Godavari, India

Lacemaking and tailoring

Godavari is a women’s producer group based in Narsapur, on the West Godavari Delta. Their specialism is lacemaking, and more recently, tailoring. They make lovely crochet flower brooches and necklaces, purses, bags, shawls and homeware such as lace bedspreads and tablecloths.

They have a range of both women and men’s clothing, including men's shirts, women's cotton and lace tops and nightdresses and bamboo kaftans.

Recently Godavari have sourced handloomed cotton from small producers using mainly vegetable dyes and traditional kalamkari block printing for clothing and homeware.
The quality of their products is superb. The social premium from the sale of their products goes towards a number of projects, including free eye tests and glasses to artisans, money to widows and those too old to work, and rice and presents to AIDS orphans.

They also make free school uniforms. All also receive blankets and saris, and extra in the event of a natural disaster such as the major floods in 2008.

AIDS is now a huge problem in India and Godavari support the orphans of former artisans, as well as orphans in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh.
A Scottish missionary taught the first group of women the art of lace making. Mrs Hemalatha, the current president’s mother, founded Godavari as she was so frustrated with the women being exploited by middle men.

Through her hard work she persuaded women in 30 villages to form a society, even going on hunger strike to gain recognition for independent status.

This was achieved on May 19th 1979 and the first order was from Trade Aid in New Zealand in 1983. Now the artisans number around 1,000, working in the West Godavari region of Andhra Pradesh.

On my visit to India in February 2019, Lovethatstuff and Godavari developed several more designs together which are on sale in our Brighton Marina Fair Trade shop.

Barbara Wilson, lovethatstuff director, visits Godavari

As I touched down in Mumbai airport I was appalled to see the shanty dwellings round the perimeter fence.

I thought my allotment shed was bad but it looks pretty good compared to these flimsy houses - plastic over wooden poles, an entire tarpaulin a good example, with assorted scraps at the other end of the spectrum, and the whole covered in dust.

I wondered why the government hadn't built a series of low cost housing.

Areas of Mumbai have some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

The welcome from Godavari was wonderful and the 8 hour train journey melted away as I met the team of lace makers who come to the main workshop every day.

Although I'm about a size 10 and average height, I was huge in comparison to these lovely ladies in their bright saris and bare feet.
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• A warm welcome from the Godavari team

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• Lacemakers based in the Godavari workshop

I was here to work out how they were cutting patterns for the cotton and lace mix blouses and if they had encountered that rare and elusive species - the bust dart.

It turns out that their tailor was incredibly talented and so we set about developing some new designs and of course he knew more about bust darts than I did but the concept of a basic block pattern that one could adapt seemed new. Godavari support around 1,000 lace artisans and we went to four of the 40 villages in Andhra Pradesh where the cooperative has members.
Traditionally women, especially widows, have a terrible time in India and rely on their families to support them financially. Naturally this is pretty precarious and so lacemaking helps them secure an income.

The villages looked incredibly picturesque, especially the one in the middle of a coconut grove, but life here is hard and for most people all about securing the basics.

But one of the things that struck me was how much everyone laughed. They also loved having their photo taken.

Watching the producers at work

The women producers could choose to work together outside a central house or work in their own homes. Srinu, from the main workshop, would bring and collect orders and I saw some of the things I ordered being made, which was really interesting.

Agriculturally this area is very productive but land is disproportionately expensive - from £2,000 to £8,000 per acre depending on soil fertility and proximity to the road.

And with agricultural labourers' wages at $2 per day for a man and $1.50 for a woman, with only part-time work, it's easy to see how hard it is to manage, never mind get out of the poverty trap.

Labourers only get work at busy times of the year, planting and harvest being the best. I only saw men working in the fields. And with such a big population - now 1.2 billion - and no welfare net, full employment is essential.

Coconut trees are a boon. Fortunately, there are thousands of coconut trees in central and south India and many families will have three or four in a garden. So, as they ripen year round, they contribute helpfully to the diet.
Some of the houses had water buffalo and communal wells and milk can be a valuable source of protein in a vegetarian Hindu diet.

The family running Godavari are Christian and organised a lovely Christmas celebration. The lacemakers have a yearly eye check as lacemaking can be fine work and the group buy glasses for those that need them. The celebration is also a chance to distribute saris and blankets to those who need them, last year several were hit by the tsunami and others this year by a cyclone.

Godavari also gave to people outside their community and I was impressed by the number of projects they contributed to. In fact, in my week here I met many incredibly generous people who were practically working in all sorts of ways to improve the lives of the poor.

In the speech they asked me to give at the Christmas celebration I promised to try and get them some more orders since fair trade only works when the orders come in regularly. Their skills are wonderful and I'm convinced people want to buy lovely, handmade things so here we go.
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• Local kids with their buffalo

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• Lacemakers based in the Godavari workshop

…in my week here I met many incredibly generous people who were working in all sorts of ways to improve the lives of the poor…

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