Services and Education
The artisan cooperatives are similar to social service agencies in the support they provide to end the cycle of poverty for the members and their families. Health care, paid maternity leave, retirement pensions, and daycare: all part of the membership package. Social workers on staff assist the artisans in addressing their personal needs, from opening a bank account to situations of domestic violence and dealing with HIV/AIDS. There are literacy classes, computer training, and regular workshops on topics like hygiene, nutrition, and parenting. We’ve seen this education really make a difference: co-op member Sidhama told us that before coming to the co-op, she never rode buses because she could not read the bus numbers. Now she travels around Mumbai by bus without problem. The women are empowered to navigate their own lives, quite literally!
Meaningfulness of the Work and Social Mobility
At the cooperatives, our garments are individually stitched in small workshops, with one seamstress creating an entire garment rather than being part of a production line. Many Mata styles are then carefully finished with hand embroidery in the women’s own homes. Their training starts with hand sewing, moving on to simple machine patterns, like bags, and eventually mastering the sewing machine. Showing leadership skills offers the women a chance to become head of their sewing group or get promoted to positions like trainer, quality checker, materials buyer, or assistant production manager. In a country as socially stratified as India, this type of social mobility in the workplace is a rarity.
Voice, Confidence, Friendships
Many areas of India have a traditional society where a woman doesn’t usually work outside the home. It’s not too bold a generalization to say that upon joining the co-ops many of the women are shy and timid, but that soon changes. The women form close friendships and begin to come out of their shells. As co-op social worker Sampada explained, “First they are like, ‘meow.’ But later they are a tiger of the Center!” This newfound confidence and voice carries over into their own communities. Choti, the head of her embroidery group, organized a successful protest with over 200 women to demand water for her village during a long drought - and it worked! Choti told us it was through the co-op that she gained the confidence to stand up for herself and her larger community.
Celebrating Traditional Artisan Skills
It was the beauty and intricacy of Indian block printing that inspired us to start importing. When we first partnered with fair trade cooperatives, we were thrilled to find that they were sourcing artisan made fabrics, like handwoven ikat and khadi, and an endless variety of hand block prints. Though long since surpassed by factory production, there are still many families in India and Nepal for whom this is their livelihood.
Fair trade is best known for producers getting a fair price for their goods. The women at the co-ops earn a fair wage that exceeds the local minimum wage. They are paid per piece so the amount each artisan makes varies. The benefit of this system is the flexibility it allows in terms of hours (some women work part-time or from home) and skill level (slower sewers aren’t fired for low productivity, as they would in a factory). The women exercise control in determining the piece rate, and as the cooperatives are worker-owned organizations, they receive a share of the profits.
How Fair Trade Prevents Child Labor
In India, child labor is rampant in costume jewelry production. By partnering with fair trade organizations, we ensure that there is no child labor used in the production of our products. But more than that, fair trade is a preventative measure. Every year thousands of children migrate to the megacities of India to find work and send money back to their families. Providing a stable income to women at the poverty level is a way to combat the problem of child labor at its roots. The change can be seen not only in the life of the woman employed by the co-op, but especially in the next generation, the children that she can afford to educate.