“In a gentle way, you can shake the world”
– Mahatma Gandhi
NGOs and La Galeria Elefante
Being able to work with small family businesses, NGOs and artisans is what really drives my passion. Producing in small quantities not only ensures a unique product but it also assures that all of my pieces are ethically made. Choosing the right association to partner with is no easy task. Although I of course support workers of all genders and classes, as an independent business woman myself with a strong team of female workers, I feel a special need to support other women workers around the world.
How it started?
An introduction to the NGO SEWA over 10 years ago by a dear friend was the beginning of a wonderful working relationship. SEWA is the Self Employed Women’s Association, registered in 1972 with a membership base of over 1.5 million women workers across 16 states in India.
The Ethos of SEWA
Hugely inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership during the textile workers strike in 1917, SEWA continues to live by the Gandian principles of:
Satya – truth
Ahinsa – refrain from harming (non-violence)
Sarvadharma – all faiths are possible
Khadi (propagation of local employment and self-reliance)
SEWA’s philosophical roots are strong and their ongoing commitments are powerful. They aim to strengthen women through establishing a common identity as informal workers while making the rights, needs and visions of each worker a priority. Each woman is empowered through education. Each woman is taught a skill. Each woman is shown how to properly manage her own bank account. Each woman is welcomed into this association and encouraged to become a leader of her own program and to up-hold non-violent methods of demonstration. Each woman begins to feel the warmth of no longer living in poverty in the shadows.
Full employment & self reliance are SEWA’s goals for each and every one of their workers. Full employment provides economic security, food security and social security while self-reliance aims to allow for both mental and economic independence.
Now on a first name basis with many of the women workers at SEWA, I visit them whenever I’m in Delhi and adore working and laughing with them, sitting cross-legged on the floor watching them bring my designs to life, thread by thread. The pride these wonderful women take in the intricate embroidery they create is heart-warming. Many of my designs are inspired by my grandmother’s embroidery; the beauty of the finished pieces and the story behind how these pieces are brought to life often brings tears to my eyes.
Which are SEWA pieces?
SEWA makes many of the pieces in my homewares collections like the tea towels and lavender pouches – each one lovingly embroidered with motifs such as doves, fish, eyes, elephants, cacti and more! The attention to detail and the extra intricacy of colourful French knot along the edges really is beautiful. If you’re in a carefree & naughty mood, you just might love my Fuck-It embroidery on the tea towels and pouches as well as on my scatter cushions. Fields of flowers in bloom are embroidered onto larger cushions like my Follow Your Dreams cushion and the sweet little fish with sequins for bubbles are on my You & Me By The Sea cushion. A favourite of mine is the giant hand cushion made from patchwork denim with “hug me” embroidered on it – great for a kids’ room.
If you adore embroidery as much as I do, you will love some of the clothing SEWA have made for me over the years, using my designs. The intricately embroidered scarves are gorgeous, with flowers, birds and bugs on them as are the shawls with floral embroidery. My Stay Wild Tunic is a playful white tunic with the words Stay Wild & flowers colourfully embroidered on the back. The soft double cotton gypsy tartan skirt also features hand embroidered motivational phrases like stay wild, laugh out loud or follow your dreams and is made using 20 metres of fabric!
Look for this symbol to shop SEWA products
Women’s Interlink Foundation
Clothing and homewares design came hand in hand with a realisation that I could make a difference. Small as it may be, by bringing my designs to life with a number of NGOs, I was able to not only follow my own dreams, but also help others. Sharing my story with you here, you can understand that sometimes even if the path takes us on a slightly rockier one, the end results are worth every second of it. Through friendships and business ventures strongly forged along my journey, and with thanks to my dear friend Penny McIvor, I was introduced to The Women’s
Interlink Foundation (WIF). Not the first philanthropic foundation I have worked with and it certainly won’t be the last, but it is one that I have a huge amount of respect for. Based in Calcutta, the WIF vision mirrors my own of a world where disadvantaged women, vulnerable children and communities have access to basic amenities, and are empowered to improve their quality of life.
Being a part of empowering women workers to find the strength to provide for themselves & their families is a blessing. Since the 90s, WIF has been working with women who have been enslaved into prostitution, some at unthinkably young ages. These women, often at the point of despair, are taken in, taught a craft in happy & healthy working conditions and also taught how to manage their new-found freedom. The shared community space becomes their home. The fellow workers become their family. Together they share domestic chores of cooking and cleaning, learn to read & write, become savvy in the intricacies of home economics in order to manage their own bank accounts and generally prepare for a new way of life the rest of us so easily take for granted.
