“There is no magic to achievement. It’s really about hard work, choices and persistence.” – Michelle Obama
Unmana Rynjah is an MBA graduate from the prestigious IIFT, Delhi. While she did enjoy her job in a reputed firm, it wasn’t fully satisfying her creative urges. Along with that, coming from the north-east and living and working in New Delhi, almost made it clear to her that north eastern states have a lot more to offer than what common perception allows, even in the capital city of India. Combining the two themes and her interest in fashion and design, it was clear to her that she wants to create awareness about the trendy weaves of north-east, ensuring that the process and materials are sustainable and contemporize those for the requirements of the society. Thus, Arras was born; initially, starting with just curation and later, fully in-house designing, post lockdown 2020. It is estimated that 60% of the weavers in the country are from the North-East and more than 90% of the weavers in the north eastern states are women.
How it all started
Moving back to be with her parents in her home town Guwahati was the first step and understanding about local weavers from her mother provided her with the ready traditional knowledge to get started. Initially she just started by curating artwork from weavers and while that work started getting traction, the pandemic interrupted the supply chain a bit too soon. However, taking that as an opportunity and during the lockdown due to the pandemic, Unmana decided to restructure and consolidate the supply chain. While earlier she was purchasing material from three four villages, instead, she started working closely with just two villages, Simina & Boko about 30-40 miles from Guwahati- her hometown. It is interesting that most women in communities know how to weave in north-eastern traditional culture. Unmana had started this at a small scale with known contacts, and slowly and steadily, she reached her first milestone of 100 orders in March 2021.
Arras Products: Non-toxic dyes, cruelty free and hand woven
Arras products are mainly focused on women wear, primarily silk sarees and dupattas/stoles. The new product range would have a host of trendy fashion apparels for creating interest of the younger generation. The USP of the products is that they are made from Eri Silk, which is also known as Peace Silk or Ahimsa Silk, because of the peaceful and cruelty free method with which it is created.
Amongst the four silk categories: Mulberry, Tussar, Moga and Eri Silk, Eri is the only silk that is obtained from cocoons in a cruelty free manner. Unlike the other kind of silk, where cocoons are boiled while the silkworms are still inside, to get the long smooth filament for the silk; during making of this peace silk, the silkworm is not inside the cocoon, thus avoiding any cruelty on the species. In this cocoon there are holes, due to which the filament is slightly shorter and coarse. Even though it has less lustre than the other kind of silks, it takes natural dyes pretty well and is soft enough on the skin of the person wearing it.
These natural dyes are another unique feature of the products from Unmana’s initiative. The weavers use local nontoxic ingredients like turmeric, onion peel, Indian madder and different varieties of berries.
The entire process is chemical and animal cruelty free. The cocoon is handspun by the weavers, and yarn is air dried in the shade. The yarn undergoes the natural dying process and then finally woven on the loom. Unmana is currently in the midst of documenting this unique process to put it up in front of her clients.
The new and trendy
Weavers generally use natural dyes without standardizing the dyes. This process requires intervention to standardize to not only get the same colour with the same proportion but also try non-traditional colors by mixing different proportions. Unmana is trying to curb the processes by fixing the proportions of the dyes and document the process. This will enable the weavers to know the exact shade they will be getting in the end product.
Unmana has also re-curbed the process to meet the customer demands by putting focus on the designs, patterns, trends and colour combinations, based on their preferences. A proper organized track is kept on what is selling more, liked more and appreciated. Social media provides great aid to Unmana for finding these consumer insights. Most of Unmana’s initial clients were from word of mouth and she has seen interest by overseas clients in her products as well.
Women at work
Almost all of the weavers are women, who are primary earners at their homes. Women are able to weave while attending to their other household chores, such as cooking, agricultural fields.
Arras’s presence is assuring some employment to the youth of the area and promote their talent as well. For instance, the company has started hiring young people in her value chain, for coordinating with people around the processes – the weavers, the suppliers and the clients. She has recently hired a local as a supervisor for helping the weavers better organize the process.
Staying digital and attending conferences is the core marketing strategy of the company. Owing to pandemic, there is nothing moving in physical networking spaces and most of the networking is happening digitally. This helps connecting with various entrepreneurs and networking helps her getting blanket orders as well. She also got in touch with international clients through digital platforms.
Women at Sustainability
Unmana is a great example of how women are keeping up in the world of Sustainability. She had an excellent education, a great job and a marvelous career ahead of her. As an employee of a global luxury jewelry brand, the level of inequity that she could experience hit her hard. However, her true calling was in something else, a path full of struggles, but also full of satisfaction. If she can help 300+ weavers create weaves that people like, this shall be weave of magic for her.
In India, many women, including Unmana and other first-generation entrepreneurs are able to work with low profit sustainable organizations because of their strong will power, passion and the immense support they receive from their family members. We appreciate her efforts and are proud of the fact that she is trying to make an impact in the lives of so many people.
Written By: Dr. Shashi Kad, Sameeksha Sahai