Jun

10

Moving Forward

It’s been a few months since we’ve updated and certainly a lot has happened. When we last updated we were in the midst of training the first class of women that Stitching Sparrow would hire. The women were extraordinary. They were excited about the opportunity to work; it wasn’t just about the income but the sense of identity and dignity in being able to contribute something beautiful to the world.

However during that month, we realized that there are some very critical missing pieces in the operations. When we began all our planning, we had one solid premise – the sewing center needs to be a for-profit business. It’s not so much about making tons of money – it never has. It’s about running the sewing center with the heart and hustle to produce on-time, on-budget and at a remarkable level of quality. 

This is critical for two reasons. First, quality, cost and reliability are of utmost importance when producing a product for the western market. The second reason, being just as important, is that when we value the product, we value the women who make it. Pursuing excellence in production means we believe they are capable and recognize the work they put into it. This is why we were very adamant about running the sewing center as a business.

However as the training came to an end, we realized our partners would not (at the present time) be able to run the sewing center the way we heartily believed it needed to be run. It was a mixture of not being able to commit the kind of time/resources we expected and the conflicting mentality of wanting to run a business like a non-profit. I want to say here that our partners, who we love as family, are people of utmost integrity. We are always encouraged by their sacrificial and servant’s heart and have learned an enormous amount from them. 

Unfortunately in the end, we needed to pull out of working with Stitching Sparrow. It’s heartbreaking for both for us. There is a lot of potential. But it’s critical that we be on the same page as to how the sewing center would be run. We may consider working together again and will likely revisit the idea in the future. For now however it is better we part ways. 

Fortunately, the old motto as one door closes another opens is very true. We were extremely fortunate to connect with other established sewing centers in other parts of India and we are presently seeing whether we can have them make our blankies. They’ve already produced export quality product and are committed to working with poor and marginalized communities. We’re excited about the opportunities to partner and shooting to have a new product line in the fall. We’re in heavy design mode right now and look forward to having something out to you as soon as possible!

As we reflect on the past few months, we’ve grieved not seeing our plans with Stitching Sparrow come to fruition. But we’ve also learned a ton and will be better people for it. Without waver, we’re still committed to two things: making beautiful products and empowering under-resourced people. We’re excited about the future of Ellie Fun Day and look out for new and exciting things in the coming year! 

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Feb

13

Training Kicks-off!

Monday marked the first full day of our training. Last Friday was more of an orientation to see where the women were in their skills, and  to establish some grounds rules. We also didn’t get a whole lot done because the machines were not in proper working order and we still needed to get power to them in our space.

As things go 4 out of the 8 only showed up on Friday. According to some strange Indian/Hindu culture people don’t like to start things on a Friday. One of the 4 women that was missing was ill so we decided to visit her on Sunday. Apparently she was having a allergic reaction in her feet so she couldn’t walk. We visited her home and prayed for her healing. Calvina had an opportunity to photograph her cooking a meal for her family.

By Dalit standards, her home was typical. It was a building made out of asbestos sheeting with two rooms. One for the family to sleep and one for her to cook. Her stove consisted of 4 bricks that she lay on top of a concret top and a place to add kindling. Her sons brought in long-logs that served as fuel for the fire. These sticks protruded out of the fire. A hole at the top of her kitchen served as mere ventilation to the smoke.

There was no cutting board. Just her knife and her hands to cut up the vegetables that went into her curry. Her boys ran to the nearby well to fetch her some water to wash the vegetables. She then added curry powder, garam masala, turmeric and other spices to the mix and let it simmer.

To her this is normal and a way of life. She seems happy even though she is the sole provider of her family. Her husband needs constant medical attention due to a brain illness. Our hope is to employ her so that she can feed her families and give her boys a way to go to school.

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Jan

30

The Possible Begins Here : learning to overcome our fears

Smog. Smells. Chaos. Kolkata we meet again.
I began the week sitting down with Justin, an intern from Freeset who has been working with customer service and database management for the past year. I said I want to learn from all the processes that Freeset employs to get bags made and out to customers. Justin said “You want to learn from our processes?” He wasn’t sure they were worth emulating.

Now don’t mistake that response and think Freeset is a chaotic mess. Far from it. But it’s not easy managing almost 200 women in a four-story dilapidated complex full of small-bedroom sized production areas. They’ve been making it work for almost 13 years. Cutting is on the bottom floor. Printing is on a covered section of the roof. Sewing is in three small rooms on the second floor. And the bags are finished on a terrace on the third floor. It’s not necessarily a well oiled machine. It’s more like a creaky sewing machine with a ton of different mis-matched attachments. But it definitely gets the job done.

As a bit of a perfectionist, my goal was to come in and learn about the production process and go and develop a streamlined, gloriously efficient version of our own. I wanted to learn from the black-belts, my administrative sensei’s. But as I sat down with Ahgni the customer service manager, walked the floor with John the general manager and poured over QA files with Deb the production manager, they all shared about the same thing. They’re doing a few things right and there are a ton of things they want to fix.
There was more than a bit of frustration in all of them. But they love their work and they’re passionate about using their talents to enable more women to experience freedom from the sex-trade. When Kerry started Freeset, he didn’t wait until he had all the details, or until he formulated an air tight plan. He found a way to make it work because freedom is just too urgent of a need to wait until he got it all figured out. 

A lot of us have dreams. Sarah and I do too. And what keeps so many of us from diving headlong into these dreams is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake and maybe plain-old-regular-strength, fear of failure. I don’t want to be the one who drops the ball or misses a crucial detail. I don’t want to be the reason why it didn’t all work! And yet freedom is indeed too urgent of call. Our lives have far too much purpose than to just sit, holed up in our little electronic cave and wait for all the uncertainties to melt away before we venture out. 

All the people we met with gave us tons of wisdom and advice. But in the end they all said about the same thing… learn what you can and then go and do it, and you’ll figure it out as you go. And so we shall.
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