What skills do the women learn?
The crafts these women are taught include the wonderful art of hand block printing as well as screen printing – two techniques that I am absolutely in awe of! The women are taught to sew and tailor make the clothing and many of my signature pieces are made with the Women’s Interlink Foundation, namel the silk pieces. Working closely with the print design, many of my styles are repeated in different colour-ways and prints. I especially LOVE the silk kimono dresses made from locally woven, handspun bishnupuri silk. Repeated in wonderful colour-ways and various prints, this popular dress is always available in gorgeous hand block or screen prints.
In addition to the clothing, they have also made some very lovely eye-masks in both cotton & silk, each with their own matching pouch, as well as bags with WIF, like our make-up bags, wash bags and even the larger weekend bags.
Empowering workers to grow stronger every day is just one of the many ways La Galeria Elefante helps. I think the stories behind our pieces are as beautiful as the pieces themselves and I hope you know that your purchase is helping us to provide a better way of life for hundreds of people. With your continued support, we hope to turn hundreds into thousands until fair trade is considered the ordinary and not the extraordinary.
Look for this symbol to shop WIF products
Finding the right foundation to bring my designs to life can be quite tricky but strong friendships over the years have often developed into even stronger working relationships and I feel blessed to be part of a network of so many skilled artisans. Over 17 years ago a journey with my dear friend Dayan began. Originally from Finland, Dayan had a vision to become a guardian of an ancient Buddha Temple in the Himalayas, and created a community which has evolved into a foundation of equally empowered workers. Together with her Nepalese husband and the strength of a village, this wonderful foundation now helps to support their local economy and provides food, clothing and health care for the community as well as supporting the education of 165 kids from very poor backgrounds. Inspiring community growth, care for the elderly is lovingly provided and everyone is kept warm and cosy during the colder winter months with hand stitched blankets and clothing. The unschooled are guided and trained to implement useful skills & crafts like stitching, knitting, crochet, organic gardening, cleaning, cooking, teaching and so much more! No task is too big or too small and everyone plays a part.
The women’s embroidery skills
The talented workers in this foundation bring my designs to life through the crafts they are taught using stitching, knitting, embroidery and crochet and the results are wonderful. The level of embroidery is incomparable and my Flying Jackets & Sufi Coats are a great example of their skill. These feather, butterfly & bug or snake embroidered silk velvets have become signature pieces in my collections, produced regularly in vibrant new colours of hand dyed silk velvet. These beautifully intricate, multicoloured motifs are also meticulously embroidered onto our lovely silk velvet cushions which are then perfected with a colourful silk ball trim. Extra details of colourful kantha stitching or sequins can also be seen on many pieces.
The stunning embroidery is just one of the reasons I love working with Dayan and her team. Also produced by them is our cosy collection of hand-knitted mohair jumpers, cardigans and hats, in colourful stripes, or block colours, some with a pretty metallic trim along the hems and edges.
Crochet is yet another skill that this group of village workers has perfected and I couldn’t be happier with the results. The gorgeous 100% wool Triangle Shawls are hand crocheted in lots of different colours and all have a pretty floral design as well as a fringe on two of the edges. If you prefer a more classic look, the oh-so-soft Cashmere Wrap Shawls will keep you warm & snug. Also made for us in Nepal are the lovely blankets that come in a floral design or striped, as well as my signature silk velvet blankets with contrasting silk fabric on the back and a pretty trim of colourful silk balls along all four edges.
Working alongside another wonderful NGO, these artisans are also involved in a fantastic humanitarian project to keep the Himalayas clean. Discarded paper and plastic is collected, cleaned & processed to then be recycled into fabulous homewares like our coasters, placemats, trays, little boxes and even large laundry baskets – what a perfect example of reducing, re-using & recycling!
Producing our pieces in small quantities with all these different foundations really does play a part in helping to reduce our environmental footprint and although we are only one small business, every purchase that you make from us is in turn helping to provide a happier & healthier way of life for so many of the artisans we work with. Day by day we broaden our reach and partner with small businesses in need of assistance and are forever grateful for your continued support which allows us to do this
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