An Indian Social Enterprise is Training Refugee Women to Make Dolls From Fabric Waste

An Indian Social Enterprise is Training Refugee Women to Make Dolls From Fabric Waste

Wearing their traditional cotton attire and making their presence known in various locations around the world, Silaiwali dolls are more than the run of the mill rag dolls. For the fabric industry of India, they are a solution to the large amount of good quality cotton fabric that wastes away. For the Afghani refugee women who work in the unit that creates these dolls, they are a source of income that keeps them afloat. For Iris Strill and Bishwadeep Moitra, these dolls are the realization of a dream to help ensure fair employment for women from different walks of life in India. Most of all, Silaiwali dolls are symbols of what human beings can achieve, if we put our minds together.

As a generation who is constantly concerned about making the most of our resources and ensuring better livelihood for people, up-cycling has become a way of life. Iris Strill, a product designer who has been working with women refugees and rural Indian women in different craft clusters in India, was taken aback by the amount of cotton fabrics being thrown away as waste from clothing factories.

Combining her talent for product design and making use of her networks with international buyers of Indian textile products, Strill created the bohemian looking doll made out of waste fabric. Her husband, who is an independent Graphic Designer, Photographer and Writer-Editor, came together with her on this project and they started the social enterprise known as Silaiwali – an environment-friendly artisanal studio which will upcycle waste fabric generated by mass clothing manufacturer.

As their social responsibility, the couple decided to train and employ Afghan refugee women as their artisans who will handcraft dolls and other products designed by Strill. She had previously trained Afghan refugee work groups under UNHCR livelihood programs. While it was a challenge to find capital to start a social enterprise, they put in their own savings to start the venture and Moitra went on to say, “The rest of the pieces in the puzzle fell into place as if they were meant to! By November 15, 2018 our artisanal studio, SILAIWALI was up and running at Delhi’s Khirki Extension. Every morning at nine, twelve happy Afghan refugee ladies come to the Silaiwali studio and stitch till 5 in the evening. Our motto is: A Stitch Against Waste. A Stitch For Freedom.”

The response to Silaiwali has been largely appreciative, as they are part of the many ventures that are up-cycling waste, and doing zero waste production and circular production, which are all gaining currency, at least with mass clothing labels in the Western World according to the founders of the enterprise.

Currently, the work by Silaiwali has reached all over the globe through many shops including Uniqlo in Japan. They have been involved in projects with many companies since their inception in March 2018. Currently they are producing a souvenir article with an order of around 50,000 created from the production waste in Delhi NCR of a huge American store, who will be gifting the article to its customers on World Women’s Day, March 2020.

According to the couple , the biggest lesson during the work they are doing have been from the people they have been working with. The refugees they work with are a dignified lot who don’t open up about their woes, but working with them every day has shown them what it is to be a refugee. The courage, the determination, and the sheer will to live a life of dignity despite all odds have been a lesson in Humanism for them.

Their recent collaboration with French luxury brand, Chloé has yielded special developments in the sustainability sector. Creating two limited edition dolls dressed in classical dresses, two bag charms and Christmas gift ornaments designed to showcase Chloe’s Spring-Summer '22 designs in up-cycled fabric. Interestingly both the brands received the WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation) certification as Guaranteed Fair Trade Enterprise this year. The products are just being launched in the market with a focus on sustainable employment and up-cycling as a basis for their noteworthy collaboration. 

So the next time you are looking to buy a doll for your favorite baby cousin or a gift to a friend’s child, consider buying a Silaiwali doll. With the different traditional attires, the varying skin tones and the story behind the venture all involved, they are more than toys - they are symbols of human resilience, something that every child needs to learn.

For more details on the venture, you can head over to their website.

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