Greetings to friends and customers,
Michelle and I have been working in India on Mata's Spring 09 collection for a month now, and I just wanted to check in and tell you all how it is going. Being in India reminds me of a postcard I got once at a museum in Germany, with a funny looking man in spectacles holding up a handwritten sign that says: "Everything is connected. The point is to know it and understand it." While we meet and get to know the women in India who make our clothing, YOU and your customers are actually the ones that make our work here possible. We thought it would be nice to share a little bit about these ladies, and to let you know how you are connected to making lives better in such a faraway place.
One particular story I'd like to tell is about Harshali. I met Harshali two years ago when she was a shy 17 year old with limited English speaking skills. At that time she was working as a helper at our Mumbai cooperative and we struck up a friendship on our shared path home after work. I was staying in an apartment close to the co-op, and Harshali's grandmother and sister were selling fish on the side of the road next to the apartment complex. After work at the co-op Harshali would help her grandma and sister until the small stand closed, at around 9 pm. Harshali is from Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India, and her parents died when she was very young, leaving her and her younger brother and sister behind, with only her grandmother to fend for them. Joining the millions of others who comprise Mumbai's enormous migrant workforce, Harshali's grandmother decided to emigrate to the big city in the hopes of finding work to support her two granddaughters. Two years ago Harshali had just started work at the co-op. Soon after she was able to afford to send both her younger siblings to school, as well as start a college economics course. Now she is an assistant to one of the co-op's designers and oversees all sampling work, and is just about to graduate her program. She dresses smartly, in cute matching salwar suits that show her evolving fashion taste, and speaks English well, with the confidence of a young professional woman. I believe she is on her way to becoming a designer herself someday, and I know that without her work at the co-op she could very well still be selling fish on the side of the road with her grandma and elder sister.
India as a whole is not a society that encourages social mobility. Economic brackets are enforced by caste lines, and like most industrializing nations, the poverty class is growing as the rural poor migrate from villages to mega-cities to find new kinds of work. The opportunities for economic advancement that fair trade organizations offer to women in poverty are truly a rarity. Being a part of the fair trade community means that we are ALL connected to this positive change.