wanting to be a designer.
So I graduated in Fashion Design from Srishti Scool of Art Design and Technology Bangalore following which I worked in Bangalore for two years. After that I started freelance work primarily as a childrenswear and womenswear designer for various U.S and a few U.K based apparel labels. This gave me a lot of exposure and experience in the apparel industry, sampling and manufacturing and gave me the much needed confidence to launch UMe
Was there any specific incident/ person that inspired you to come up with UMe.
I would say that there were many little incidents that actually helped me take this plunge. As a fashion designer working for other brands, I have always been curious to start my own clothing line but the timing never felt right so I never actually pushed for it. Then around two years back I stumbled across these women in Kerala. I have always felt strongly about womens rights and empowerment so their situation struck a chord with me.
Since then I got curious about finding a way to help them. The more I thought of it the more certain I became about how I wanted to proceed. One thing lead to the other and in late 2015 UMe was born. Then in March of this year we launched our online store.
Who does the designing?
I design for UMe
How are these women chosen to be a part of UMe?
We work with women who have some basic knowledge of tailoring and are interested in it.
I met our current group of women working for us (in Kerala) completely by accident. These local women were provided a loan under a government scheme in their village to set up a tailoring facility and were given some basic vocational classes with promise of work. Unfortunately, no steps were taken by authorities to sustain the unit. The women have no idea about how to find work or put their basic knowledge to use. Along with having to fend for themselves and their families, they have the added burden of a loan to pay off.
From my experience this is not a one off incident. Many organizations make an effort to give vocational training in tailoring to women but few try to follow it up and make an effort to sustain them.
Since we are in our infancy, we are now working with one particular group of ladies from a village near Alleppey in Kerala. As we grow we will try to find and co-operate with more such NGOs and government organizations that have some basic infrastructure and put them to use by helping communities that can be assisted through tailoring.
How are these women trained?
I train the women. Usually I make the samples myself while in the design stage of the collections. I then have a small workshop to show them how it is made. Each of them have different skill levels as every now and then we have new interested women dropping in to join us so we discuss and see who can manage what and how best we can the make the products from start to finish us.
Do you see yourself owning a store or selling from larger retails stores in the future? Would you rather have a boutique style store?
If we can grow big enough to have a store or many stores, then it would mean being able to help that many more women. And that would be brilliant!
Retail stores may not be a good fit for us.
I would prefer a boutique style store, as it would fit our business model better.
What has been the best part of the journey so far?
Since we are still in the early stages, I feel that the real journey is yet to start. But having said that I would say it is a great feeling to know that every effort we make towards getting our message out to prospective customers can in turn help people and change lives.
Knowing that we can make a difference be it just a small difference gives hope and the persistence to keep pushing forward.
Do have any stories that you want to share of the women who work for UMe?
How have their lives changed.
Well for starters I think as a group, the women have gained confidence. In the early days, when I had just met them and was curious to see what they knew I remember how most of them were very unsure about themselves. They just wanted to convince me and themselves that they cannot stich up garments or bags or anything they haven’t done before. Today the same women make our clothes and they make it to perfection.
In terms of work, yes we have been able to provide them more work than they would have had otherwise had and for them that means being able to earn money so it is big deal for them. I see hope in their eyes and enthusiasm to work but it would be premature of me to say that their lives have changed significantly.
We need more people to know us, understand our cause and buy our products to make a big difference to their lives and that’s what UMe aspires to do. I am hopeful that we will definitely get there.
We are too caught up in mass production that a brand like UMe is a breath of fresh air. Small changes can really make a big difference. I have been reading up a lot on sustainable fashion and I am thinking of having a few more articles on this. If there are any of you who would like to contribute to the same, then do get in touch with me at email@example.com. I would love to know what your take on it is.
Meanwhile do check out UMe- https://www.ume-store.com/ and support the women who are putting together such beautiful designs.
I am wearing a maxi dress from their current collection. You can head over to the post where I have styled the complete outfit by clicking on the picture.
They also have some beautiful pouches and bags (If follow me on Instagram then you would have seen them already, and let me tell you that they are beautiful quality)
Picture Credits Iris montage