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Get To Know: Sonica Sarna, Our Artisan Consultant

It’s been four years since our journey, and looking back, it is the moments in between that move us most. The conversations with our customers, seeing the pride our artisan partners have for their work, and the journey of a collaboration with other designers – they are a grounding reminder of why we do what we do and how grateful we are that our paths have crossed.

Sonica is our ethical sourcing partner in Delhi, meaning she’s in close liaison with our artisan partners in India. We spent most of our time in Delhi with Sonica in production meetings that stretched from AM to PM. In those few days, every conversation with her left us in reverence. In the way she spoke about capacity building with artisan production to the dreams she shared with us for #Projecthrive – with equal parts compassion and righteous indignation.

Here are 6 questions asked, and answered by Sonica Sarna, our artisan consultant:

 

Your time and work is divided to Sonica Sarna Design, Project Thrive, and Mega Vick Wear – can you share a little more about this?

With Sonica Sarna Design (SSD), we create ethical supply chains by partnering with brands to help set up ethical and sustainable sourcing models. We guide them to decide what is the most socially responsible way to source something from start to finish. Mega Vick Wear is a fair factory and one of our partners. Our role is to look at the entire supply chain and see how we can make it more responsible. So we take a look at the fibres and dyes, weaving and printing, sewing and quality control and work to design modules that have the most impact. Asking questions like – is it artisan or woman made? Organic or chemical free? What is the most responsible way to sew and construct this?

We consider the whole spectrum of ethical parameters and we often work with artisan communities with no market or little market access.

For example, one of the handloom parks we work with was owned by 12 weaver families and before 2012 they had no customers. As of today, 10% of their customers are introduced by us. Before the communities take on more projects, they have to be ready for international orders – a large part of this means understanding quality and delivery management. So this is where we step in as liaisons. We train the artisans for a year, handhold them with international orders, and eventually encourage them to become independent and get other sources and orders too.

#Projecthrive is an initiative that began with the intention to empower women with lack of access to economic opportunities. My office is located in an area surrounded by the slums and there are hundreds and thousands of women with no access to jobs or even basic rights. The women have next to zero opportunities, and any work they could do, they would not even be able to bring it home because there’s no natural light or electricity. There’s also this false and strong undercurrent idea that women are not capable of a job that earns an income. UN statistics show that globally 90% of  womens’ work is not paid for. It’s this vicious cycle where most of the women in India are not given the opportunities to pick up new skills, making them un-eligible for jobs they can be paid well for.

GET A QUICK TOUR OF MEGA VICK WEAR: THE FAIR FACTORY WE’RE PARTNERED WITH

It broke my heart and #Projecthrive was an effort to do something about it. Mega Vick Wear donated the space and machines, and we spread the word out to the slums that we were looking for anyone who wanted to learn to sew on industrial machines that allows for them to get well paying jobs at the end of the training. After completing the paid training they could choose to continue on with a job at #Projecthrive or they can get jobs elsewhere.

The intention behind this isn’t to have them work for us, it’s to empower them to have a choice. They have that option to stay at home, work full time, and have options.

 

There have been a couple of instances where the women we work with find higher paying jobs and so they leave, and that’s okay. More and more I see that it’s not really about doing things by me but through me. At the end of the day, it’s about creating that option for them to make their own choices.

What is the bigger dream for #Projecthrive?

At the moment, the growth is slow and organic. We have space for 20 women and sometimes the place is filled and sometimes it’s empty. The thing is we need to have enough orders to sustain this. So in the long run, the dream is that #Projecthrive would be self sufficient, that it would grow to have enough space for 60 women, and maybe even become a domestic fashion label as a ‘by women for women’ cooperative.

You lived in the States for a couple of years before your move to Delhi, what brought you back?

I’m originally from Delhi but I moved away to the States for a couple of years, and spent my time in Austin and San Francisco. I was researching ethical sourcing models, and very quickly learned that I wanted to be on the ground. My heart calls to that. I felt that it was more effective for me to be at the core of it, and soon after I moved to Delhi. It all happened very organically.

How different do you think things would be if you didn’t move to the States? Was that move a catalyst for you?

I never thought of my time in the States as a catalyst for me. What I pursued there were ideas that were very personal, and already existed in me. I was working for 7-8 years in apparel factory production  in India prior to when I moved to the States, and had learned first hand what was wrong with the fashion industry. Having some distance gave me perspective, and helped me better understand the consumer and brand side of the industry.

My life took me to interacting with things that were inspiring: courage to use my own voice, space to hold my own and find my own way.

There was a lot of changes in my own personal journey that came as a result of my move to the States, it was conducive, but I think I would have found my way regardless. It’s funny because I left for the US because I needed more distance. I needed a break from the work I was doing, the industry and the reality of it all was so harrowing. But a couple of years later, I was brought back to Delhi anyways.

What is it like working with family?

It’s no different than working with anyone else really. For me, it’s a daily reminder to challenge preconceived notions. Everything gets personal but at work, it cannot be. You have to learn to put your sore spots aside to get to the issue at hand and move forward. It’s a fast track to growth and all things professional. Working with family is not easy, but I’ve come to accept it and I try to approach it always with kindness and fairness.

Can you speak more into what it’s like as a woman to be working in such a male-dominated field?

I’m the first woman in my family to work. My mother is the foundation of the family but what she represents is undervalued. Growing up, I wanted to break up this role that I was automatically put into, that all women are automatically put into. It’s a commonality that extends to every woman, even if they have opportunity, and it’s something I learned myself.

It didn’t matter that I was educated. I had to fight the idea that I couldn’t speak up, that I could use my own voice.

I realized so much of what I was dedicating myself to was to remind the women around me that they have a voice and they should speak up. But you have to put your money where your mouth is and for me to say that, I had to own my place too. I had to learn to speak up as well. Universally, almost all women hide their earnings from their husbands because they feel that’s going to be taken away from them. The money is almost always kept with the men who are the primary earning members. But I’ve seen that when women work and are in charge of finances, the children are kept in school. I’ve seen it at a grassroots level again, and again, and again. It’s the same story you hear over and over. Which is why I think the best thing a business can do is to give any woman an opportunity, and let them run with it.

 


Stay on our journal to read more articles from our trip to India.