Gayatri Jolly Changing Underprivileged Life Patterns Through MasterG

By Avilasha Sarmah in Editor's Pick 21/06/2019

“The only way to convince someone of a different reality than theirs is to actually show them.” – Gayatri Jolly.

 

When one enters the airy workspace floor located at a bustling Okhla industrial lane, the first sight is that of sewing machines arranged in a line and ladies busy at work, cutting, making and adding new patterns to their daily. Colored fabrics, and measuring tapes are the only décor in the main training center-factory of MasterG, yet it has an everlasting impact on the visitor, the passion is infectious. In the middle of it is the founder, the Parsons trained designer Gayatri Jolly moving about with an encouraging fervor.

 

 

 

When Gayatri Jolly first started MasterG, the design manufacturing and skill development program, it grabbed attention because it was the only program of its kind that taught pattern-making to underprivileged women. Addressing a two-fold social issue that of gender and class, MasterG was a revolution in itself. But the greatest struggle was: to make people believe in a new reality by un-gendering pre-existing roles.

 

Until they saw the first woman on the cutting table: Un-Gendering Roles

 

Both design and pattern-making has been ceremoniously a male domain, Gayatri explains. So for her the biggest challenge in nurturing an all-women team from backward communities was not funding or tech, but rather the lack of ‘role-models so as to convince the women to dream.

 

“When you don’t have pre-existing templates, there is a positive and a negative to it. The negative is that there are no role models, there are no existing stories to inspire people,” says Gayatri.

 

“The positive of not having a pre-existing template is that you are limited only by your own imagination.”

 

 

 

Gayatri recalls her toughest experience talking to these women, “Because of their limited exposure, they truly believe that they do not need any empowerment”. Their conditioning entails in them the notion that they would be taken care of by a father, brother or husband.

 

It is very difficult to change one’s perceived reality, she says, “A lot of girls who start out, actually don’t have a dream, at all.” During orientation most of these girls on asked about their dream are silent and “That’s actually the saddest moment for me,” says Gayatri.

 

Teaching the Underprivileged to Dream:

 

“It’s not like we specifically chart out and say it is for the financially weaker sections of society but it ends up being the case because we purposefully only set up centers in low-income neighbourhoods.”

 

Gayatri explains that MasterG is an affordable course, subsidized by the two Corporate CSR Partners – the FENA Foundation and the ASF Infrastructures. Hence it automatically attracts a certain category of students. Again most of these women who are the students of the program can’t come out of their neighborhoods, owing to the gender based social conditioning. Furthermore, if the women of the house go out and work, fingers are pointed at the men that they are incapable of nurturing their families. The biggest heartbreaks are because of the inability to succeed due to these societal conditioning, says Gayatri.

 

 

“The deep-rooted social issues are the ones which are the toughest to deal with, because it just goes from generations and generations of understanding what one’s reality means.”

 

 When suddenly women were taught to fill in the men’s shoes, their reaction was not a very positive one. But it is just their conditioning, Gayatri says. “Many of the MasterG’s in their traditional way go through a lot of exploitation themselves.” This is because they have been learning in the format of a ‘guru-shishya’ relationship passed down from generations and it was naturally difficult to adjust to the new.

 

Rewriting Life Patterns Through MasterG:

 

Creating MasterG is always going to be a journey, says Gayatri, “For me it’s not in the past, it’s always happening. We are creating MasterG as we speak.”

 

 

Gayatri calls her idea to start MasterG, a combination of several life experiences. As a volunteer in her mother’s NGO for 15 years, she spent much of her formative years being comfortable around poverty. Coming from privilege, the urban disparity was stark but it was the only way, she says, that she could understand and come to terms with the unfair surroundings in which we live. And that consciously formed the basis for what she does today.

 

 

Hence Gayatri was clear of MasterG not being a charity but being run like a proper business. This is because of the kind of feedback and customer-centric focus needed for an idea to strive can only happen if it is a social enterprise.

 

 

“I do think there is a fundamental authority that the girls feel, because they feel like they are accountable to customers, as opposed to be beneficiaries.”

 

 

This sentiment reflected when she decided to come up with their first private brand, Heimat. In German, Heimat means home and Gayatri says that it had to be about the girls.  “It had to tell a story about the girls, about where they come from and what home means to them there.”

 

 

“Does home have to be physical place or can home be an idea that you create wherever you go with the skills that you have?”

 

Gayatri Jolly wearing a Heimat garment

 

Heimat removes the physical limitation of what home is – if you are not bound by a physical place your options are limitless. This is because, as Gayatri expresses, there is a lot of physicality in the girls lives. For a girl to navigate a city like Delhi on her own could be challenging. The purpose is thus to eliminate the physical discomfort in what home could be and attach it with safety as it should be.

 

So to reach out to more women and standardizing MasterG’s module, Gayatri and her team came up with another interesting aspect called the G-School. G-school is conceptualized to be the in-house social networking platform where students from different centers connect with each other, inclusive of a marketplace.

 

“But if we can preserve the oral tradition, supplement it with the digital platform that we are building and supplement it with our classrooms, I think we can still continue this tradition but in a way which eliminates the exploitation,” explains Gayatri.

 

 

A Non-Negotiable Business Choice:

 

But unlike most other brands, the unique business plan of MasterG has been harder financially and comes with a higher cost. “We give the girls a lot more time to reach the level that other companies already hire at.”But this gestation period of reaching that level, is a cost that they are happily ready to bear. They are not going to get this environment elsewhere.

 

“It is a business decision, but one that I really believe in and one that I feel is non-negotiable.”

 

 

“If there are really intelligent smart people running companies, they should find ways to reduce costs elsewhere, because the people who are ultimately making and sewing the clothes are the ones who get hit the hardest.”

 

Gayatri’s greatest motivation is seeing the girls moving ahead. Most of them when they enroll in MasterG, their vision is not to be a designer. “That space has to be created by us for them to be able to articulate their dream. That dream may not be related to our industry and that’s fine,” says Gayatri. She adds, “The point of MasterG is not only to make garment workers or to create only pattern-makers, the point is for women to be able to realize their highest potential.”

 

Now people have got used to believing, Gayatri observes, when the younger girls come in, they see role models on the cutting table that they didn’t see before.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a wanderer who loves to write! Places call out to me and I enjoy making poetry out of moments. Do check out my book – “When the Cuckoo Called”.


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