March 10, 2014 (India)
On International Women's Day - 8th March, 2014, designer Umair Zafar and actress Rituparna Sengupta announced their association to promote women embroidery workers in India.The Bengali beauty has pledged her support to women artisans and crafts persons across the country and will support fashion shows and events that provide employment initiatives and allied media interaction on the subject to create awareness about the plight of women embroiders and the sorry state of affairs.
Says Umair Zafar, "Women are exploited in most walks of life or professions, but when it comes to artisans and craftsmen and particularly embroidery workers, the plight of women embroiders is really pathetic. They are not only monetarily and sometimes sexually exploited by their employers or mukhiyas or middlemen, they are paid much lower than male workers, though they work more diligently and honestly than their male counterparts.
Some big names in the fashion industry including designers and brands are notorious for exploiting women embroidery workers. They will buy embroidery patches and work for a few hundred rupees by underpaying and bargaining with the near-starving workers who are forced to sell their crafts at less than half the market rate to save their kids and themselves from starvation.
The designers then sell the same product after embellishing it, at 1000 times the raw material purchase cost. For example, a chikankari or other embroidery work produced in Lucknow is bought for Rs 500 per piece and then re-branded and sold in Mumbai and Delhi for Rs 15000. This is sheer exploitation of the poor workers and must be exposed by the media.
At times, a few designers who are known to be close to some A-category Bollywood actresses will buy or order raw art work in bulk worth lakhs of rupees, and not pay the artisans for months on end.
The artisans who take soft loans to fund the purchase of fabric, etc end up paying huge amounts in interest, which causes them great loss and hardships. Artisans have lost their homes and belongings due to such rogue (but well-connected) designers who fleece them of everything."
Designer Umair Zafar comes from a traditional family of craftsmen and embroiders and both his parents - mother and father are involved in the trade.
"My mother used to save money from her embroidery earnings to pay my school fees and ensured that I finished my diploma in fashion designing. I have a great attachment and affinity to traditional craftsmen and artisans.
“At a recent event at Lucknow where I presented my Chikankari collection, Rituparna and I were discussing the plight of chikankari and embroidery workers in general when I causally mentioned to her how women workers were exploited. She immediately agreed to be part of a joint effort to spread awareness about this issue and support the cause of women crafts persons and artisans.”
On 1st March 2014, Sigma Rock presented Umair Zafar's Chikankari Summer Collection 2014 at a glittering ceremony at the M B Club in Lucknow to promote the craft and enhance and encourage the craftsmen and karigar community which has suffered greatly due to neglect and lack of promotion. Bollywood diva Rituparna Sen walked the ramp for Umair Zafar and also distributed prizes and awards to achievers of Sigma Rock.