Deep within the recesses of Karachi’s Metroville colony, women leave their homes at different times of the day and walk into a building a few paces away. There, they are awaited by a cluster of sewing machines, swathes of fabric and sewing samples.
The women get to work, bringing the fabric to life in the form of tunics and lowers; clothes that will soon leave their humble beginnings in this small workshop to hang in clothing racks at luxury stores in glossy malls. Should they be needed at home, the women simply set their work aside, leave and then return later.
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The success of the First Step Foundation lies in providing this convenience to women from lower income regions that need to earn a living for themselves but are bound by their domestic duties.
At present, over 100 women have been enabled to earn a living for themselves. The organisation hopes to continue its efforts and engage more high-street brands to join in, building a workforce that harnesses the skills of women who may otherwise be impaired from earning for themselves. "The organisation has trained over 700 women in skills such as stitching, sewing and dress-making," elaborated coordinator and project manager, Sabriyah Chatoor.
"Our goal was always to empower them financially and initially we arranged for them to be hired at various factories. However, hardly a few turned up at their workplaces and their numbers quickly fell over time. This was when we realised that while these women lived in dire financial straits and were eager to generate an additional income for themselves; their domestic circumstances prevented them from doing so," Sabriyah added.
As a solution to this problem, the First Step Foundation opted to set up small-scale working facilities near the women’s homes and enlisted a range of high-street brands to join them in their cause. Design prototypes are now made available to the women which are then replicated in mass quantities by them. At present they are creating ready-to-wear for Threads & Motifs while high street stalwarts like Khaadi and Agha Noor are also prepared to come on board.
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"We have basically created a flexible labour market for these women by bringing them at-home employment opportunities, thereby increasing their spending power and inevitably contributing to the country’s GDP," explains Sabriyah Chatoor, who is the Project manager and coordinator at the foundation.
It is important to give back socially but it is also imperative to recognize the restrictions prevalent in a social structure and find solutions accordingly.
This, in essence, is First Step’s main achievement. And while there are other organizations that are also working on similar endeavors, many more need to follow suit. On the path to a socially responsible, economically viable Pakistan, every step counts.
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