When we came to know about the story of Indian Yards, we were inspired to do our own bit of good, so we thought we’ll start this off by telling you how this company came to be. After spending a decade in the corporate world, the owners, a power couple, decided to move to the Nilgiris and felt that to improve their quality of life, it also meant helping the community they were a part of. That’s how Indian Yards was born – with a vision to empower the women of the Nilgiris with skill and employment; who then turned out to be fine crafters of cotton fabric and yarn. The brand now handcrafts a range of sustainable home decor, kitchen and macrame products. From patchwork cotton quilts to cotton bags, cotton aprons to even cotton face masks, there’s so much that they offer.
A two-month stay in rural India inspired Sunita Suhas and her husband to wrap up their city life and move to the Nilgiris. That’s when they realised that there are a lot of women raring to do much more with their lives, they just need that extra nudge and the right platform to do so. In 2018, they started Indian Yards, a social enterprise running a livelihood programme for women from rural and tribal communities.
Coonoor-based Indian Yards works with rural and tribal women in the Nilgiris to make patchwork quilts and cotton bags. But as their business took a turn for the worse during the pandemic, they turned to making face masks. These artisans embroider Toda motifs—native to the Nilgiris—on their cotton masks. “When the lockdown was imposed in March, the district administration reached out to us to make face masks for the local policemen and sanitation workers,” says Suhas Ramegowda, co-founder of Indian Yards. “We quickly got into action and have now expanded to retail supply.”
Coonoor-based Indian Yards is run by Suhas Ramegowda and Sunita Suhas. In 2017, they gave up their urban lifestyle in Bengaluru and moved to the Nilgiris for a better quality of life. They bought a piece of land, spent time farming, and worked in the fields alongside tribes.
“During this time, we realised that women in the community wanted to do much more with their lives. Mostly, they were homemakers with an interest in sewing, who didn’t have the platform to convert their skills into a livelihood opportunity. That is when we started Indian Yards, a platform through which they could express themselves,” says Suhas.
Through their livelihood programme AGAI, meaning ‘flourish’ in Tamil, they worked with 50 women from the rural and tribal communities, who became fine crafters of fabric.
The masks are produced by Indian Yards, Coonoor and Shalom Ooty, who are partnering with Last Forest to market the masks. While Indian Yards has been empowering more than 50 local women by training them on how to stitch articles of clothing, Shalom Ooty regularly employs over 150 Toda artisans to embroider indigenous Toda designs on bags, shawls and other items till the pandemic hit.
Lack of opportunities is often a major reason for rural and underprivileged women failing to do more with their lives. Several organisations have stepped in to offer these women a platform to make their lives better by training them and equipping them with useful skills. Indian Yards is one such organisation operating in the verdant Nilgiris which trains women to create fantastic handmade items that can be used in every home. Read on to know how the founders gave up a run-of-the-mill urban life to create this initiative.
Living high up on the Nilgiri Hills for centuries now — at above 2,000 meters from sea level — the Todas are an indigenous Indian tribe, who survive solely on cattle-herding, dairy farming, and embroidery. Made by their women, Pukhoor or the Toda embroidery is marked by geometrical-patterned red and black embroidery on an off-white cotton cloth.
“Documented references to this art form go back to the 1870s,” said Sunita. “The Todas see this embroidery as their tribute to nature and even bury their dead with the Toda-embroidered cloth covering.”
They run a livelihood program for women from rural and tribal communities there in the Nilgiri mountains. As part of the program, they up-skill women to be fine crafters of 100% cotton fabric. They specialize in cotton patchwork quilts and bags and work with only 100% cotton including the filling that is used inside the quilts, making all their products sustainable and eco-friendly.