Having Unflinching Faith in her craft, PabibenRabari has taken her art from the lands of Kutch to International Fashion scene

If you have one of those hand clutches or a soft designer bag in beautiful Kutchi embroidery, be sure it would be a ‘Pabi bag’. In a new and developed artistic form called Hari Jari, Pabiben Rabari, the inventor of this art, is a tribal woman of the Kutch region, who has truly gone international with her eponymous bags that have got her instant fame both at home and abroad. A website to her name, through which she deals mostly with her international clients have made her a celebrity in her region and a recognizable name in fashion circles. Wow!

What does she offer?

Women shopping bags, clutches and hand bags of various sizes and formats in a wild mix of vibrant colors that is a trademark of the Kutch region. These have trims, ribbons and other small forms of adornment with her trademark Hari Jari linings that have extraordinary appeal as an imaginative creation that has become immensely sought after since its introduction. (Do check her website http://www.pabiben.com and see for yourself).

How does she do it?

Currently, her eponymous business based in Kukadsar employs over 60 women making more than 25 designs, and her website is visited by clients at home and abroad. She has her promoters in India and overseas whom she calls her valued partners because they promote her products through their own activities.

Her products are lined up at: Burlingtons & Taj Treasures at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai, Sheraton Treasures at the Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai, Jute Cottage at Bangalore, i-tokri.com at Gwalior, tjori.com at New Delhi, Craft roots, Gujarat, and ARTISANS' Mumbai - A unique gallery and shop, founded by Radhi Parekh and located at Kala Ghoda, the art heritage precinct of Mumbai,

Internationally she has linked up with:

Manisha Joshi : a noted Gujarati poet who has published three books of poetry, is settled in Berkeley, California and empowering Rabari women through education and self-employment is a cause dear to Manisha's heart.

V.V.Singh & Sofia : Vastra, Costa Rica – Run by Vichitraweer Singh – a commercial pilot and historian with postgraduate degree in human rights, residing in Costa Rica and Sofía Salas - lawyer with postgraduate degree in human rights, Costa Rican. They are committed to promote traditional crafts and to offer competitive prices. With no intermediaries they are able to provide their clients with the best rates for their products.

Lis Stokes - England – who herself has a set-up in Dorset, and meeting Pabiben personally at a function in Kutch was greatly impressed by her and her work.

Megha Shah- London - a fashionista at heart and entrepreneur by choice with a keen interest in textiles, particularly those that blend Indian aesthetics with universal and contemporary designs. She is dedicated to giving a global exposure to local artisans who bring to the table rich regional aesthetics and an eye for detail.

Anil Menon-Dubai - who promotes for Pabiben in Dubai, Middle East, Maldives and Srilanka.

Sofia Fernandez- MAMBLONA, Spain

This gives a fair idea about the spread and depth of her network today.

Her achievements of note?

  • Design Selected for Hollywood Film “ The Other End of The Line “
  • Pabiben’s design has been selected for Bollywood Film “Luck by Chance“
  • Selection for Santa Fe Folk Art Festival, Santa Fe, USA , Year 2013
  • Participated in International Buyer Seller Meet, Ahmedabad, Year 2015
  • Participated in Design Workshop with Vietnamese artisans in Delhi
  • Participated in theme based exhibition-Kutch center of the world at India International Centre, New Delhi

But where did it all start?

Born in Kukadsar village of Mundra Taluka, Kutch, Pabiben was the eldest of three girls. Barely 12 she lost her father and the burden of the family came on the young widow, her mother. Pabiben had to leave school while she was in the 4th std. and take to embroidery, the only thing that women could hope to excel in at that time on order to support her mother who did odd jobs to sustain the family.

The Rabari community was known for its famous brand of Kutchi embroidery. Girls of her community used to in fact embroider their own wedding trousseaus as per custom. But gradually this was seen as a hindrance by the community elders who saw that girls used to marry very late because they were absorbed in the hand embroidery that consumed time and effort. Pabiben had the misfortune to have the elders of the community banning hand embroidery completely before she could complete her own trousseau or dowry.

Since professional embroidery was allowed, Pabiben joined a woman group in 1998, and soon with her determination and enthusiasm, became known as a master artisan. Dhebaria women were searching for a way to solve their design problem: i.e. learning to remain decorative without breaking the community rules. They invented a new art form: machine application of readymade elements, which they called “Hari Jari.”

