Shaking Up the World

By Peter Nichols

Ritu Jadwani MS’19 was lined up in the schoolyard with her sixth-grade classmates when the ground started shaking and stones began falling from the building. They had been waiting to sing the national anthem during the flag raising for India’s 2001 Republic Day. Now they were running and screaming.

The earthquake killed some 20,000 people in Gujarat State, destroyed about 340,000 buildings, and left millions without electricity, water, housing, jobs. During reconstruction, the skilled and enterprising women in villages near the quake’s epicenter began working together outdoors on hand embroidery and block printing on fabrics, creating unique products that were sold in cities nearby.

... I really wanted to go and study these people. What are they doing, and how are they creating such beautiful pieces?

Ritu Jadwani MS’19

Jadwani admired the pluck and resourcefulness of these women as well as the quality of their craftsmanship. “I was too scared to venture into that region as a child,” she says, “but when I was older and was studying fashion design, I really wanted to go and study these people. What are they doing, and how are they creating such beautiful pieces?”

The communities of women that formed after the quake evolved into nonprofit enterprises, and Jadwani, who had become a fashion design student, began volunteering to help the village artisans, many of them disabled, create designer products that would appeal to a wider market. It wasn’t long before she launched her own start-up, Namaste NYC, an ethical fashion label that sells colorful, one-of-a-kind items to stores, museums, and boutiques in the U.S., Canada, and France. Namaste NYC also offers employment opportunities and fair wages to rural women and supports traditional handcrafts and textiles in India.

She recently completed Jefferson’s MS program in Global Fashion Enterprise and has been working at the university’s Blackstone LaunchPad, organizing eco-friendly and sustainability initiatives, and helping students realize their own entrepreneurial dreams. “Students are always coming up with ideas that can solve a social problem or are sustainable,” she notes. “I can coach them in terms of sourcing, supply chains, marketing, and storytelling for their start-up ideas.”

Last fall, the Clinton Global Initiative University invited Jadwani to host a session on social entrepreneurship in developing communities. “It was inspiring to meet change makers from around the world,” she says. “I got a chance to share my work, help other social entrepreneurs, and learn from them.”

Jadwani is looking to make a bigger impact now, perhaps by teaching at a university or working with larger nonprofit organizations that help artisans, women, and the disabled, who, she says, “are often neglected. It’s disheartening to see their situation. There are so many people around the world who need someone who can create a difference or hold their hands.”

Jadwani wants to be that someone, she says, “because there's a need.”