Guest blog: Kundakala

Kundakala C.I.C is a start-up social enterprise that aims to empower ethnic minority women to come together, connect, develop enterprise skills and become professional seamstresses.

We run a ‘Make and Mend’ programme and offer employability and enterprise support for women to improve their confidence and wellbeing, reduce the social isolation they can experience within their communities, and help them take steps to becoming financially independent.

Kundakala was set up in memory of my mum, Kunda Kirloskar, who wanted to use her art to empower women. In 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic my mum passed away in India and I became more determined to achieve her vision of using her art for social good.

At that time, the pandemic was affecting all of us emotionally and financially. Everyone was talking about the entire world “being in the same boat”. However, it became very clear that although we were in the same storm, we were in different boats. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the plight of ethnic minority women in the UK, with 43% reporting that they were worried about making ends meet and were concerned about going deeper into debt as a result of the pandemic.

I have worked with Smallwood Trust for a few years as part of my day job and towards the end of 2021 I floated my idea of running a pilot intervention for ethnic minority women to Paul Carbury, Smallwood’s CEO . In the paper that I submitted, I articulated how my proposed Make and Mend programme, combining tailoring training with employability support, would help the women save money, reduce debt and earn some income if they wanted to.

Smallwood invited Kundakala to apply to be a Community Grant Partner and were open to us delivering training as part of the Grant programme. Through the Smallwood funding we were able to offer the pilot Make and Mend programme in two locations in London – one in Hackney at the Pembury Centre; and the other in Barnet at Hope Corner.

The pilot ran from June 2022 to December 2022 and has been very well received by the communities that we have supported. The women who have been through the pilot have gained new tailoring skills; have built their confidence and are more comfortable going out of their comfort zone and integrating into the community; and have reported better mental health outcomes through forging new friendships. We have also created some products by providing the women with work experience and have retailed them on Kundakala’s website.

Some of the beneficiaries are now getting supported employment through us, most notably through our Saree Upcycle Project, where they will be making products from donated sarees under the tutelage of our tailoring tutor. Other beneficiaries are getting supported employment by being Kundakala Community Champions, tasked with outreaching for new cohorts in their communities and supporting the tailoring tutor in all the tutoring sessions.

The future is bright – we had reapplied to be a Smallwood Community Grant Partner (CGP) at the end of 2022 and have been successful with funding confirmed in principle for the next three years. The CGP programme strengthens the overall package of support we can offer as we agreed that instead of just giving women grants directly, we will provide them with enterprise and employability skills. Rather than just tackling short term financial need this programme supports women to build their confidence and skills with a view to earning income from tailoring, whilst also making savings by altering and mending clothes for themselves and their families.

The flexibility of the CGP Programme has allowed Kundakala to develop what we believe could be a sustainable programme out of the pilot. We are confident we have a model we can grow, that there is significant demand for our programmes, and that we are already enabling some of the women we support to earn income.

Kundakala’s longer-term plan is to develop a trading arm taking commissions and selling scarves, prints, t-shirts and soft furnishings. We will employ women from our programmes to make them with all the profits reinvested to help our growth.

My mother’s vision still runs strong in everything we do. Wherever possible we try to print Kunda’s designs on fabric and use them in our workshops.

In this world of fast fashion, our women are encouraged to upcycle clothes and fabric to make interesting new products. Kundakala reminds us once again that along with warmth and wisdoms, our homes also contain wellsprings of opportunity and enterprise.

And our women are ready:

Make and Mend participant: “Thank you for the gift of Kundakala taking your mother’s dream of empowering women through arts and crafts. We will smash it…. here come the women to take charge”. 

– Poornima Kirloskar-Saini

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