Here is another business making difference and a great impact on people’s lives. Shakti.ism is a not-for-profit social enterprise with the mission of empowering and employing women from marginalised communities in India and Bangladesh.
They design gorgeous upcycled products handmade by those strong and empowered women. The pieces are designed in London and crafted in India and Bangladesh. Read now my interview with Jitna Bhagani, the founder of Shakti.ism.
Midlands Traveller: Tell me a little bit about your background in business.
Jitna Bhagani: I have an MBA, have worked in tech and fintech, and have always been interested in social enterprise.
MT: How did you come up with the idea of a business like yours?
JB: Initially I wanted to start a women’s empowerment initiative training people to sew reusable sanitary pads for distribution amongst the tailors’ communities, hoping to spread awareness and help alleviate period poverty.
I quickly realised this was not going to work because many women and girls in marginalised communities may not have access to hot water or washing machines, which is crucial for maintaining good hygiene.
I brainstormed about how I could do something else instead, and Shakti.ism was born. And now I am able to reinvest funds into initiatives like purchasing compostable sanitary pads and providing menstrual hygiene workshops and other benefits to the artisans I’m working with.
MT: What is the main inspiration for your designs?
JB: I’ve always loved traditional sari fabric and found it so wasteful when I’d see relatives or family friends just wearing a sari once or a handful of times before giving them away.
I figured I could find a way to repurpose these beautiful fabrics into something that could still be used.
MT: Tell me about Shakti.ism’s mission?
JB: Shakti (शक्ति) means ‘power’ in Hindi and several other languages. Shakti.ism signifies female energy and power being put into action, and it just felt right to use something related to Shakti. Shakti.ism is a mix of Hindi and English and translates to ‘women’s power-ism’, or women’s empowerment.
MT: What is unique about your business?
JB: The mission and the design are focused on the artisans, not the end-user or the customer.
While I want customers to be happy and high quality is extremely important, all decisions are made based on the benefit to the artisans and their communities, as opposed to the customer. Also, our products are truly one-of-a-kind!
MT: What is your kind of clientele?
JB: People who care about how they spend their money, who care about the circular economy, and women’s empowerment!
MT: What are the challenges of a business like yours?
JB: Ensuring that employment opportunities are ongoing for the artisans I work with. Ensuring sales are covering costs while still operating as a non-profit entity. Social business is not always profitable, so it is a delicate balance.
MT: In which ways is your business supporting Indian women?
JB: Purchasing items from Shakti.ism directly contributes to the empowerment and ongoing employment of the women who make these handmade products.
The demand for Shakti.ism’s products provides these women with meaningful, safe employment, a living wage, hope, and opportunities for their children.
Additional proceeds are reinvested into the women and their communities; some examples include funding all the supplies required to build a crèche for working mothers, and providing sanitary pads and menstrual hygiene products for artisans and their communities.
Also, the purchase of professional sewing equipment to support ongoing employment and training, funding the training of additional women interested in tailoring.
MT: What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business like yours?
JB: Launch, then iterate. And dream big!
MT: What are the next steps for Shakti.ism?
JB: I hope the next steps include more growth and spreading awareness about Shakti.ism and the good things we are doing.
I plan to keep using proceeds to reinvest in the artisans and their communities. I hope that I’ll be working with many more teams of wonderful women from marginalised communities and that the brand continues to grow as it has been.
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