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Meet our production + training manager

Swahlee creates a handmade capsule wardrobe of clothing essentials made ethically in India using sustainable production and natural fabrics.

Originally published 16 May 2019

Meet Ritu Moni, our training and production manager at Swahlee. Ritu Moni has been a part of Swahlee since the beginning. She’s been involved in the sewing training of everyone on our team. Maybe because she is a mother, Ritu Moni is one of the best time managers and multi-taskers we know. She is knowledgeable about handloom fabrics as well, having grown up with a loom in her home. All our dresses pass through her hands for multiple checks and final inspection. She manages to always correct in an encouraging and gentle way. Usually Ritu Moni is the one who makes the delicious chai for our daily tea break. Soft spoken and always calm, but with a great laugh and sense of humor, Ritu Moni brings so much heart to our team.

In today’s post, get to know Ritu Moni in her own words. 

What is your role at Swahlee?

At Swahlee, I am the Production and Training Manager. I try to make the best dresses. I train our team. I help the young women on our team learn how to sew well. I check their work and see if they have sewn well. I check each step and let them know if they need to make corrections before the next step. I also do all the cutting.

What does your day typically look like?

I’m always excited for my day. I wake up very early, around 5:30 AM, and do my housework first [cooking, cleaning, sending children to school]. When I get to work I remind the team what they need to do for the day. I do my tasks: I do the cutting as well as checking and correcting. I check all the dresses before they are sent to customers. I feel good when I complete the tasks I need to do. I get things ready for the team at the end of each day, so that when the team arrives the next morning, they don’t need to wait for me to start.

When did you first become interested in sewing? When did you learn to sew?

When I was small, my mother made matching dresses for me and my sisters whenever there was a wedding or festival. She made the dresses by hand using a needle and thread.

She made everything for our family: mosquito nets, curtains, bedsheets, cushion covers, pillow covers. All of this she made by hand – she would weave and sew.

Later, my mother took a loan from the bank and bought a sewing machine.

At first she sewed for our family. Then as neighbors saw what she made, they began to bring orders to her. I learned at that time how to sew from my mom and I began to do some of the sewing. My mom would give some of the orders to me. Mostly what we sewed was mekhela chador [traditional Assamese dress]. I also made skirts and frocks. My mother would cut the fabric and I would sew on the machine. I also did embroidery using the sewing machine.

My mom did weaving at our home. She and my grandmother spun the yarn at home – both eri silk [ahimsa silk] and cotton. We raised the silkworms for eri silk at home. The silkworms ate a lot of leaves – at that time our house wasn’t very big, but we had a room just for them. The eri is naturally a deep cream color. She would buy colored wool yarns of different colors in the market. She would weave shawls by weaving the natural eri silk and colored wool together. She would also weave mekhela chador with cotton yarn bought from the market.

When I was in school, around class 9 or 10, my mom took an embroidery course at a sewing school near my school. When my school was over for the day, I would go and watch her at the sewing school. At that time I became more interested in embroidery and sewing.

After I took my higher secondary school final exam, my father brought me to Guwahati and I took a sewing training course for six months. Then I returned home and started my B.A. course. But I was always interested in sewing and crafts. I took 3 classes: knitting, fabric flower making, and embroidery at the same time. M friend took a fabric painting course. She wanted to learn flower making and I wanted to learn fabric painting so then we taught each other. While I was completing my B.A., I continued to take more sewing courses. I would take sewing courses three days a week and the other 3 days a week I would teach cutting, embroidery, knitting, and fabric flower making to other girls. I made many things: stuffed teddy bears, stuffed chimpanzees. I’ve lost the patterns now, and the stuffed animals, but I have photos.

What do you like about working at Swahlee?

I’ve done sewing and tailoring for many years. I also taught sewing before working at Swahlee. I’ve always enjoyed sewing and been interested in sewing. I love working with the young women on the team here. I try to encourage them and help them to do their best work. What I have learned and experienced in my life, I want to pass this on to them. I want them to have a good future.

What is your dream?

I had a dream to open my own boutique, but working at Swahlee is best for me and I am happy here. Swahlee is like a boutique. Our styles are more simple than what you find at boutiques in our city [without beadwork, etc.], but our styles are elegant and we finish everything very nicely.

For Swahlee, I dream that many people will love wearing Swahlee dresses and that many young women will really love working at Swahlee. This is what I want. I hope people all over the world will come to know about Swahlee.

Interview translated and edited for clarity. 

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