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This Kolkata foundation is making kids smile, one stitch and garment at a time

The Onaya Foundation uses sustainable fashion and upcycling to provide additional employment to the city’s tailors and help those less fortunate

Rayomand Engineer | Published 09.03.24, 06:35 PM
Tanay Jain and Vandana Jain’s Onaya Foundation is using sustainable fashion to bring smiles to children across the city through their project Katran

Tanay Jain and Vandana Jain’s Onaya Foundation is using sustainable fashion to bring smiles to children across the city through their project Katran

Tanay Jain and @onayafoundation/Instagram

Tailoring is a dying profession. You could count the number of professional tailors we have left in the city. Many tailors have stopped tailoring because it isn’t profitable, and for many more, the trade ends with them since the next generation want to pursue other professions. For those who do want to continue earning a living by stitching, Kolkata-based Onaya Foundation offers an opportunity. How does it do this? With donations, and a lot more.

Today, a typical tailor earns a pittance each month. This small amount is barely enough to scrape by, let alone indulge in the consumerism we all merrily indulge in. This is where the Onaya Foundation, set up by Tanay Jain and his aunt Vandana Jain, steps in.


“There are some workers employed in our [Onaya Foundation’s] factory, who are contract workers with variable wages,” said Tanay Jain, who is a first-year student at the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi. Since demand for the work the tailors and karigars perform is irregular, the income from their livelihood is also irregular as a result. Tanay and the foundation want to make sure this does not happen. So, through donations and philanthropic work, they help out the workers and also create additional income streams for the tailors.

The foundation functions on multiple levels. People can donate money to provide financial help to the karigars, or they can join in on one of the foundation’s social initiatives.

Onaya runs two major initiatives — one is Chhaon, which encourages people to plant seeds in memory of a loved one, and the other is called Katran, which is rooted in the ethos of sustainable fashion.

The money that comes through donations is used to give fair wages to the workers, while initiatives like Katran create an additional stream of income. Katran, says the Onaya website, comes from the Sanskrit word for scraps. Tanay got the idea of setting up the foundation after seeing the huge amount of waste that textile production creates, so this initiative is the one closest to his heart.

Sustainability with a cause

Fashion happens to be one of the highest polluting industries worldwide. Millions of tonnes of clothing waste are generated every year. While most of it goes into landfills, only a small part of it gets recycled or upcycled and is used in second-hand clothing. A lot of cloth waste is generated when clothes are manufactured. For example, is a garment requires five metres of cloth, the cuttings that will go into it, will be made from abut seven metres of fabric, so two metres is disposed as waste.

In 2018, when Tanay visited his father’s factory, he saw tiny pieces of cloth strewn around the floor and stocked in boxes. When he enquired about what happened to the excess fabric, he was told it would be thrown away. That is when Tanay came up with the idea to upcycle the fabric to make garments to give to those less fortunate.

Thus, Onaya Foundation was born. With a little help from his peers, he managed to upcycle more than 3,000 metres of cloth while employing several tailors across Kolkata. These are the tailors who would otherwise be at the mercy of seasonal work. But now, they have something to do full-time in addition to their regular job, thus earning them an extra bit of money. Tanay gives full credit to his aunt, Vandana Jain, for running the foundation on a day-to-day basis.

How does the initiative work?

If you want to make a donation through Katran, you can call Onaya, who will connect you to an orphanage, a low-income school or a non-profit organisation that works with children. You can make your enquiries and decide how many pieces of clothing you’d like to donate. Following that, about 15 days go into making the garments. If you are donating clothing for about 70 children, then, Onaya takes the sizes of all the children before stitching clothes for them. Additionally, the tailors get around Rs 100 – Rs 200 per item of clothing.

The donation numbers don’t always have to be big. The foundation also caters to requests for smaller batches. “Say you would like to donate five to seven pieces of clothing. You can call Onaya, and they’ll make it for you,” explained Tanay.

Social media has played a big role in helping the foundation carry on the work. Tanay handles Onaya’s Instagram page, reaching out to media houses to spread the word, which ensures that steady donations come in. Having already donated to 30-35 NGOs in Kolkata, Onaya is looking to expand operations.

Embracing sustainable fashion, the right way

Having embraced the ethos of sustainability in their venture, Tanay believes that “sustainable fashion is the way forward”. But, to do good with it, it has to be done right. “It has to be pre-consumption sustainable fashion,” he explained, citing an example. “You own a nice jacket that you wear for say five years, after which you donate it or give it away to someone. The person will then wear it for maybe a maximum of three years, after which they throw it away and it ends up in a dump. That is post-consumption sustainable fashion.”

On the other hand, pre-consumption fashion entails creating a new garment with pieces of cloth that would otherwise be thrown away. Explaining how that makes a difference to people, he shared the simple joys behind the endeavour: “We all routinely rip open packages or tear away price tags whenever we treat ourselves to something new. And doesn’t that make you feel joyous? How many times does someone less fortunate have that opportunity? Onaya makes sure that even the less-privileged sections of society get some new clothes that they can feel good about. Now isn’t that priceless?”

Read more about Onaya Foundation and their work here. You can call or message on +91 6292109601 to enquire about donations.

Last updated on 09.03.24, 06:40 PM

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