The Start of a Knitting Adventure
Bobby’s love for handwork came from her childhood in Bristol, England: “My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was four or five, so that is probably what set me on the path of what I am doing today. Since then I have always been knitting, crocheting or doing some kind of handicraft.” For Doris, fashion only became a part of her life when she moved to Auroville, where she used to have a tailoring business.
Auromics was not created just to produce sweaters. In fact, the beauty of this unit is that it evolved from a wish to create livelihoods for local women and continues to do so today. “In India in the 80s, I met this guy, Ivar, from Auroville. At the time the women from Auroville’s surrounding villages had no work, and his vision was to give them some kind of source of income. So one evening he brought one lady from Auroville to the hotel in Chennai where I was staying and I basically taught her how to knit in one night. So the next day they went back and she started teaching knitting to other ladies. In that process Ivar created some governmental training schemes where people could learn how to knit. Until 1989 I was going back and forth between Germany and India, I would take the sweaters to Germany and bring back the payment, but in that year I decided I wanted to stay in Auroville full time. At that point the ladies were knitting in my house in Isaiambalam, so during the daytime my living room table was a checking table and at night I served dinner to my family on it. In 1994-95, we invested all our private money to purchase land and build the workshop. We later donated the entire land to Auroville.”
“In 1980 I trained the first lady to knit here in Auroville. After that we developed real training schemes, other ladies from the surrounding villages of Auroville learned and we started out making some very bad sweaters. That improved over the years (laughs). In 1993 we started the Unit Auromics, right when the Auroville Foundation created the trusts. So we made our own trust, which by the way also includes my husband Andre’s leather bag workshop, Amano.”
A Day at Auromics
Bobby is heavily involved in her unit and is on site daily. “I come in at about 8 o’clock before everyone else to prepare my day. At around 8.30 am everyone else is starting to show up and I do a round in each section to see what needs to be done, which orders the ladies are working on and what needs to be finished by the end of the day. Then, at around 9.30, Heidi arrives and we start working on samples, which takes quite some time for knitting, since one needs to document all these row numbers. At 12 everyone stops for lunch. In the afternoon it is somehow quieter. Often Doris and I sort out deliveries and stocks, what needs to be produced, what has to be sent where and so on. Around 4 pm we are finished and our gates close at 4.30 pm.”
Their work stays interesting because they are always innovating and looking for new things to do. “There is no deep inspiration behind our creations, so to speak. The main thing is the joy of making and creating clothes, to have fun basically. We are always looking to get involved in something new. This is why we first had knitting, then crocheting, tailoring and now we have a book. And we are running the manufacture of whole collections for outside clients, which includes designs, samples and production, so that takes a lot of my time.”
A Self-Supporting Social Organisation
Today, Auromics is working with more than 300 women in the surrounding villages of Auroville. “At the moment we have around 50 places where women are knitting in a small collective. They are organized in a way that for each village we have only one lady responsible for giving out the work and collecting the pieces. Sometimes we provide training, but more and more of them learn from their mothers, aunts and friends. One has to understand that these ladies really like these kinds of handicrafts, which they do in their spare time. They meet together to knit and crochet, they sit and talk, the kids are around so it is quite a social time for them. All the women have another main income and this work for us is an additional income.”
Taking care of their workers is high on the list of priorities. “Even though it is just part time work for us, we pay the social security, like the health insurance and the retirement fund, for them. This has been very important to us from the beginning, that even though they will not get rich from the work they are doing for us, they get a proper health insurance, and at the end of their working life they have a small pension to live on.”
Both women are happy to have the opportunity to do this work in Auroville. For Doris, “Auroville is the place for me to be, I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to live and work here.” For Bobby, “Living in Auroville means that I am home. And I am not doing this work to make money for myself, obviously. It is for Auroville. Yet, she has to add, “because we are actually more of a social enterprise than a fully commercial business, Auromics does not create a huge amount of contribution towards Auroville. Nevertheless I decided in the very beginning, and I still believe in this, that our work should be organized as a business and not as a social organization. I never liked the idea of living off grants and donations, to not be self-supporting. So now we are self-supporting, we do not receive any help from the government, but considering all the social aspects we are taking care of as an employer, it is not really possible to generate huge profits.”
Keeping Auromics running into the future might become challenging, as Bobby is starting to feel her age. “I need to slow down a little and divide things up, as I am not getting any younger. I would like to find someone who can take over and continue what we have started, so that Auromics continues to flourish.”
MARIA RUFINADecember 17, 2020 at 5:52 am
Are you still teaching knitting ???