May 15, 2023
“India, the land of adventure, of princely wealth and abject poverty…is now rapidly becoming civilized under British rule,” a vintage Singer sewing machine ad wrote. The ad featured a Maharashtrian woman as she worked on a Singer sewing machine, with a young boy next to her. The ad also called Indian women “painfully devoid of education.” Little did the marketers know that the subcontinent and its women would one day become one of the brand’s biggest audiences, and changemakers in their own right.
Though Singer was not the first sewing machine, it was the first that really worked. Making clothes was now easier and faster than ever before. But what made the company remarkable is that it was the first multinational company, one that courted customers everywhere in the world, including India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and more — that too, in the 1800s. Singer laid out the groundwork not only for global marketing but also for South Asian women to achieve something they could only dream of in British-ruled India: self-reliance.