The SLPMS Tailoring Unit: Creating Livelihoods for the marginalized in the midst of COVID-19

Sri Lakshmi Pengal Munnetra Sangam (SLPMS) is a Community Based Organization (CBO) that began working with individuals from various vulnerable communities-such as sex workers, people living with HIV (PLHIV), Transgenders (TGs), Gay Men (MSM), etc. these communities did not have a forum for themselves, nor did they have access to safety and security and faced violent situations daily. SLPMS created a forum for these communities to voice problems and jointly mobilize to come together and work on a solution. They officially registered as an NGO in 2012. SLPMS currently works with 2300 individuals. 

In March 2020, Covid-19 was officially announced as a Global Pandemic and health crisis. Unfortunately, Covid-19 wouldn’t just be a health crisis, it went on to dramatically affect individuals across all walks of life, but most significantly the vulnerable populations. 

For the communities that SLPMS worked with, the pandemic completely altered their way of life. A majority of the 2300 individuals depended on sex work for their daily income. The pandemic drastically affected them leaving many community members without food or shelter. In the early days of the pandemic, Swasti, Godrej and Give India supported the community by donating food kits, but that wasn’t enough. They needed jobs, even something that would just pay them 100 a day. 

The SLPMS team were aware that some of the community members knew to tailor and had fair experience in sewing. SLPMS saw this as an opportunity to create jobs for community members. Noticing an increase in the demand for masks, a Tailoring Unit was set up in September 2020 in Madurai. SLPMS faced several challenges when setting this up, one of which was that the individuals who had previously owned sewing machines were forced to sell them during the lockdown as they didn’t have a source of income. SLPMS themselves didn’t have the capital to invest in the infrastructure needed to set up the unit.

Priya Babu, a Program Manager at Swasti and a well-respected writer from Tamil Nadu initially approached a local women’s association and shared about SLPMS and the work they are doing. The association donated Rs. 40,000/- which was used to purchase machines. Community members were willing to take this on but there wasn’t any space for them to work in. Using social media, Priya Babu shared the requirements of the communities and soon they found a space at a local Playschool that they could rent at a minimal cost. Once again through Priya Babu, SLPMS’s tailoring unit got its first client who placed an order for 11,000 masks.

The unit currently has 18 individuals working on the production of which 13 work from their homes as they own sewing machines, they earn anywhere between Rs. 100 to Rs. 200 a day. Two types of masks are being made i.e., a basic everyday mask and an herbal mask. On average each individual can make 100 masks daily and earns Rs. 1 per basic mask and Rs. 5 per herbal mask. The unit will also be venturing into creating many more products such as cloth bags, pouches, women’s nightwear, etc., and have been receiving orders as well. Since its start in September, the unit has produced 1.6 Lakh masks, with an income of Rs. 1.2 Lakhs and a profit of Rs. 90,000.

SLPMS joined the #CovidActionCollab through the Taraas Coalition. Through the Collaborative, they were introduced to Godrej and Give India who has been assisting with providing grocery kits to the communities they work with. They were also connected to Selco Foundation, who have provided them with Solar Panels which are now being used to power the sewing machines at the tailoring unit, thus further reducing their operational costs. SLPMS hopes that they would be able to provide more employment opportunities to those they work with. 

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