Handcrafted with Love n Care

Ex-fashion designer, multi-tasking mother and now an authority on handicrafts, Soumya Arji's NGO Gift a Life Trust is making the lives of women artisans more productive and profitable

The Womenz had an opportunity to interact with Ms. Soumya Kaljeet Ajri, Executive Director/Founder, Gift a Life Trust, India and here’s what she shared with us


Soumya, please tell  us something about you and your background

I was born  in a loving family My dad is a business man my mother a very creative homemaker. I have two elder brothers. I’m the youngest member of the family. I was born in Dharwad (karnataka)and i did my schooling in St Joseph's  and 11th and 12th I pursued commerce in Kittle College Dharwad.




What made you to shift to Kolhapur (City in Maharashtra state, India)?

When it was time to pursue my bachelors i wanted to choose the art field and that's when i realised the only option at those times in the art field was fashion designing  even though I wasn't absolutely  sure i was keen on designing clothes I went about enquiring about the courses that offered Bachelors in fashion. Very few colleges offered a degree course and they were mostly based in Bangalore, Mumbai n Delhi and surprisingly a college in Kolhapur named SIBER..I opted for Kolhapur since it was closer to home.That's how my journey begun. I joined bachelors in fashion in 2002..It was a challenge coz it was a complete new place and I wasn't able to understand the local Language which made it all the more difficult. I used to be homesick but eventually I made some good friends in the hostel n life was a little better. But mid-way of the bachelor course I realised I was not happy n couldn't imagine myself as a fashion designer. But I decided I would complete the course n that I did with flying colours by topping the university

At the end of the 3rd year there was an exhibition that was held to project our work and a leading boutique in Kolhapur appreciated my work n offered me a Job as a Lead Designer. I thought of taking it up as it would be good for me to gain experience. All the time I used to think n pray that may be I start liking to be a fashion designer but that never happened. Though I excelled in the job I just wasn’t happy. It made me feel sad n miserable that I'm not happy doing what I'm doing. I was given promotions but I took a drastic decision to quit after 2+ years of working as a designer.

I gave some stock market exams and got into the corporate sector thinking maybe I feel happy here and do what I feel happy doing. I worked in the corporate sector for about 3+ years excelled in every job but my soul wasn't happy. I knew It's just not ME. In the mean while I got engaged do I quit my job n went to stay with my parents so that I could spend some quality time with them. And that's when a Miracle happened .I was invited to conduct a Design n Technical Development workshop for the ministry of textiles for a NGO based in Dharwad. It was a 15 days workshop where I as a designer had to provide my inputs and make product prototypes that were market sustainable and were customer friendly.

I had to provide skill development to the artisans of the NGO who already had the skill in the particular art but we're monotonous and not having the expertise to think of making stuff that are out of the box n unique. I took up that workshop n I swear every minute of those 15 days were like a magical dream come true. I knew I was born to do this. It just felt right and as they say when u do what u love it projects in your work. And by the end of the workshop there I was with some stunning kasuti embroidered products and a heart filled with joy.

 My products were appreciated by officers of the ministry and I was invited to give an interview in Mumbai. In those times only students who were pass outs of NIFT and NID colleges were given preference to join the panel as empanelled designers. So I had to prove my worth by going through a 3 stage interview which I'm glad went really well and I was one among the 1st designers who was chosen from  any another college. So there i was one among the few Empanelled handicraft designer working for the ministry of textiles. I had the privilege to do more than about 20 + workshop across India in different handicrafts ranging from bamboo , kasuti embroidery ,soft wood, zardosi ,mirror work etc. I was travelling to various remote villages where these artisans were living with such hidden talents within them and didn't even realise how talented they were. I loved interacting with them and teaching them new product innovations that they could think of with using the art form that they already are gifted with.

Did you face any hurdles in your journey so far? How did you overcome them?

 Yes I definitely did. Before becoming a handicraft designer i was always sad that I'm not doing what really makes me happy. I always had that sinking feeling that I would be a unhappy soul by faking it to myself that someday il start loving the job I do. It’s been a long journey of almost 12 years of trial n errors of highs and a few lows but a journey well lived. I am so glad I followed my heart and went after what I felt is ME. Even though the road was tough n less travelled n I had my share of critics who never left a chance to remind me that I was not good enough. But I'm so thankful to all my critics who challenged me and all my loved ones who believed in me blindly. It was not easy since the workshops were in remote villages where connectivity used to be very difficult. I remember I have travelled 6 hours daily to reach some places by changing 3 buses. Nothing came easy but I used to love the work I was doing so much that it didn’t matter.

Tell us something about your family & their support to you in this cause.

As far as my Family goes I think I'm the Blessed one.  I have a loving husband who not only believes in every dream of mine but has given wings to my dreams and let me fly high. He has been a constant support and has helped me do things I would never have taken up without him being my backbone. I have a cute Little son who is almost 3 years now and he never forgets to remind me that I'm his super mom and I can do everything..

Managing my work, my NGO, and the launch of my brand along with family is surely not easy. I have to manage time to the best way possible because we stay in a nuclear family n I don't have anyone to look after my kid .and for me my son is my priority. It is surely tough and it does take a toll on me but luckily I'm doing something I love ,so my work acts as a stress buster too and I'm glad I'm good at multitasking I guess all moms are gifted with that trait.


Soumya with Kaljeet(husband) and Ayushmaan (son)

Any message to the aspiring women out them struggling to prove themselves.

I would tell all the women out there that we just have one life n we should make the best of it we all are having talents and no matter what we should not let them go wasted. We as women are so gifted with multi-tasking we are great at managing our family, work ,emotions so well my only message to anyone with a dream is to start working on it  get up ,get there n do it no matter how silly it is It's yours and u need to believe in it unless u believe in yourself nobody else will so start living the life that makes u happy so that, u don’t have any regrets tomorrow.

Tell us about GIFT and story behind

These skill development workshops were of a duration of 15 days each and by the end of  the 15 days the bond that we shared used to be so strong and that's when I realised that I have to do something for the women  artisans like them who are so gifted but are unaware of the talent have .And then came the day when I fulfilled a dream of starting and registering my own NGO named Gift a Life Trust. Started with 10 women and zero investment and a dream to gift a better life to the women artisans and today we have a lot of women working for us.

 
 

We provide them with extensive training and then give them orders and we sell our products across India and through exhibitions and provide these women with a source of livelihood. we started selling our products because I was  strictly against taking any donations in cash or kind. So anybody who wanted to contribute were told to buy our products so that in that way we would get orders and the artisans would get a continuous source of Income.

 
Soumya, leading the way


Slowly our products became well known for the finishing and quality and we were trusted by so many customers who loved buying from us .I started designing different innovative products that weren't available anywhere and that's how we made almost 10000 +   happy clients in these years . I'm blessed that I'm  able to make the life of the artisans a  little less tough every smile counts and I’m glad I’m a reason for a few smiles.



Production in full swing under Soumya's guidence



The Team

Are you associated with any other brand?

I have now registered my very own brand named SOKAA which is going to be launched soon and which caters to lovely handmade stuff at affordable prices. Each product is designed by me so it's going to be something that's unique and quirky..

 

We The Womenz team thank her for her sharing her story with us. We are sure that her story will certainly inspire our readers.

 

Soumya can be reached on instagram, twitter, Facebook

 

First Published: 10-Apr-2017- 17:06


Comment