Unique craft of Toda tribal women from Ooty’s hills

To enable tribal women who have full-time responsibility of running a household earn an income, self-help group (SHG) Shalom Ooty was established in 2005 in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Today, Shalom has turned into a social for-profit enterprise which enables women from the Toda community to strive for increased financial freedom. Shalom and Women on Wings have started joining hands in their joint mission of empowering women economically and creating a better future for the next generation.

Unique rich embroidery
Shalom’s vision is to transform the lives of tribal women who belong to the Toda community. The Toda tribe is the most ancient and unusual tribe of Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. They speak their own language, have their own secretive customs and regulations. Also the Toda community is well-known for its embroidery. Women embroider only red and black threads in graphic designs on a white background, giving it a rich effect. Using their traditional talent in exclusive hand embroidery on mainstream products such as cushions and bed spreads, the women have found a means to enhance their self-worth and independence within the constraints of their daily routine.

Tribal craft, global designs
Last March, a Women on Wings team worked a number of days with the Shalom team. Next to workshops on strategy and business planning, the team went on a field visit to see the women artisans at work. Sandra Lansbergen, textile and retail expert at Women on Wings (picture left): “It was amazing to see the women do not use any patterns. They embroider straight from their heart, creating beautiful designs that could just as well be sold at Western retailers. It may be a tribal craft, but it has a very global design. We were very fortunate to be able to spend time with the women and learn about their craft and their culture which is so different from where I come from.”

Growing Shalom to engage more tribal women
The Women on Wings team also comprised joint managing director Ronald van het Hof and senior business consultant Supriya Kapoor. In the workshops the Women on Wings team used tools like Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle concept. Also they analyzed Shalom’s strenghts and challenges versus its opportunities and threats. Jointly, the teams set goals with timelines to enlarge Shalom’s activities to go beyond its current product portfolio. Next steps were defined and responsibilities assigned. All with one aim; to grow Shalom so more products can be sold and more tribal women can be engaged in embroidery.