- Shop for Punjammies at Change Merchants
Though pyjama sets usually carry associations with frivolous gift giving – not these. Punjammies are made by women freed from forced prostitution and seeking to rebuild their lives.
The idea came about when Shannon Keith travelled to India for the first time in 2005. Walking through one of the country’s many red-light districts, Keith couldn’t forget what she saw – a picture of modern-day slavery. Hearing story after story of children being sold by their families into brothels, orphans being picked up on the streets by pimps and women selling their bodies to feed their families, she wanted to do something to break the cycle.
This prompted Keith to establish the lady-friendly charity, International Princess Project (IPP). Working with local rescue organisations to find women at risk, Keith and her team sought to empower women by offering them employment. They set up three sewing centres to create pyjama bottoms. And just like that, Punjammies was born.
The non-profit now provides employment for 155 women who, without work, would stand little chance of surviving outside of the brothels. And unlike most apparel businesses in the area, the centres operate with the women’s health and welfare as the top priority.
The women who sew Punjammies receive a higher than fair-trade wage income, along with housing options, medical care and, where applicable, education for her children. Under the care of IPP, they also become part of a loving, restorative community among other women and children who were formerly trafficked.
One such woman is Laxmi, who married young and was sold by her husband to a brothel owner in Mumbai’s Kamathipura, Asia’s largest red-light district. Laxmi was beaten, but could not return to her family. Giving birth to a baby boy, she was determined not to let him grow up in that environment. Laxmi learnt about the project at a women’s health clinic and IPP’s partners were able to help Laxmi and her son escape to the sewing centre in Ashagram, where she works today.
You can shop Punjammies on Change Merchants, an Australian ethical e-tailer stocking fair-trade products from producers such as IPP. Founder Catherine Francetich has worked in the charity sector for over a decade and was incredibly moved when she heard the story behind Punjammies. “When I wear my Punjammies, I like to think about the feelings of positivity and hope that the women who made them felt. If we can transfer feelings to the things we make, then they’ve got to be the happiest piece of clothing in my wardrobe,” she says.
After its first batch of 300 in 2006, the non-profit now produces over 20,000 pairs of pyjama pants a year. The comfy cotton garments are inspired by the patterns on traditional saris – printed by hand using organic dyes and traditional kalamkari wood blocks – and named after the women working in the sewing centres. The best thing is that 100 per cent of proceeds are re-invested back into the project. That kind of growth doesn’t mean bigger profit margins, but more women and girls getting a chance at a new life. Who would’ve thought something as simple as buying pyjama pants can tell a story and bring on world-altering positive change?