The depths of rural India is not where you might expect to find a cutting edge fashion house, but on a 12-hour train ride from Kolkata, 17 women and one man are the latest group taught to sew by former Tamatea High School student Ana Wilkinson-Gee.
Ana and husband Daniel, along with their three children, moved to India more than 10 years ago, where Ana started running sewing classes from her house, using non-electric treadle sewing machines. As word spread around the village, demand for the four-month sewing classes grew.
“We have now trained more than 170 women in sewing and pattern making,” Ana says.
Last year a collection of the
Holi Boli labelled garments featured in NZ Fashion Week in Auckland. The clothes are also now stocked by Two Lippy Ladies in Napier and Tonic&Cloth in Palmerston North.
“After years of perfecting our tailoring skills, we are ready and excited to bring the women’s work to the world. We hope to upscale and grow Holi Boli for the sake of creating more safe and meaningful jobs for more of our sewing class graduates.”
Ana says they are wanting to be the ethical manufacturer for more brands, boutiques and designers.
“We are also looking to sell wholesale to retailers who want to stock an ethical fashion brand that is making a significant and sustainable impact in women’s lives daily in the village.”
That impact has been lifechanging, from the women having a sense of belonging at the Holi Boli sewing house to being able to provide for their families.
“They say it feels like a family where they are cared for. It is a women-safe environment to work in and they feel happy. They are often the breadwinners for their families and gain respect from their families and community. They describe a change on their inside — feeling more confident. They are able to fight poverty and they feel really good about that. They feel like they are independent, strong women.”
The positive benefits of empowering the women doesn’t stop there. Staff often build