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From Rs 300 To Rs 20 Lakh: How A STD 4 Pass Rural Woman Built Global Brand From Scratch

If you look closely, you will realize that the energy particles of inspiration are all around. From the rising sun, a calm lake, to the setting moon, there are infinite things, places, and people to draw inspiration from. Today’s story is of one such inspiring women who has embroidered threads of change in life of many women artisans. Pabiben Rabari is the founder of pabiben.com, one of the first women artisan enterprises, based in Kutch, Gujarat. In our conversation with her, we found a genuine inspiring soul.

Pabiben hails from Bhadroi village in Anjar Taluka of Kutch. When she was five-year-old, her father, who was a herd grazer, passed away. Her mother was then expecting her third child and had to still take up work as a laborer to ensure food for her children. It did not take Pabiben much time to understand the struggles of her mother who had to raise three daughters.

“I dropped out of school after STD 4, as we could not afford education after that. When I was 10, I started working with my mother at people’s houses and farms. We used to fill water at their houses and got Re 1 for that,” she recalls. “After sometime, I started learning traditional embroidery from my mother.”

Pabiben belongs to a tribal community called the Dhebaria Rabari, which is known for its intricate embroidery art. It was a custom that girl had to make embroidered pieces and then take them to their husband’s house as dowry. It takes one-two months to make one such dress piece. It meant that the girls had to stay back at their parent’s house for until 30-35 years of the age till they finish the pieces. To eliminate that, the village elders decided to ban embroidery for personal use.

“In 1998, I joined a Rabari women’s group that was funded by an NGO and headed the group as the master artisan. I neither wanted the artwork to die, nor break my community rules. So I invented ‘Hari Jari’, a machine application of readymade elements like trims and ribbons,” says Pabiben. “After working for six-seven years with the group, I started making more designs for cushion covers, quilts, garments, etc. I used to get Rs 300 every month for that.”

Pabiben got married when she was 18. She did not know that it was a turning point in her life. A few foreigners had attended her wedding, charmed by Indian traditions. They saw the bags that she had crafted and were extremely impressive and well-done. As a return gift, Pabiben decided to gift them a bag. The bag they carried with them was called the ‘Pabi Bag’ and later became an international hit.

Pabiben tells KenFolios that her husband would compliment her work and encourage her to do something of her won which can also benefit other women of the village. “You work so beautifully. Why don’t you do something for yourself and other women in the village? I really wanted to  something but could not find a way,” she says.

After five years, Pabiben finally took a step to go out in the market and understand the work. “I began participating in exhibitions, learning the skill better. I felt fearless and confident. After sometime, other women from my village started working with me and we made pabiben.com. The first big order that my team received was for Rs 70,000 from Ahmedabad,” her eyes twinkled. “We also received a grant from the Gujarat government.”

Today, Pabiben has a team of 60 women artisans from her village working on 25 designs. Her website has a turnover of Rs 20 lakh. She was awarded with the Janaki Devi Bajaj Puraskar for Rural Entrepreneur, 2016. Many of her bags were featured in Bollywood and Hollywood movies. She has also helped other women of her village to be self- dependent.

Talking about her family, she says, “My husband supports me very much. He has left his kiraana store and works with me full time. I am a mother of two now and my own mother stays with me. She is happy with my work. Both my younger sisters are married and happy in their life.”

Pabiben is an idol for so many women who want to do something on their own but have trouble finding a path. She has brought a change in the life of so many Rabari women by making them independent and breadwinners of the family. Her website Pabiben.com is also popular internationally for its exotic-looking bags. “I want at least 500 women artisans to work independently through Pabiben.com,” she concludes.

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