Apr

29

Who makes EllieFunDay’s Baby Blankets?

Back posting from India! Monday, Feb 10th

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Today I got to meet the ladies that make our blankets. As we sat around in a circle on mats, they told me how hard it was to start making these baby blankets because this was an entirely new project. At many times they were almost ready to give up on the baby blankets, but they persisted. One lady finally shared with us how working at Flowering Desert has given her dignity in society and that she is proud of the work that she gets to do. My heart swelled and I started to feel my eyes well up with tears. After 6 months of R&D and production; our Stitched Wonder blankets has been worth the stress, the sleepless nights and the emotional roller coaster.

I got to sit with them during tea time and shared some goodies we brought. As I observe the bare bones sewing unit I knew that these blankets that they produced are a miracle in itself. These women are not factory workers that have been trained to produce at a high rate. They sit in clusters on the floor hand-stitching each blanket with care and they mingle amongst each other. One might help another out if there is a problem, another might tease her neighbor if she’s made a mistake. I get such a sense of sisterhood and warmth. This is true empowerment at it’s best. Slow fashion is NOT mass produced, it is made with intention and integrity while preserving the maker. This is what handcrafted for life means.

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Feb

11

Divine Coincidences Happen in the Strangest of Places

One tough part of this week in Kolkata was that ALL of us were sick. Cold, coughs, clogged sinuses. It was a symphony of sniffles. We needed to find some local meds because ours weren’t the doing the job. Sarah and Cal were sucking down Halls and Ricolas and it just wasn’t settling the coughing fits. We ended up finding this local-brand industrial strength lozenge and it was the only solution to the dingy, soupy Kolkata air. We asked a local doctor about it and he said, “When in Rome.”

One divine coincidence this week was meeting a woman named Janet Rogers. This past year we had more than a few people mention to us that we needed to meet her. This past September, I randomly met a British guy in San Francisco who after hearing about what we’re doing, emphatically said we needed to meet Janet and immediately returned home to make an email introduction. 

We exchanged a few emails, but couldn’t find a good time to connect. Then out of the blue, she emails us and tells us she will be at Freeset the same time that we are! Amazing! She is an artist/designer who built up an amazing network training women in India how to produce crafts for the international market. She is doing some consulting for Freeset and was more than happy to sit down with us for an afternoon. She downloaded to us loads of wisdom and I know we already avoided a few pitfalls just by talking with her. 

Lastly before we left we spent a bit of time with Kerry Hilton, the founder of Freeset. Every time we talk with him we’re so inspired by his selfless commitment to the business of freedom. Recently they decided to go to the source of sex-trafficking about 5 hours north of Kolkata to start a weaving unit that will employ the women most susceptible to human-trafficking. This makes total sense, though the 5 hour motorcycle ride Kerry takes makes me cringe with all the bad roads and insane drivers.

Sarah and I asked him what keeps him going. He said he never gets tired of seeing freedom… women tasting what it means to go as they please, spend the money they earn and chart their own course for their lives. It energizes him to no end. Kerry, his family and his staff all live in the slum that they serve. They eat, laugh and cry with the people they love. There are few examples of really sacrificial love in our world and they are one of the shining examples. 

Until next time Kolkata… off to Trivandrum.
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Jul

10

The Possibilities Continue : Indian Train travel and visit to a Lingerie Manufacturer

If you google “Indian Train”, you will see pictures of people jam packed like cattle or standing on top of the cars of the train. So far I have YET to see this in my experience, but our Indian counterparts have attested to this. Apparently some people even stand sleeping up in the bathrooms. Our last experience on an Indian train was on an 8 hour overnight AC 3 tier. That meant that there were 6 bunks, 3 on each side of a compartment; top, middle and bottom. I slept on the top and Elton in the middle. The poor guy is 6′ 2 and barely fit. The other bunks were filled with total strangers. One night I think a policeman slept across from me…I felt somewhat safe. Being the paranoid American, I strapped my bag across my body and prayed that I wouldn’t have to knock someone out in the middle of the night while protecting my goods. It was a good memory for the books.

This time around, I think that I knew what to expect for Indian train travel. It was only a 3 hour train ride to Kochin and we had the “luxury” of sitting in the 2nd class AC train. We got to see lush tropical scenery since we rode close to the coastline of the state of Kerala. Rice patties whizzed by, alongside of quick glimpses of fishing villages. It was truly idyllic.

Our purpose in Kochin was to visit Blossom, a lingerie manufacturer for the local market. We were picked up by Shaji, one of the partners of the company. We were immediately welcomed by his warmth. He and his partner Abey, acquired the company 15 years ago and was able to turn it around to a fully profitable company. They now have over 100 different styles and employ over 100 women in their 3 factories.

We were graciously given flowers and had an opportunity to give a few words of encouragement to his workers. His principles and ethics as a successful Indian business man were encouraging to see. Since bribes and corruption are the norm in this country, it’s hard to stay grounded and true. He has been able to operate a successful business based on integrity, love and trust in a world of greed and deceit.

As we connect and network with people, we often like to hear their life stories. Shaji shared with us a miraculous occurrence of how his 3 year old son was in a bad accident where his two fingers were severed. The doctors tried to reattach them but was not successful. He said that there was no blood supply flowing and the fingers were turning black. All he knew to do was to pray. Then miraculously before his eyes he saw the blood come back and turn from black, to white to pink. I met his son Smith, and saw the scars from the accident to prove it. His two fingers are fully functional and he’s a fine and happy boy.

We feel honored to meet Shaji and his Blossom family. Their willingness to share resources and learnings from their experience is invaluable to our next steps.

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