Jul

06

The Possibilities Continue : Sewing Center Development

It’s been surreal to see the possibilities here in India. The past several days have been filled with meetings and planning to see what we need to get all the right things to make it happen. The largest key factors are the people. We are continually interviewing and waiting for the right trainer, manager to make sure that they have the same vision as our mission. We met with a man that was from the Dalit untouchable community that apparently is skilled in export manufacturing. Our true test of his skills? We had him reproduce the Sharkie blankie from scratch.

We were impressed to say the least. He had no pattern, just our Sharkie blanket. The other indication that he has an eye. The fabric that I gave him was cut in a different direction just to save fabric and he was able to tell. Only a trained eye would know that.

One more indication of the possibility of this happening occurred as I was standing on the road leading up to the entrance to the sewing center. I saw an amazing black, red and yellow swallowtail butterfly . Then I proceeded to see at least 15 or more yellow butterflies fluttering all throughout the road. Then it struck me…this is the beginning of my own personal rebirth.

A couple of weeks back for my final project in my fashion design class, I chose the theme “Chrysalitic Emergence” for my collection. I designed a series of evening dresses that were based on the concept of a caterpillar’s transformation. This was a very personal collection as I feel in this time and place in my life, I’m being transformed into something new and beautiful. But in order for that to happen I needed to purge the ugliness, the self-doubt and insecurities of my past for this to happen.

I am continually amazed by the pieces that are coming together at just the right time for this project. The next two days we are off to meet with Blossom, a women’s undergarment manufacturer and Kara Weaves, a hand loom women’s cooperative.

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Jan

17

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 10 // Beginnings

Today was a culmination of a lot of experiences for me. This day seemed to mark the beginning of something. I met our first five potential women that could be sewing our baby blankets. We prepared an initial intake interview to get a sense of their current situation and I had a simple sewing sample for them to complete to assess their skill levels.

I greeted each and every individual women by shaking their hands and learned their names…Rani, Rachel, Latika, Beena, and Philomina. Most of these women were my age or younger, but looked 10 times their years. They have never been employed in their lives and their husbands are either day laborers or do menial side jobs. Many of them survive on 500 rupees a week = $10. One of them is HIV+. They struggle with making ends meet and very few of them have savings. But despite their condition I was met with beams of joy.

I came in with low expectations of their skills and was surprised by what they already knew. Freeset faces issues of literacy and even fine motor skills. These women could count, measure and follow instructions that I gave them even with my own limited communication, they understood what they needed to do. After completing their sewing task, I asked them to do their own self-evaluation and compare their sewing sample with mine. Part of my own teaching of empowerment is not to just tell somewhat what to do, but to help them see for themselves what needs to happen. This becomes much more internally realized and acts as a better motivator than someone telling them what to do. Most of the women were able to point out their own areas of improvement and I also had the other women give them critique of their work. One woman even helped Nate fix his torn eyeglass case.
In the end, I desire to foster an environment of community, not just a place of work. I desire a place where these women can come and be sisters and encourage each other to be champions of excellence in their work. I also desire for them to know that they are all truly valued and precious and not just a “worker”. I pray that as we continue this project that people will see the cause behind our product. Yes, it’s a beautiful blanket, but it has a much deeper story to tell, it’s a story of hope and promise.
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Nov

22

POSSIBILITIES PROJECT // DAY 6 // PAVING THE WAY

Today we got a chance to catch up and rest. We filmed another video – but this time on the streets of Kolkata. I didn’t quite anticipate how much attention I’d attract! Storeowners, pedestrians, street people all stopped to see if we were doing a local news report. It was a bit daunting to get that much attention since we already get a fair amount of stares for being foreigners. Overall everyone was friendly and just wanted to talk to us or be on camera.

In the afternoon, we went back to Freeset to spend time with a couple of their operations managers. We’re SO blessed by Freeset; they’ve welcomed us with open arms, treated us like their children and shared all their past mistakes and triumphs. It really can’t be overstated how helpful and loving they’ve been.

We met with Sandro who is a native Brazillian and moved to Kolkata just to work with Freeset as their operations manager. He oversees the whole production of the bags from start to finish. He sat down with us, gave his best advice and let us pick every part of his brain. He shared openly about the joys of working at Freeset and the struggles of living in India.

Sandro also told us that a big challenge is the differing standards of quality. What we think is acceptable quality is different than what the women think is acceptable quality. Some of this is cultural. But in the end, it’s still a significant gulf to cross.

Many of the Freeset women have no education and need to learn fine motor skills in order to achieve the tasks that they are given. Even handling a pair of scissors can be a challenge. Kerry and Annie not only provide a job, but they educate their women and love them like their own. Just recently they had to house a young girl who was beaten by her brother and had no where else to go.

To see where they are today is an enormous encouragement. After 10 years of blood, sweat and tears, they’ve been able to create a sustainable business and produce quality products that are sold all over the world. It’s a story of faith and endurance. Their willingness to sacrifice western comforts and intentionally live among the poor has been an inspiration to us.

As we were leaving, Annie (one of the founders), sneakily slipped a card into my purse and said, “This is for you guys.” Later when I opened it up, it contained a very generous gift and the card read, “Please accept this to help as you start-up your business. May His Freedom Reign, Blessings Kerry & Annie.” I am so humbled by their generosity and it’s something that I will carry with me always. Thank you Freeset for paving the path for us.

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