How These Female Breadwinners Defy Tradition — & Break Stereotypes

Some of us dream of working from home — creating our own hours, providing for ourselves, while having the flexibility to take care of our families.
Now, imagine this life in India, but with no electricity, no running water, and barely any access to education. That’s what life is like for the beading breadwinners of Bareilly, highly talented artisans commissioned by designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, AllSaints, and Ralph Lauren. These are the protagonists of the latest documentary film from UNLEASHED, featuring female artisans around the world.
Gudia Khan, Fulwano Noor Bano, and Nazama Begam are going against tradition and working to help support their families. Begam, in particular, works so her children can continue their education.
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“After [my children] finish their studies, I want them to get jobs,” Begam says. “They’re not ready for marriage. I want them to study first.”
UNLEASHED co-founders Jaclynn Brennan and Kara Ross discovered these revolutionary artisans after researching beading trends. When they discovered Adda, a popular embroidering-style in India, they got in touch with one of the production managers who oversees the women featured here. Ross and Brennan flew to Bareilly to check out the women's impressive handmade work.
“We were shocked,” Brennan told Refinery29 in a phone interview. “These women sit on the floor of their hutch hours on end and never got credit or recognition. We made it our mission to tell their stories and share what motivates them.”
During their two-week journey with the artisans, UNLEASHED commissioned the women to bead at 1.5 times the wages paid by couture brands, in addition to bringing Gudia Khan, the main subject of the film, to Delhi to debut her work at the FDCI Amazon India Fashion Week.
Khan, who became the financial and emotional head of her family after her father passed away, works to take care of her mother and siblings. “I think a woman can pick up work from outside the home and then do the work in her own home with honour,” Khan says in the film.
As for Begam? Her goals are already in fruition, with her work inspiring her own daughters. “After I finish my studies, I will relieve my mother from this work,” Begam’s daughter says in the film. “I’d also like to take her on vacation.”
Watch the entire film above.
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