Kirti Poonia leads Okhai’s efforts towards women empowerment by ensuring that it operates with the same rigor as any other fashion brand in the world. In the past Kirti has worked with several Tata companies in business and strategy roles. Okhai’s vision is to create 100,000 happy hands, which means making a difference in the lives of 50,000 women.
Meaningful impact takes time and Okhai has set a milestone for itself: to touch the lives of 5,000 women by 2022. Turning Okhai into a profitable and self-sustainable enterprise is vital in realizing this objective. The social enterprise started as small self-help group, with just a handful of women from the Rabari tribe in Mithapur, Gujarat, who make apparel and home-décor products using local crafts and techniques. Today Okhai faces, and overcomes, business challenges like any other enterprise. Okhai’s marketing campaigns have been critical in the past years, resulting in almost 110,000 followers on Facebook and pushing retail and online sales of its products.
Living childhood dream
“We want to give the customer a certain product at a certain price, but we also want to pay our artisans more,” says Kirti Poonia, who helms Okhai with great passion. “We are faced with this challenge every day and we have managed to strike the right balance between the two. It sometimes means the business has to be seen from the heart rather than the mind. For me, building Okhai is a childhood dream, now being lived. Truly the most gratifying things I have ever done.”
From women for women
“If you are a working woman, and if you wear an Okhai kurta to your office, then basically you are creating a working woman in rural India,” says Kirti. “The relationship is not one-way, though,” she adds. “The woman in the rural village is also creating beautiful pieces for you to wear to work.”
Okhai; a Tata initiative for rural artisans
Okhai was set up by Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD). With the support of TCSRD, self-help groups have been formed in villages of Okhamandal, Gujarat. Members of these groups are trained in the processes of modern handicraft production. The idea is to ensure that the women can work at their pace and in their homes while managing their household. Special training on costing, designs and visual merchandising coupled with factory visits are provided on an ongoing basis to keep the women in touch with the latest trends, colors and fashions.
Women on Wings and Okhai
Okhai takes its name from Okhamandal, the province in Jamnagar district, Gujarat, where Tata Chemicals set up business operations back in 1939 as a manufacturer of soda ash. The brand came into formal existence in 2002 under the umbrella of TCSRD. Since 2016 Okhai and Women on Wings partner in their joint mission to create more employment opportunities for rural women. Okhai’s head Kirti Poonia is an active participant at Women on Wings’ Summits. Recently Edwin van den Brand, textile expert at Women on Wings, worked with Kirti and her team on design development & management to make sure Okhai will meet its customers’ changing demands.
Picture: Kirti Poonia in center