Kriti: Action, doing

Kalā: Art, craft

Enter the Kritikala store in Hyderabad, and if you are silent, you might hear each product — the Kalamkari skirt or the Mangalagiri laptop sleeve—echoing the laughter of the women who made them.

Speak to the women who made these handcrafted products, and you know it’s true.

Take, for instance, 34-year-old Shabnam, who works as a tailor at Kritikala for the past three years, supplementing her husband’s income.

“I look forward to coming here every day. It’s like a family—we laugh and play, and pull each other’s legs,” she says, peppering her entire conversation with laughs and giggles. It is tough to believe that before joining Kritikala, she had never gone anywhere by herself, forget bringing in income.

It is this spirit of independence and freedom that the initiative aims to deliver to its employees, says Himani Gupta, who founded Kriti Social Initiatives with friend Sreelata Chebrol.

When they started the organization in 2009 as an NGO to uplift the urban poor, one of their projects was a free tailoring course. Women received the training and used the skill for their personal use, but Himani and her friends soon realized the potential for a larger project that would gainfully employ the women. And Kritikala was born.

From a small, thatched shed with seven women, Kritikala has grown and now employs 60 women with the latest industrial sewing machines. What started off with scrap Kalamkari cloth given by the legendary Suraiya Bose of the House of Kalamkari Dhurries, has now expanded to local materials such as ikkat and mangalagiri as well.

While the four-month module on tailoring and stitching is, even today, mostly used for personal use, that still means saved income for the family, says Himani. Apart from the women who come to the unit, a few others also help in hand embroidery and other projects of Kritikala.

What sets Kritikala apart is its focus on innovation and contemporary designs, often a missing piece in traditional art clusters. With professional designers on board, Kritikala is able to make products as varied as garments and laptop sleeves to aprons and journal sleeves.

The path to a successful product is long. A prototype is made and approved, after which the women are trained on how to make it, end-to-end. Then, the product is QC’ed intensively, and approved for mass production.

With a combination of a fixed base income and incentives, the women are kept busy and efficient. And more importantly, happy.

Shabnam’s laughter is proof of that. “I didn’t even know how to cross the road, and now it’s like Kritkala has taught me how to cross the road of life!” she laughs.

Products From Kritikala