Medha Shah, who took part in the Foundation’s WE Can India programme several years ago, runs a business producing an organic cotton clothing line. In this blog, she reflects on the change of tack her business has taken since the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to change her plans—and saw her return to the Foundation. From moving online, to creating new products, to supporting community safety, Medha’s business has completely transformed over the last few months.
I was born and brought up in the city of Vadodara in Gujarat, India. Hailing from a family where my grandfather was a renowned Sarvodaya Practitioner and a follower of Gandhian principles, humble living with age-old wisdom was instilled in me since my childhood. All my childhood and even now I have seen my father, Kapil Shah, tirelessly champion the cause of organic farmers for their due rights and this has been my lifelong inspiration. Seeing my parent at work, I was exposed to the struggles of organic farmers and the challenges they face regularly. This was what got me hooked into the cause of organic farming, even at a time when fast fashion was the growing global trend.
I founded WeaverBird to create a premium clothing line which would provide fair trade, fair wages and access to lucrative markets for my rural farmers. Through WeaverBird, I aspire to create beautifully designed clothes which are made from 100% organic and non-GM (genetically modified) cotton. I want to share the stories of my rural farmers and artisans with urban global customers and create a bridge between these two communities based on a win-win relationship.
At the start of my journey, I participated in the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s WE Can India programme, delivered in partnership with Dhriiti. It is here that I learnt the fundamentals of business. This was followed by my educational tour to Europe and UK, when I visited the Foundation’s office in London. During my trip the Foundation organised a Facebook live interview for me—they have always been very supportive and encouraged me to accelerate my business.
The impact of COVID-19
2020 started off on a high note with many exciting events planned, and I geared up to take WeaverBird to the next level. But the pandemic struck us really hard and all our plans shattered.
We sat idle for almost two months as the whole country was in lockdown. Having no clue about how to go further and what to do next, I gravitated towards the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women once again and found a new business resilience course and ‘Business Bootcamp’ training webinars on their website, both launched especially for women like myself whose businesses were suffering as a result of the global crisis. Immediately, I enrolled in the course and attended the webinars to better understand what I could do next to help protect my business.
I started chalking an alternative business plan for the company. WeaverBird began making and selling customized organic cotton face masks with dainty hand-embroidered designs on them, and donating masks to people who were most in need. We also began to design our website.
The training also led me to decide to collaborate with a group of four women entrepreneur friends, working together to form an online collective named ‘4handsfor’ to tell our craft community’s stories and boost our businesses post-pandemic.
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According to UNDP, and outcome of the expanding labour force, is the increase in the number of unemployed which is estimated to increase by 1 million every year and reach 174 million by 2020. This obviously a Pre-COVID estimate. But in recent months we have witnessed images of extreme poverty, hunger and sadness. It is now, more than ever before, we need to stand strong with our artisans, weavers and producers, supporting them to earn a living. Supporting them to survive these unprecedented times. 4HandsFor focusses creating livelihoods and dignified jobs in rural India. #creativedignity #vocalforlocal #indianartisan #creation #madeinindia #sustainableliving #ecoliving #ecoproducts #consciousliving #thefutureishandmade
Looking to the future
Like many woman-owned businesses, the pandemic has hit us hard and has knocked us down. But it has also instilled in us and our communities a sense of resilience and, for me, highlighted the valuable support I’ve received through the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. It has given us the opportunity to rethink our strategies and rebuild our network, only this time better and stronger.
We’re looking forward to a bright future.
If you would like to help us create more programmes and provide more support for women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries, their families and communities through COVID-19 and beyond, please follow the link to make a transformational donation today.