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A BigLaw partner’s journey in supporting Indian pashmina weavers

One BigLaw firm partner discusses how she harnessed the support of her firm to help struggling pashmina weavers in Kashmir through the COVID-19 pandemic.

user iconJess Feyder 08 February 2023 Big Law
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Sanushka Seomangal, a partner in Thomson Geer’s capital markets practice, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about her support of pashmina weavers in Kashmir, India, with support from her firm. She also discussed how lawyers could involve their firms in human interest issues.

When COVID-19 hit India, like others, significant challenges arose — both health and economic. An industry that was adversely impacted was India’s traditional artisans and weavers. 

The wedding season in India is massive, illuminated Ms Seomangal, retailers and wholesalers prepare for the season by making advance orders of artisans around India, but when the Delta variant hit the country and wedding season was effectively cancelled, retailers and wholesalers refused to buy what they had ordered, leaving the weavers and artisans with significant stock and debt.


“It was a difficult period for them,” Ms Seomangal told Lawyers Weekly.

Many pieces are hand woven, with the skill being passed through generations.

“There is a labour of love that goes into their creation; it takes hours and days and months sometimes to produce a single piece,” explained Ms Seomangal — and these are more often than not months without income. 

“[The issue] came to the attention of one of my friends in India, Talish Ray, and she set up what she called a ‘weavers bridge’,” explained Ms Seomangal. “She identified a number of award-winning weavers across different textiles, and she connected those weavers to her closest friends circle so that we could help offload stock.”

“She asked me to look after a pashmina weaver in Kashmir, Mir Sahib, a weaver whose craft has been passed down many generations. I thought that pashminas would have a more universal appeal than, say, saris, and so I reached out to my female partners in Sydney and asked if they’d join me. 

“Every one of my partners I spoke to put their hand up and said that they would.”

The first order of 32 pieces generated about $5,000 for the weavers, and, with interest so strong, a second order of the same amount was made a few months later. 

“What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that through our purchase, the weaver was able to pay his debt and pay the people that worked in his workshop, the women and artisans that did the embroidery.

“This meant the workers had an income again and could send their kids back to school. It changed their lives in a hopeful way during one of the most challenging times that they had experienced,” explained Ms Seomangal.

Ms Seomangal visited Kashmir in September 2022. “It was incredibly eye-opening,” she said.

“Kashmir is a conflict zone. I didn’t appreciate what that meant until I was there.”

“It became clear to me why the economic challenges posed by COVID-19 were even more challenging in Kashmir.”

“I spent three days at the workshop, learning about the handloom, meeting the artisans and the weavers and the women who do the embroidery on the pashmina and shawls, and saw firsthand the difference we made. They were all so grateful for our support — which, while it was not a significant amount for us, made an incredible difference to them. It was both humbling and overwhelming to be there with them.”

Ms Seomangal shared advice for other lawyers and partners wishing to bring human interest issues to their firms.

“Being successful in this profession requires you to, amongst other things, be authentic — and in order to be authentic, you have to bring your whole self to work.    

“As individuals, I think, you should engage as much as possible in areas of your interest and passion, whether or not they are connected to your practice, or even the law at all,” she commented.

“In time, those interests may even bring leadership opportunities. What they will give you are some of the soft skills or life skills that will make you a more well-rounded lawyer.”

To incorporate them into work, a starting point is to talk about your interests and roles at work — with social media, people now know about other people’s lives outside of work than ever before, Ms Seomangal said.

“Talk to your partners/managers about opportunities/synergies you may see between those roles and your work,” she advised. “Even if there are none, if it is something that fulfils you, and does not adversely impact your work, I am certain that firms will be supportive.”

Ms Seomangal has developed a profile in the Australia-India space over a number of years. She currently sits on the board of DFAT’s Australia-India Council, is the former national vice chair of the Australia India Business Council, and is co-founder of the Australia India Youth Dialogue.

“These activities, while they do not necessarily lend themselves to the advancement of my capital markets practice, they do have greater impact on matters of significance to the Australia-India trade and diplomatic relationship, an area of interest for me,” she said.

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