When Pabiben herself experimented with vibrant combination of trims and ribbons, it became a first in her community that later came to be known as “Pabi Jari “. Mastering her art, she made a sample shopping Bag that became an instant hit, and was christened the “Pabi Bag!”

It has remained Pabi Bag since and with increasing popularity has had the honour of being introduced in a Bollywood and even Hollywood film. Pabiben.com is one of the first of its kind as a woman artisan enterprise.

A sound mind and a great philosophy

One of the best things that could happen for this ‘wonder woman’ is that God has given her a sensible thinking mind and a philanthropic approach in her business.

Having steadied the life of her family, she realized the travails of women who were mainstays of their families. She also valued the talent and dedication of artisans who gave their all in creating a worthwhile product.

Her vision of getting women to become self-reliant as entrepreneurs and strike out on their own to fulfill their own ambitions and sustain their creativity is indeed noble. Her approach – ‘Concept is important not the product’. So as per her if the approach is correct and there is the right effort, things begin to fall in place automatically and if you were to replace the Pabi Bag with any other product, it could also result in more than satisfying results.

Advocating sound Gandhian Principles

Strongly grounded to her roots the main focal point of promoting this enterprise as a Rural Business Model is based on the Gandhian Approach to Rural Development. Gandhiji believed in a few truths that held true always.

Mass migration from villages, the rich indigenous knowledge & culture of our forefathers, the traditional arts and crafts, and of course the practical wisdom in traditional societies that happen due to industrialization and the lure of quick money has to be contained at all costs. Quoting the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, she has seen how a traditional centre like Anjar saw heavy migration to nearby industrial areas but a suicide every now and then out of despair also was a reality.

“Gandhiji maintained that industrialization would help only a few and will lead to concentration of economic power. Industrialization leads to passive or active exploitation of the villages. It encourages competition. Moreover, industrialization replaces manpower and hence it adds to unemployment. In a country like India, where millions of people in the villages do not get work for even six months in a year, industrialization will not only increase unemployment but force people to migrate to urban areas. This will ruin villages”.

“To avoid such disasters, village and cottage industries should be revived. They provide employment to meet the needs of the villagers and facilitate village self-sufficiency. By creating small scale enterprises we can solve some of the burning issues in India like livelihood, Industrialization, Urbanization and also creating value and respect for the women. Our main focus is on Concept selling rather than product selling. We aim to get back those artisans who left the traditional work and are working as labourers in industry”, says Pabiben Rabari.

And to top it all her enterprise has a committee that decides the pricing which has to be fair to the customer. “Our artisans are more concerned about the quality of work. When they finish a product, they themselves ask a question- should I buy this product? Is it worth to buy at the price asked? They follow the noble concept of “Fair Product”, which gives value of money to the customer”.

An Inclusive Approach

The modus operandi at Pabiben’s business enterprise is very simple. Women are differentiated based on their interest and age. Young artisans who have been trained on Hari Jari work and stitching very well are provided raw materials, work at their homes at their convenience, and including the taking care of their children and family, and yet making a final finished product themselves.

For those who have mastered in embroidery, suitable work is provided to them. Old women artisans whose eyesight is not clear but are still interested in their traditional work, are provided applique work to make quilts and cushions.

More of Pabiben

50 or 60 is a nice number to start with, but Pabiben intends increasing it to 500 women if things continue nicely as now. She aims at creating the environment where the region can hold out on its own in sustaining traditional art and craft despite changing conditions and not succumb to the strong lure of the quick buck in an industrial concern.

As any other lucky woman she has a supportive family of husband and two children. "I am sending my son to an English medium school," says Pabiben, mother of two, who turned euphoric when her Facebook page got over 2,500 likes within a month. The couple has also purchased a smartphone which they use to know the feedback and comments about their products, received from across the globe.

She was one of the 150 chosen of 3,000 artisans from across the world, invited to Santa Fe Folk Art Festival in United States, but could not get a visa to reach there.

Women like Pabiben constitute the rare breed that emerges from a Life Need. Undeterred by conditions, determined to get the better of a bad situation, she has inspired a whole generation of women to become Masters of their own Lives and lead the life of dignity and satisfaction. That is why Unnati Silks says, “She’s Different”.


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