Kumbaya — Patching Dreams and Means Together

August 19, 2016
By Rang De Team

Kumbaya is known for its patchwork bed sheets made from left over pieces of cloth

Kumbaya is a producer company located in a small village in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh. Though the company was registered only last year, it has been been in existence for over two decades as one of the projects started by Samaj Pragati Sahyog.

One of the largest grassroots development organisation in the country, Samaj Pragati Sahyog focuses on water resources and livelihood security.

Inspired by Baba Amte’s vision and life, SPS also doubles up as a resource agency for hundreds of smaller NGOs. SPS’ co-founders, in their individual capacity, play a crucial role in formulating public discourse and social welfare schemes.

Kumbaya started as one of the livelihood security program under SPS. Using her own design and stitching expertise, Nivedita Banerji (one of the co-founders at SPS) taught local tribal women how to stitch.

The going was anything but easy. The work SPS wanted to do to secure livelihoods resulted in women stepping out of their homes and taking a more active part in decision making for the first time in their lives.

This caused some amount of strife amongst a certain section of the society and in the fallout, the first Kumbaya stitching centre was burnt to the ground.

A new centre was rebuilt soon, however, with everyone from the community contributing labour and resource. This centre is still standing and today more than 20 women and men come to the centre everyday to stitch beautiful garments and linen.

Nivedita Ji, the co-founder, is a polymath — she is a self-taught designer, architect, weaver, author, film maker and coder! A conversation with her spirals into many different subjects and spans many decades. It is fascinating to hear her narrate some of the stories of the early days of SPS when she and her colleagues (all a bunch of youngsters then) first moved to Dewas.

Women being trained to stitch shirts at a training centre

One of the challenges that Kumbaya faces is that its operating costs are high. Due to its distant location, Kumbaya needs to maintain a higher level of inventory than usual. Also, access to skilled designers and trainers is limited due to its remoteness.

However, these challenges have also given birth to some innovative solutions. Realising that a lot of waste cloth was being generated in making garments, Kumbaya introduced a line of patch work household linen (bed covers, pillow cases) and bags that minimised waste and helped the organisation realise value from discarded goods. Today, these patchwork bedcovers are Kumbaya’s signature products.

Kumbaya is a regular fixture at exhibitions in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and Pune.

Its customers swear by its products not just for their designs and fit but also because of the positive changes this small organisation has brought about in the lives of hundreds of women in Dewas.

Kumbaya also supports differently abled women like Gora

As Kumbaya transitions into an independent entity, Nivedita Ji is well aware that the journey will not be easy. The organisation will have to start looking at profitability and operations afresh (so far, a major portion of operational expense was being supported by SPS) but she believes that these growing pains will help Kumbaya become a community-owned and managed enterprise.

Going forward, the organisation hopes to work directly with Maheshwari weavers and also to include women who have expertise in embroidery within the folds of Kumbaya.

We are delighted to partner with Kumbaya Producers Company Ltd and help them gain access to a low interest loan of Rs 4 lakh that will enable them to purchase raw material.

Your contribution will help Kumbaya and its 150 producers grow to new heights.

Tanvi Negi is the Chief Impact Officer at Rang De and regularly visits underserved communities to forge partnerships so that affordable microcredit can be provided to the people who need them most. She can be reached at impact@rangde.org for any further queries.