Delhi-based Kritika Sondhi was moved by her maternal grandmother Asha Puri’s dedication and patience as she spent hours knitting at home. This is perhaps not an unfamiliar sight — many of us have grown up watching our grandmothers knit sweaters and scarves for us. But it is when Sondhi herself took up knitting that she realised it had a therapeutic effect on her.
This was back in 2017, when Sondhi started staying at her granny’s house in West Delhi while coping with a rough phase; in her words, she had hit her “version of rock-bottom in life”. “At that time, I really needed something to keep myself engrossed. I needed a stress-buster. My nani used to happily knit all the time so I thought, why shouldn’t I also learn something new? With time I started appreciating the fact that my grandmother has been doing it for years without getting any recognition, let alone be paid for it,” she told indianexpress.com.
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Sondhi pitched her granny a plan: how about selling these hand-knit products? The idea, at first, did not seem viable to Puri, a woman who till then had spent her life as a homemaker; becoming an entrepreneur, especially at her age, was not exactly something she had thought about. “Initially she wasn’t really on board with the idea; nobody else was and we had a few difficult conversations but I was stubborn and went ahead with promoting her products. And then enquiries started coming in,” Sondhi, a psychology and MBA graduate, said.
The granddaughter-grandmother duo came up with a brand name that in all likelihood would strike an emotional chord–they called it ‘With Love, from Granny’ (WLFG).
Soon after the launch of WLFG, Sondhi bagged a full-time job while her grandmother left for the US. This meant that their plans for growing the business were temporarily put on hold. But fate took a turn when Sondhi’s contract with an American company got terminated amid the coronavirus pandemic. “From March-July this year, I did not have a job. I was practically living off my savings,” the 28-year-old revealed, adding that the crisis itself triggered her interest in taking her business venture forward. From a team of two, WLFG roped in 10 other people of various age groups, from youngsters to other grandmothers. “We have been very lucky–at this time too, we are selling about 100 products a month,” she stated.
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“Pehle pehle mujhe ajeeb lag raha tha (initially, I had a strange feeling about the whole thing),” 75-year-old Puri told indianexpress.com. “Now I am enjoying it. So once I am done with my chores, I am always keen to go back to knitting products. I get really worried if I am unable do it,” she added. Running a business, of course, means that now she has to work under a deadline. “Earlier I knew I could get take as much time to complete knitting something, I am still training Kritika so that she can continue with her work even if I go back to the US.”
‘For the longest time, I did not even tell people that I am knitting’
Puri has been knitting for the past 50 years. She learned it as part of the skills that most women of her time would be taught. Even as Puri trains her granddaughter today, she is well aware of the generation gap that may have contributed to the now-dying practice of knitting at home. “People today still enjoy using handmade products but only as long as the nanis and dadis are making them. My children also love hand-knitted products but they got busy with their jobs and hardly had any time. They would think, ‘Yeh kaam se ghar thodi chalega (How will this work help me earn a living)?’. I think knitting and stitching are essential skills that every individual should learn, whether they ultimately practise it or not,” Puri opined.
Puri’s granddaughter encountered a similar mentality when she first told her friends that she was learning to knit. “Most of the time, the response was not very encouraging. They would say, ‘Tune kya dadi wale kaam shuru kar diye (‘Have you started things grannies do?’ or things like ‘You have completed MBA then why are you doing this?’ It started happening so often that for the longest time I did not even tell people that I am knitting. But then I realised, how does it matter when I enjoy what I do? And we are able to provide a source of income to so many people so what is there to be ashamed of?”
‘In India, knitting is underrated’
We usually associate knitting and stitching with homemakers or our favourite grannies, as a domestic activity that one could take up only as a hobby. And that is exactly the stereotype that Sondhi aims to break. “Today, people are able to see this as a possible therapeutic activity, a new skill they can develop and create something that lasts for years. Good quality woolen products last for decades. One needs to understand that knitting is an extremely strenuous and time-consuming activity that needs a lot of patience,” she said. Not to mention how the venture has in a way given her grandmother newfound respect, a sense of identity that any individual would yearn for.
In India, knitting is highly underrated and underpaid because of which people are not motivated to invest so much time in it, Sondhi asserted. “And we are trying to change that–we are trying to sell our products at a premium and deliver the message that the product is durable and takes time and effort to make,” she added.
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‘Creative expression cannot have age or gender limitations’
Many youngsters are now reaching out to WLFG, including a 29-year-old male crochet maker, who is now a member of their team. “He is a dentist by profession but also makes crochet products. He also picked the skill from his grandmother. Creative expression cannot have age or gender limitations,” Sondhi pointed out.
As part of the WLFG team, Puri has also trained two women from lower-income groups, who mainly earn a living by ironing clothes. “We are the brand that is helping people achieve their dreams, meet their goals and that is a very empowering feeling for both of us,” Sondhi remarked. Most of their business interactions are conducted through Instagram, apart from word-of-mouth. They plan to start a series on educating oneself about knitting, including video tutorials and masterclasses. “We are also working on a B2B website that is likely to go live by the end of this month,” the duo signed off.
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