The Strengths Project, Kolkata, India – Update – September 2012
Posted by: Aviurpa Bhaduri & Alex Linley
In September’s update from Avirupa, she shares with us the success of the exhibition sale in which the Women’s Sewing Co-operative of Shiriti slum participated, together with their review of what went well and what lessons they can learn and apply for the future.
If you’re not familiar with the background of Capp’s work through The Strengths Project with the women of Shiriti slum in Kolkata, follow this link to read more of the history of what we have been doing.
Here is Avirupa’s update about the success of the exhibition sale, and what the Women’s Sewing Co-operative were working on in September:
“The month of September began with a flurry of activities. We were all gearing up for the exhibition which was due to be held for 3 days on 10th, 11th & 12th September. All days being weekdays we had to plan out a schedule which ensured that at least one member of the group was present at the venue from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Predictably the most initiative was taken by the three most active members of our group, viz. Sharmila, Mousumi & Arpita. But while Mousumi & Sharmila said they could only manage half a shift per day, Arpita surprised us all by declaring that she will be present everyday from start to finish, and she was confident that in her absence, her husband, who is supportive of her work with TSP, will take care of house chores. We were busy putting tags and readying our assortment of clothes.
On 10th I got my car and we set off for the venue, the women wore their finest clothes and looked radiant and proud. Smiling faces rarely betrayed the underlying anticipation we all felt. Once in the venue, we quickly located our table. As mentioned earlier, due to budget constraint, we had to share a table with a cousin of mine. Nevertheless we were happy to set up shop and soon were ready to do business.
There were quite a number of enthusiastic visitors and shoppers. This is quite an intimate but well known exhibition organized by a reputed Govt. aided social welfare organization, held in the premises of one the oldest women empowerment organizations of Kolkata.
The publicity for the event is mainly by word of mouth and old loyalists look forward to this occasion to stock up on their Durga Puja shopping. The official ribbon cutting ceremony was performed by a local celebrity, Papiya Adhikari. She visited every stall paused to admire our display. Sharmila, Arpita & Mousumi were delighted to pose for a photo with her.
Our table was quite busy on all days. All our petticoats were sold out by Day 2. Sensing the popularity of our product, Arpita proposed that we hike our price by Rs.20. In fact we had the cheapest price among all the stalls.
Arpita lived up to her promise by coming on time on all 3 days and staying till closing time, taking care to keep track of our bills and neatly folding and rearranging the garments everyday. Sharmila & Mousumi gave her company on alternate days. Mousumi even got her daughter with her on Day 3. By the end of the exhibition we had sold products worth Rs. 1105. This was indeed a considerable achievement for us. On the last day we decided to take the next week off and assemble on 27th.
On 27th there was full house and we started discussing what went right and what could have improved. A lot of things we felt were working in our favour, like price, the quality of the fabric, handmade tag, etc. That fact that we competed with other more veteran stall owners and did brisk business spoke a lot about our collective spirit.
We were happy to receive such recognition in a somewhat open market without any advertisement, that too participating for the first time. The factors which could be improved included our lack of planning, we decided to tackle that with what we learnt from this experience.
Our untapped potential turned out to be Arpita, who was not a great contributor in terms of making clothes, but proved to be an excellent sales person. She was ready with a quick smile and her
customary quips which were very effective to catch the attention of a hurried customer and converting intent into a confirmed sell. We felt we needed to explore her talent and strength for this more in all future ventures.
Our weakness was the poor quality of finish, since most of the garments were made by novices. Also our lack of knowledge about the kind of products that would sell well, contributed to the weakness factor. This could easily be tackled since we knew now by designing small embroidered items like table covers, baby clothes, about which there was a clear demand, plus petticoats, our prized item needed to made in larger quantities.
All in all, by the end of the meeting we were indeed very happy and were already looking forward to the next exhibition.”