Unlike other Rabari women, Pabiben (35) is cut from a different cloth. She started life as a pastoralist in Kutch in Gujarat, but is now a ‘craftpreneuer’, whose ‘Pabi-Bags’ sell all over the world. The secret of Pabiben’s success is her signature stitch, the 'Hari Zari' stitch, which is emblazoned across the bags she sells. Let’s not forget her winning personality, which makes her a wonderful poster girl for the women of the Rabari community.
Traditionally, while the Rabari men graze cattle, the women tend to home and hearth. And stitch. They are known for their beautiful embroidery, which is characterised by extensive use of chain stitch and dominated by mirrors. The women of this community make their own clothes, including those of the men, and their own bridal dresses as well. They sometimes use embroidery to embellish their homes and cattle too!
Embroidery is virtually synonymous with Kutch. It is home to more than ten kinds of exquisite embroidery styles, and for decades, several communities here have been weaving their magic with threads. Which is what makes Pabiben’s such an incredible story.
Coming from a small town, Kukadsar in Kutch, she learnt the craft of her people at a young age. This was a time when embroidery was on the decline in her community. The elders were discouraging the craft as they believed women were spending too much time on it, which was delaying their marriages!
Determined to revive and innovate the craft, Pabiben worked and trained at local NGOs such as Kala Raksha, and believed she could become a master craftswoman. It was during this time that she invented her distinct style of embroidery and designed a bag that would go on to become her identity.
Pabiben created her first the 'Pabi-Bag' at a design programme in Kutch (Kala Raksha Vidyalaya). It used a combination of trims and ribbons, and handmade and machine stitches. It was called the Hari Zari stitch. In no time, the potlis (small string bags) and tote bags that Pabiben crafted became a hit.
But the talented and gutsy woman had some help from crafts organisations working in the region. Kaarigar Clinic from Kutch, which describes itself as a rural ‘business clinic’ for artisans, was one of them. Kaarigar Clinic helps artisans evolve as entrepreneurs and creates sustainable livelihoods.
Pabiben is an inspiration for women in Kutch, who want to take their skills to the next level. She works with more than 200 women from her community, empowering them and giving them a chance to earn a living. Together, they make vividly embroidered bags and gift items under the ‘Pabiben’ label, which is popular in the domestic as well as international market.