The Creators | Rooted in Reality
By Saadia Peerzada, UG 22
"The Creators is a series of profiles of Ashokans who are actively involved in different creative fields including, but in no way limited to, music, photography, creative writing, and visual or performing arts."
A conversation with Aishwarya Sunaad, a third-year student at Ashoka University and founder of Ordinaire, a brand that sources material from factory refuse and small traders to produce tote bags, masks and hair accessories. It provides employment to women from the villages of Asawarpur and Yerganahalli and functions via democrating voting. Ordinaire resists against the alienation of the producer from the product and seeks to establish the role of women as individuals entitled to wages as opposed to just being caretakers. In this interview, Sunaad talks about how she gave the idea of Ordianaire a material form.
Saadia: How did you come up with the idea of Ordinaire?
Aishwarya: I’ve always loved working with textiles. Every time I looked at various kinds of fabrics, I was fascinated by how these came to be and where they could go. Furthermore, I have always believed that for things to be impactful, they have to be rooted in reality. The discussions on labor rights, poverty and unemployment within the walls of Ashoka seemed to be of no avail; especially when the village across the street is steeped in the same issues we had heated debates on every day. I realized that it was time I applied my education to the nearest people who needed it.
Furthermore, my love for subaltern studies prompted me to work in villages. Spending most of my time in Sonipat, roaming the streets of Asawarpur, I was struck by the immense potential of the women of the village. However, they lacked the means to pursue their vocation or be employed. So, I decided to create a sustainable project that would let women own their work of creating beautiful, individual pieces from textile waste or fabric sourced from small wholesale traders.
Saadia: How did you begin to materialize this idea?
Aishwarya: Throughout the period of September to December 2019, I approached a number of factories to buy their textile waste. After a lot of negotiations and refusals, a factory in Tamil Nadu agreed. It then went through a segregation process by the Ordinaire team to separate fabric that was thick enough to be used. Apart from this, we started sourcing khadi and pure cotton from small trailers in Chandni Chowk, and other small traders in Delhi for the Asawarpur unit. All of the funding for this brand came out of my own savings. What helped to get a team going was having no hierarchy or power structure—each member’s work is equal and the producer is in direct contact with their piece of art. This equality of importance and responsibility is what has kept us going ever since.
Towards the beginning of the process, a lot of sensitization and social gatherings went into getting people involved in the project. The early members of Ordinaire—the first unit in the village of Yerganahalli in Mysore—learnt to stitch from YouTube videos and carried out conversations with the villagers about this enterprise.
Unfortunately, the second unit in Asawarpur accompanied some issues. We were met with a lot of resistance on the women’s part as the production took place inside their own homes: spaces that institute boundaries. We took efforts to help young women transcend the obligation of being the daughters in law of the village—something they often said to me “ham is gaun ki bahu hain”—and recognize their existence as individuals independent from their roles as mothers and homemakers. This was only possible by spending a lot of time with the people of Asawarpur and speaking in the same dialect of Hindi as they did—because it is only through speaking their language in the way they speak it that we could have hoped to bridge the gaps between our worlds.
Saadia: How did the men in these villages react to this project?
Aishwarya: While they reacted positively to our visits towards the beginning—due to our social privilege—the smaller ways in which men hindered the work of women in the village became clearer as time passed. The workers never said anything against this outrightly. Yet, on numerous occasions, household chores were piled upon them to keep them from working on their assignments.
Saadia: As you mentioned, Ordinaire is run through equal importance and responsibility being vested in each member, what does the organization and decision-making look like in this case?
Aishwarya: Every member of the team is a part of the decision-making process. The prices of products are decided by a democratic vote. Ordinaire is neither a corporate, nor an NGO, but a social business that functions like a competitive brand. Working in a place of equality has kept us going and will hopefully do so in the future. The workers are in direct contact with the product and the seller as opposed to work environments where privileged employers hand out jobs as a charity. Our finances are transparent to each person on the team and all current profits are being fed into expansion. Our long-term plans for surplus capital are to start education programmes for the women and children at the fringes of state policy implementation.
Saadia: Since many team members have different schedules, how do you prevent time clashes from getting in the way of the work that goes into Ordinaire?
Aishwarya: As there is no singular authority or leader for Ordinaire, each member feels obliged to stick to their commitments as all members have equal responsibility in making this work. All assignments have project leads, elected according to the time they have to give to the work, people self-nominate themselves if they have a relatively free schedule as compared to the next person and so on. There is no obligation for a certain number of products to be made or a certain goal to be achieved in a given time frame, each member works according to their own parameters.
Saadia: What do the next few months hold for Ordinaire?
Aishwarya: We’ve made it to an international entrepreneurship summit in Singapore where we hope to push for funding. We are also hoping to retail in boutiques, cafes and corporate houses to help expand Ordinaire. An e-commerce website is also in the making.
Saadia: Thank you for the interview. Hope you get the funding you deserve.
Aishwarya: I hope the funds can help us sustain this brand, though we’ve kept the possibility of it being otherwise in mind.