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Livelihood Creation Profile: Freeset Fabrics

This is part of a series in which we will profile organizations in India who received a Social Innovation grant through the SAI/Tata Trusts project on Livelihood Creation.

ORGANIZATION DETAILS

  • Organisation Name: Freeset Fabrics
  • Year Founded: Private Limited Company
  • Year Founded: 2014
  • Locations: Sherpur, Murshidabad, West Bengal
  • Email: design@freesetfabrics.com
  • Contact Number: +91- 7718705887

    Artisans working on ergonomically designed looms

    Artisans working on ergonomically designed looms

  • Website: http://freesetglobal.com/

LEADERSHIP

  • Kerry Hilton, Director
  • Ron Salmon, General Manager
  • Janet Rogers, Designer and Business Consultant

VISION, MISSION AND BROAD OBJECTIVES

Freeset Fabrics’ goal is livelihood creation in poor rural communities of Murshidabad, West Bengal for vulnerable women who would otherwise be at risk of trafficking into prostitution, bonded labour or migration. Their goal is excellence and quality as they compete with other commercial enterprises.

CRAFT IN FOCUS

  • Name of the craft: Handloom weaving
  • Key distinctive feature: The look and feel of handloom fabric has a unique beauty and quality that sets it apart from fabrics that are created on powerlooms.
  • Different products that can be made in this crafts form: An endless range of products can be created from handloom fabric direct from the loom with minimal finishing: scarves/ stoles, home accessories including table runners, throws and rugs. Other processes, including embroidery and hand printing techniques add value.
  • Time taken to make a product of the craft: Depending on the competency of the weaver and the complexity of design, for a typical scarf of 2m length and 65cm width, an average of 3 and 4 units can be woven in a day.
  • Other crafts activities that are ancillary to this craft form: Freeset Fabrics is focused on the handloom processes and finishing techniques. Other forms of embellishment are likely to be introduced in the future to add value and provide work for more women. These may include embroidery, beadwork, block printing, screen printing, specialist dyeing, including natural and azo-free dyes and other specialist techniques such as Shibori.

ACTIVITIES AND MODEL OF EXECUTION

Freeset Fabrics has a unique focus of reaching out to women who are under the threat of trafficking in Murshidabad district, often considered as the capital of trafficking in the state of West Bengal. In the villages surrounding Sherpur

Janet Rogers at the Harvard SAI workshop

Janet Rogers at the Harvard SAI workshop

where Freeset Fabrics is based, agriculture is the main source of family income. Irregular income and poverty are known drivers for trafficking and migration. Freeset Fabrics provides an opportunity for training and employment to such women from poor agricultural communities in the villages surrounding Sherpur, within a 12 kilometre radius. The enterprise is established on Freeset’s model which provides employment to women who have been trafficked and wish to return to their village, or to those who are vulnerable or at risk of trafficking.

Handloom weaving using natural fibres (currently cotton and wool) and creating scarves and fabric for export is the livelihood creation activity at Freeset. Training in all processes connected with handloom weaving is given over a six to twelve-month period. Once training is complete and a trainee has graduated, she receives a productivity bonus in addition to a basic wage. A direct impact has been noted on women’s wellbeing and confidence as well as a growing sense of community through training and working together. Freeset Fabrics also contributes to Government pension (Provident Fund) and ESI health scheme for its artisans.

For the first two years after Freeset Fabrics was incorporated, its focus was on training women in the skills required for weaving, including preparation of yarn, logistics, management and finishing. Having started with a group of seven women, the company has grown steadily. By the end of the second year, 42 trainees and employees had joined the team, with a waiting list of close to 600 women. In addition to learning handloom skills, training is also given in other areas, including numeracy, literacy, basic health care, life-skills and advocacy.

FUNDING

  • Income from export sales and sales to visitors

    The scarfs for international customers

    The scarfs for international customers

  • Start-up funding from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to cover training, wages and running costs
  • Harvard SAI and Tata Trusts Social Innovation grant for ergonomic and technical innovation

CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

The equipment initially procured for weaving came from established manufacturers within West Bengal, but was found to be basic in design and difficult to operate.  The quality of products and efficiency of its use, proved to be a significant constraint on production of export quality products, so work started on improving the design of the equipment.  A contributing factor to this concern was also the ergonomics and the risk of long-term repetitive strain of operating various equipment needed for all the processes on the operatives.

Freeset Fabrics has paid a lot of attention to the design of the looms and the way they are operated. It has engaged ergonomics specialists and consultants to study the effect of existing loom designs on the health of the weavers and efficiency of their work. Minor and major improvements to the existing loom design have made a remarkable difference to the comfort of weavers and efficiency of operations.

From an ergonomic perspective, changes and innovations to other parts of the looms, including a faisel crankshaft mechanism, a faisel handle, improved seating and pedals/shaft operation enhanced the comfort and efficiency of weaving and would lead to less stress on weavers’ bodies.

PARTNERSHIPS

Freeset Fabrics works with various organizations:

  • Freeset Business Incubator Pvt Ltd., to develop further business opportunities.
  • Tamar, a project of Freeset Trust, delivering life skills training, counselling and other social support.
  • Justice Ventures International, to bring justice and freedom from oppression to the poor.

IMPACT ON BENEFICIARIES

200 people have been impacted through livelihood creation – based on an average of 5 in each family Freeset Fabrics works with. Freeset plans to reach out to over 1000 people over the next 5 years. People working with Freeset have directly benefited through this opportunity with improved income, nutrition and health, as well as self-confidence and self-esteem. The fact that in September 2016, around 500 women wanted to be considered for recruitment (250 in February 2016) indicated the desire and need for more such opportunities for social and economic benefits.

The Social Innovation Grant from Harvard SAI and Tata Trusts has enabled Freeset Fabrics to improve and strengthen its equipment and processes, increasing quality and efficiency.  We are thankful that, with these ergonomic and technical innovations, more women now have the potential to weave more freedom for themselves, their families and their communities.

  • Kerry Hilton, Director
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