Jacobs Well is managed by Brenda Sheil from the UK and Lydia Gopi in Bangalore. With a long history of working alongside each other, plus complementary skills in fashion design, sales, business management and training, Brenda and Lydia currently oversee a team of 12 production staff in the Jacobs Well unit. Read on to learn more about key members of our team!
With a background in fashion and design, Brenda began her career teaching Art & Design and Textiles in the UK for over 17 years before taking on a full time position with Jacobs Well. Prior to her current role as Managing Director, Brenda was actively involved with the team for many years; she first travelled to Bangalore in the year 2000 to spend six months securing a contract with Levi Strauss for an early group of young Jacobs Well tailors. That short sabbatical was inevitably extended and Brenda set up a three-year professional training and apprenticeship programme for aspiring tailors.
As Jacobs Well grew, Brenda developed exclusive high quality products for an in-house fashion label and built up an impressive clientèle who wished to work with an ethical fashion house, providing employment and training opportunities for over 1000 young people from marginalised communities in south India.
Brenda provides extra value to Jacobs Well with her specialist knowledge of design and production in India and UK import procedures and acts as a consultant to a wide number of designers and companies. As a regular advisor to development projects across the globe, Brenda currently divides her time between her home in England and India.
Lydia truly encapsulates the spirit of Jacobs Well, having joined the first ever batch of tailoring trainees in 1998 after leaving school early due to struggling with the English medium of her classes. Developing an interest in fashion, Lydia became a sample tailor for Jacobs Well on completion of her training, where her enthusiasm and aptitude allowed her to quickly rise into a managerial role, ultimately becoming one of the company’s directors in 2012.
As Production Manager based in the Bangalore unit, Lydia oversees daily operations such as checking on quality control, giving technical advice and managing budgeted labour, as well as planning production targets and coordinating with fabric suppliers, designers and shipping experts. Yes, the young girl who found her English classes too hard is now Skyping with clients around the world on a daily basis!
Alongside her achievements in the office, Lydia is an immense source of pride to Jacobs Well for her tenacity in pursuing her educational goals. Having first completed her secondary education in 2009 with the support of Jacobs Well, Lydia then undertook her diploma in Fashion Designing & Merchandising at ALT Training College. In 2012 Lydia was awarded the top prize for her business plan when completing a Business Entrepreneurship diploma.
“My family has been transformed: my two girls are top of their classes and I’m determined that being girls will not stop them having every opportunity available to them. I’m proud that my family and friends have been inspired by my success”
Meet some of our passionate producers! They are the beating heart of our fair trade fashion house in Bangalore. To read more about our team, check out our blog for all the latest news and achievements.
Ammu was orphaned along with her siblings at an early age; taken in by their grandmother the family struggled financially with little household income. Leaving school after only completing 8th Standard, Ammu became very ill with tuberculosis. When she had started to regain her health, a family friend introduced Ammu to Jacobs Well where some light work was found for her and she was supported in paying her medical bills. It soon became evident that Ammu had a passion for design and embroidery and so was encouraged to create her own designs. These were so successful that her ideas were adopted in a production range of bags.
Today, Ammu’s health is a lot better and she is motivated and passionate in her work. For many years she has created intricate embroidery pieces for a couture bridalwear client, and her English language skills are testament to her persevering nature. With a sustainable income allowing her to rent her own home, Jacobs Well has also supported Ammu in returning to school several hours a day to complete her 10th Standard qualifications, opening the door to many further professional opportunities. Ammu is a credit to Jacobs Well and it has been fantastic to see her flourish since joining the team.
“I thoroughly enjoy the stitching, packing and embroidery aspects of my job and have been told that I am a very quiet and efficient worker. Jacobs Well takes care of me and provides me with medical, emotional and spiritual help. Since being at Jacobs Well I have learnt to speak English and have worked on wedding dresses for one of the clients. I am now confident about myself… Jacobs Well helps me to remain strong.”
Sumitra has been with Jacobs Well since 2005 when she was part of the team teaching embroidery to women affected by the tsunami near Chennai. The tsunami had a devastating effect on the livelihoods of many people and Jacobs Well was among several organisations asked by the Bishop of India to help provide training and new opportunities to these individuals. The training was a great success and in the following years we were thrilled to hear that many of the ladies had gone back to their villages and set up similar training programmes for their own communities.
After her time in Chennai, Sumitra joined the Jacobs Well unit in Bangalore. Already skilled in embroidery, here she learned tailoring for the first time and is now amongst the most skilled members of the team. Before our master tailor Ayub left for a new job in the Gulf, he trained Sumitra to take over his work in creating samples and tackling the most complex stitching jobs. Sumitra has risen to the challenge fantastically! She is now leading the team in stitching delicate couture items and it is great to see her confidence grow in leaps and bounds alongside her achievements. Keen to complete her 10th Standard exams, we look forward to supporting Sumitra in working towards her ambition of heading the tailoring team as a Production Manager.
Our goal with the Jacobs Well unit is not just to offer a job, but to provide an environment where staff members continue to learn new skills and really develop their passions and interests. Sumitra is such an integral part of the team and we are excited to see her thrive as she pursues her tailoring ambitions.
Kalaivani left school early and stayed at home for a long time with health issues. She was introduced to Jacobs Well in 2012 by a mutual contact who was working with her brother, and has been a member of the team ever since. Having no formal training in tailoring, she was first helping at the cutting table before moving on to take six months of training in stitching at the unit. And now there is no stopping her!
Kalaivani has consistently taken the initiative in improving her own skills and working hard at her tailoring projects. She has done excellent work on a wide range of orders including school uniforms, childrenswear and a recent line of ladies dresses. Of all the team members, Kalaivani is the most keen to complete her school studies. With her 10th Standard exams behind her, Kalaivani’s future will be opened up to a wide range of further academic and vocational training courses. From a quiet, shy girl to an increasingly confident and ambitious young woman, it has been incredibly rewarding to support Kalaivani as she grows in so many ways.