In a remote Kerala town, Jatos Maria has been empowering rural women by training them in all aspects of industrial sewing, generating employment despite the pandemic
Jatos Maria started her business, Fab N Sew Garments, 10 years ago with a single sewing machine in Chully, a remote and hilly town near the picturesque Athirappilly waterfalls in Kerala. Back then, the 22-year -old had rented a house, recruited four women, boarded them and even cooked for them. Her first investment was her salary of ₹35,000. Today, with a turnover of ₹15 lakh and a production of 3,000 pieces a month, her workforce still remains all-women. Most of her staff comes from rural areas with little exposure to business, and is trained on the job by her. Empowering them is her biggest driving force, she says.
“Before the pandemic, I had 45 women working with me, it’s now reduced to 20. I recruited them from the villages and convinced them that age is not a criteria to do or learn anything. I explained to them the importance of financial independence and earning for the family. The work gives them confidence. I am proud that 55-year-old Rani Cheriyan has been working with me since I started,” says Jatos.
She trains them in all aspects of tailoring, stitching, packaging and merchandising. The women have learned to hand embroider, make flowers with fabric, do surface embellishments, make patterns
and cut using machines.
Neethu Soni and Vincy Paappachan, who trained under her, now manage the units. “ Now we are better than some of the qualified seamstresses,” they say proudly. Rani adds that she was a raw hand when she joined Jatos and learned the skill from her. Jatos believes that learning to work systematically, “in a factory line system” is important, something she has introduced them to.
The women have grown confident, are educating their children with their income and some have bought two wheelers and cars.
Though production at Fab N Sew continued through the pandemic, Jatos put the wholesale business on hold and diversified into manufacturing masks and PPE kits. “Until lockdown in 2020, we were only into wholesale business. It became difficult to raise capital from the market during the lockdown, so I started a signature couture line Jatos, under my name. We are doing this, together with PPE kits.”
Of late she is into customised garments. She explains, “Couture collection means designing my own signature concepts with unique designs and satisfying each customer’s dreams.” Party wear dresses are the hottest selling products.
Production is taken up against orders that her marketing staff collects from textile stores. She sources material like fabric, threads etc from across India, but mainly from Ahmedabad in Gujarat.
One of the biggest challenges Jatos faces is the remoteness of Chully, where her unit is. We are located in a remote place, where I have to provide accommodation for all. Secondly, courier services are not available her ,” rues Jatos who has moulded the staff to be professional.
Jatos is a hands on mum to two toddlers and takes her babies along on her business trips. “I used to travel every two months,to source materials. But now all procurement is done virtually,” she says.
Her latest project is to help women in distress. Jatos graduated in Fashion Technology from Kitex Institute of Fashion Technology in 2010, and worked there for two years. Her husband Linto M Mathew is a tax consultant at Ernakulam and the couple has two daughters.