Pabiben Rabari: A Leader who Knows the Way, Goes the Way & Shows the Way

An American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, Oprah Winfrey once quoted, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” It is this ethos that emboldens Pabiben Rabari – who is a part of the nomadic Dhebaria Rabari Community – to carve a niche with her out-of-the-box thinking and zest to make it big. Thus, with deep-rooted passion and solution-oriented mind-set, she made her dreams come true in the avatar of Pabiben.com. Pabiben.com is one of the first women artisan enterprises with a tagline ‘Rediscover the Artisan’. The enterprise was born with a sole mission to develop a strong viable business model for women artisans and to empower these women to shape their own future and those of their families and future generations. The enterprise helps women to work from the comfort of their homes. It has given them both financial independence as well as an opportunity to showcase their creativity to the world while allowing them to preserve their cultural identity.
On the onset of Pabiben’s new journey as an entrepreneur, things started falling in place and within no time she received her first large order worth Rs.70,000/- from a showroom in Ahmedabad, followed by an international order of over 1,000 pieces. In fact, in the very first year of its operation, her venture had a turnover of Rs.20 lakhs. Everyone working in the organization is a firm believer of Gandhian principles and therefore all of them share the wealth they create through Pabiben.com. Her work has won the ‘Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar’ award for outstanding contribution to rural entrepreneurship and it was the women of her community who were really proud of her achievement. She was also called on the occasion of Women’s Day where she got the opportunity to meet our honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. Under her esteemed leadership, the enterprise has grown by leaps and bounds from being a single women enterprise to a group of 50 women who are working together to make the brand a big hit. Today her creations have made its way, both in her home country Mumbai – the national fashion hub and also abroad, including the fashion capitals of Milan, London, Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, U.S., Austria, Costa Rica and Australia.
The Story Behind ‘Pabi Bags’
Born in a small village of Mundra taluka in Kutch – a land known for its rich artistic traditions – Pabiben could not attend school as her mother Tejuben, a young widow, needed help with raising three girls. Being the eldest daughter she took that extra bit of responsibility of taking care of her younger ones on her already heavy shoulders. Also, to give a helping hand to her mother, Pabiben learned the famed embroidery of her community but before she could complete her own dowry the elder council of the community banned its use completely because they believed women spend too much on embroidery leading to late marriages. “My mother was an expert at embroidery and being at home gave me ample time and opportunity to learn from her. No surprise that as my tribe, the Dhebaria Rabaris are renowned for the most elaborate and intricate embroidery, characterized by chain stitches and mirror work was done to create dowry pieces to accompany a new bride,” says Pabiben.
Pabiben never missed a chance to grab an opportunity. To learn professional embroidery, she joined a women group in 1998 and soon created a steer as a master artisan. Meanwhile, Dhebaria women searched for a way to solve their design problem as of how to remain decorative without breaking the community rules. They invented a new art form – machine application of ready-made elements, which they called ‘Hari Jari’. First time in the Dhebaria Community, Pabiben used a vibrant combination of trims and ribbons and later it is well-known as ‘Pabi Jari’. Pabiben mastered this art with enthusiasm and made a sample of the shopping bag. It became an instant hit, and was christened the ‘Pabi Bag’. Pabi Bag has been introduced to the contemporary market. The bags were used in popular teleserials and mainstream Bollywood movies such as ‘Luck by Chance’ and in a Hollywood movie, titled ‘The Other End of the Line’ was nothing short of ecstatic. It gives the women of Pabiben.com a tremendous sense of fulfilment when they see how far they have travelled from their humble beginnings. “As women, while we had no choice but to comply, we started to think of alternative methods and this is how ‘Hari Jari’, a machine application of ribbons and trims, came about. We started lacework and machine work as an alternative to heavy embroidery for our own consumption. Soon I was busy conceptualizing designs that could be created on sewing machines for not only garments but bags, cushion covers, kits, and quilts,” she adds.
Turning Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones
As women from nomadic Rabari Community, Pabiben faced several challenges. She firmly believes that those challenges made her mentally a strong person. When worried about the craft and culture practiced for many years, she showed up with ‘Hari Jari’ art – a cutting-edge solution. When women in her community were not allowed to go alone outside the village to sell items, she broke the barriers of limitation and stepped out. Throughout her journey, her husband has been a strong supportive pillar. Pabiben considers herself fortunate to have been blessed with a life partner who has always encouraged her to seek her own path, even at the cost of facing ridicule from members of the tribe. On her next challenge, she took the initiative of bringing her mother to her residence which was against the community’s rule. Managing work and family apace with is a difficult task but Pabiben considers herself lucky as having her mother in the house proved to be a great help. She is her biggest cheerleader and a great support system. From all these challenges, Pabiben learned one lesson, that beyond a point one needs to follow one’s own trajectory without bothering too much about what people say. She says, “The one thing that has stood me in good stead along my journey is that I never thought of giving up, no matter how hard the circumstances. Maybe that is the reason for my success. My advice to other women who want to become entrepreneurs is to never accept defeat. Every one of us experiences struggles and obstacles, as long as you remain steadfast in your purpose you are bound to eventually find success.”
Pabiben believes that support from home is important for women to make a successful career. People say behind every successful man is a woman, but in her story, it is clearly her husband who deserves the credit. With several women reaching out to be a part of her artisan group it makes her feel on the top of the world and also add a sense of responsibility as she ensures that they grow together from strength to strength. Therefore, Pabiben is looking forward to increasing the headcount to 500 women.

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