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This women's group in Raj has celebrity clients, including Dutch Queen

A small village in Rajasthan, Bhikamkor, is scripting a big-time story of sustainability, courtesy Saheli Women, a non profit organisation operating here, whose impact can be seen with the Queen of the Netherlands and other global celebrities posing for a picture wearing beautiful dresses made by this group.

The NGO, headed by Madhu Vaishnav and comprising a team of around 80 women, is reaching out to international clients and partnering with international fashion brands to produce garments, accessories and homeware aiming at empowering women through skills development to create meaningful livelihood opportunities.

Such is its popularity that the Netherlands Queen was seen wearing a dress made by this NGO in 2020.

Recently another celebrity Livia Firth, a sustainable activist and wife of actor Colin Firth, was also seen flaunting a dress made by the group.

Livia, on her Instagram handle, said: "I am honoured to wear the story of Bharti, the woman who made this dress @_saheliwomen ?? this is what true sustainability is like - it involves people, their sustainable and fair income and goes all the way through the supply."

Founder of the NGO, Madhu Vaishnav says: "It does not matter who wears our dresses, but what we want is for them to understand Indian handloom and the efforts of people making them. This solves our purpose, in fact, many other celebrities have worn our dresses."

At Saheli Women, team members are allowed to work out their holidays, work hours and working pattern. The orthodox pattern of working does not fit Indian women, especially village women as they have children, animals, families to look after. Hence, the freedom given to the women to work according to their choice, says Madhu.

Sharing her story, she says: "I went to UC Berkeley for a diploma, then on my return six years back, I registered myself for an NGO and analysed how we can develop a community with strength. Slowly things started to take shape and we moved ahead."

Asked what motivated her to study further, she said: "When my children were young, I wanted to go for higher studies. Although I was from a middle class family, my dreams were high. I took the eligibility test, passed it, left my children with my in-laws and went to the US. I did not know English, but learnt it gradually."

Saheli has started working with women who have migrated from Pakistan. These were women who had no opportunities after coming to India and needed support. They have an income now.

Saheli (which means female friend) has grown from just five women to around 80 artisans working together. "It's more than a community, it's like a family," says Madhu.

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