Edited by: Oishiki Ganguly
Aishwarya says that when a bug of an idea bites you and you see space for taking your thought and transforming it into an entity, it’s hard to sit idle. That is how the idea of Ordinaire first came into her mind, like a bug bite. Ordinaire is a woman-run accessory brand based out of some remote villages in India. The brand is entirely sustainable, it uses washable cotton cloth for their products and they are made by skilled women living in some tucked away places trying to find not just some extra income, but a community in the team.
It is hard to say exactly when the bug for social entrepreneurship first bit Aishwarya, but once it did, she knew that this was the path for her. After starting and failing at two different start-ups, She came to Ashoka as an undergraduate in 2018. I remember meeting her in the first semester at Ashoka but, I had no clue that the seed of the concept of Ordinaire had already been planted. Aishwarya’s research interests primarily include subaltern studies, and she seems to pay attention to people and places that nobody else notices. She recalls that as a kid, she grew up exploring the back alleys and streets of areas that she found herself in. She always preferred interacting with people whose narratives never made it to the mainstream consciousness of the larger public. And so, almost naturally, the first thing she did after coming to Ashoka was taking a walk in Assawarpur. She also managed to strike up conversations, as well as friendships, with the housekeeping staff on campus.
These conversations weren’t about their poverty or deprivation but rather about who they are as individuals and what defines them. She would ask them what their favourite colour was and what they thought about their bodies and try to understand how they came up with their self-concept. She soon realised how the society in the village was structured. Assawarpur definitely seemed to be a highly patriarchal space with the women being expected to wear a ghoonghat while they took care of the family along with being the sole breadwinners. It is also a society rigged with domestic violence and alcoholism, the brunt of which is shouldered by the women of the house. Amidst all of this, Aishwarya managed to notice that most of these women in the village knew how to stitch because of some Government program that taught rural women stitching almost a decade ago. And voila the idea of Ordinaire was born.
Aishwarya had now realised that there was potential here which was heavily underutilised. She also had an idea of the kind of lifestyle market that exists and decided to put the two together. Ordinaire started with just one woman from Assawarpur in September 2019 and has grown into a flourishing team of fourteen, including women from two more villages near Mysore where Aishwarya is from. The organisation, as a whole, aims to firstly build savings for all their members because all of them come from households where they have little to no agency when it comes to the finances and expenditure. These savings provide them with an opportunity to build an identity for themselves and to see better outcomes for their children possibly.
Apart from generating some extra income, Ordinaire also focuses on providing some sort of holistic assistance for these very talented individuals. They organise regular weekend workshops where the team introspects their week, talks about their issues and even has conversations about their identities. They ultimately aim to open up a permanent weekend school for the entire team as most of the women are unable to read and write. Ordinaire doesn’t hope to be a charity for anyone; instead, it intends to see all of the members become professionals in their own right by providing them with equal standing in the organisation. All the decisions regarding the designs and the deadlines are democratically decided upon, by keeping everyone’s opinions in mind. The team makes sure that every new member who joins has a bank account and gets a recurring payment sent to their accounts keeping in mind how this money goes back into the economy, generating more social impact.
Other than being the space where Aishwarya met the didis of Assawarpur, Ashoka also proved to be a good market for Ordinaire products. We saw the first sale of Ordinaire in the Spring 2020 semester, and all the products received an enthusiastic welcome by students and staff on campus, providing the team with a fair market analysis. The brand has only flourished after that. Even the lockdown couldn’t bog down Ordinaire’s determination and sheer hard work. Recognising the need for masks for frontline workers like police officers, sanitation staff and other workers, Ordinaire began producing reusable cloth masks and distributing them. They also went ahead and made masks specially for people who are speech and hearing impaired by adding transparent material over the mouth so that people can read each other’s facial expressions.
Ordinaire continues to work on upgrading the product lines and looking for collaborations and different avenues to keep getting orders and grow as a competitive brand. They’re also looking to launch their e-commerce store by August and introducing a unique product line to their brand.
When asked why Aishwarya chose to name the brand as Ordinaire, she recalls that during the time that she first started thinking of starting the company she read a book called ‘The Beauty of Everyday Things’ by Yanagi Soetsu which talks about finding narratives in ordinary, routine things. This connected with her idea of this business, and the Ordinaire was born. This idea of ordinary simple things adequately describes the aesthetics and approach of the brand.