It’s an attractive spread with necklaces in turquoise, oxblood beads and chevron brass, silver earrings in Aztec designs, and dainty bracelets made with beads and crystals. International Sanctuary, a social entrepreneurship which sells this lightweight, handcrafted jewellery in minimalistic designs under the label iSanctuary, carries the artisan’s name on each label. But Pinky, Lata or Jaya aren’t names from the fashion industry. They are survivors of human trafficking.

At a recent pop-up sale at Le 15 Patisserie in Mumbai, an unexpected venue for a jewellery sale, the prices ( 200-800) of iSanctuary pieces made them a hit. In fact, the demand had begun to climb earlier this year after it started retailing at The Yoga House, a health destination in Bandra, Mumbai.

A jute and steel necklace by El Inde

Mehta, who also sells through pop-up exhibitions in Mumbai and New Delhi, realized the need for women’s empowerment when she hired Hema. An accident in childhood had left Hema with a permanently damaged arm, but it was emotionally scarring for the young woman to be rejected for matrimony. Working with Mehta helped Hema complete her education, and she now dreams of being financially independent so she doesn’t have to rely on a man. “She is an inspiration to me and the other girls who work here," says Mehta. Every month, she hires and trains one new woman who may be in a similar situation.

When we first met iSanctuary’s India coordinator Sunita Khursule, she had returned from a law college in Mumbai after securing admission for a young jewellery artist. She may be just 28 years old, but Khursule’s demeanour is that of a mother hen—slightly anxious but beaming with pride about the work of the many women iSanctuary has trained as jewellery artisans.

It was a decade ago that Stephanie Pollaro moved to India from the US to found iSanctuary. She wanted to help girls who languished in aftercare centres post rescue, without any aim or hope of financial independence. She met Khursule, who was then working with the non-profit human rights organization International Justice Mission in Mumbai. They joined hands in 2007.

Pollaro would design jewellery and teach the girls in rehabilitation how to make it and sell online on www.isanctuary.org. In the last seven years, Khursule and Pollaro have been able to raise 50 lakh for the women as salaries, medical care, counselling and education.

Customers at Pipa Bella trunk show.

Pipa Bella stylists get complete backing in training and logistical support—all the stylists have to do is tap into their social network and find customers for the fun pieces of daywear and evening wear jewellery in floral and futuristic designs made with pastel beads, enamel and metal. They are free to do this by holding trunk shows at home or at a venue, and earn a percentage of the total sales. The company now has 75 stylists on board, including college students and homemakers who started out as customers and now make anything from 5,000-35,000.

Then there is Rosalind Pereira, founder of ethnic jewellery brand Mayabazaar, who has no background in fashion or design. Her passion to save a mariginalized art form and give employment to artisans led the Mumbai-based entrepreneur to launch her label. She works hard to revive the painstaking hand-knotting techniques of aari and charakam to make necklaces and bracelets. “It is a highly skilled process but many artisans are now forced to sit outside jewellery stores as minor repairers or end up becoming stone cutters or taxi drivers in cities," says Pereira.

Mint ‘deco’ earrings in resin and enamel by Pipa Bella.

That point where rural traditions become “fashion" could also describe Anupama Sukh Lalvani’s brand En Inde, retailed from her store in New Delhi’s Mehar Chand Market. Made from simple materials—jute, colourful threads, stainless steel and silver—her statement jewellery stands out among gold and diamond-laden customers.

“I am a yogini and I looked at the jewellery from a spiritual angle. My work is informed by women’s issues," says Lalvani. According to her, the striking designs in combinations of jute, thread and stainless steel combine fragile and fierce female qualities. “Steel represents urban armour. I want the woman wearing it to feel strong and individualistic," she says.

iSanctuary’s spiral bracelet.

Yet philanthropy will need fast and functional manufacturing and sales support to ensure a lasting match between the ideal and the fashionable. Pipa Bella and iSanctuary jewellery will also be on display at She’s Not Just A Pretty Face, an exhibition being organized at Breach Candy, Mumbai, on 19 July to spread awareness on women’s role in the economy.

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