Making a Social Impact by Empowering Artisans
Mata Traders fair trade clothing and accessories are made by the hands of artisans in India and Nepal. Our artisans come from rural areas, tribal villages, and urban slums, but they all want the same thing – the chance to earn a fair wage and lift their families and communities out of poverty. By giving our artisans an opportunity, we are making a social impact on not just their lives, but the lives of generations to come.
Rosy is part of a large and vibrant family, but like many extended families in India, hers had money problems. She and her husband always felt like they were under water, but they dreamt about giving their children a decent education one day.
When she joined the cooperative, Rosy had never sewn before and was bound by Indian gender traditions – her husband made her wear a sari to cover her head, and he was so resentful of her new job that he didn’t speak to her for three months.
She started out sewing bags by hand, but the cooperative promoted her when they learned that she was a hard worker. She moved to a supervisor role, and kept moving up the ladder until she became an assistant production manager.
Rosy has earned more than a fair wage – she’s earned the respect of her family. Her husband now supports her work and appreciates her new modern wardrobe. She’s the “strongest member of her family” and a role model for the women in her village.
Rosy’s oldest son (24 years old) got to go to school and is now happily married. Her youngest son (20 years old) is finishing up his education. Once he graduates, she’s going to keep working at the co-op so that she can buy a home one day.
Rosy is an inspiration to us all – we love her fantastic energy!
Harshali's Story by Maureen
Being in India reminds me of a postcard I got 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!”
I met Harshali several years ago when she was a shy 18 year old with limited English speaking skills. At that time she was working as a helper at one of our women’s cooperatives 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. She is from Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India, and her parents died when she was young, leaving her and her three siblings behind, with only their grandmother to care 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 grandchildren. Soon after Harshali started working at the co-op, she was able to afford to send both her younger siblings to school, as well as start a college economics course.
Harshali moved up to become assistant to one of the co-op's designers, graduated her program, and was then promoted again to warehouse manager, overseeing the tagging and packaging of every garment that leaves the co-op. 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. She is married now with a young son, who stays at the co-op’s daycare center while she’s working.
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 megacities to find new kinds of work. The opportunities for economic advancement that fair trade organizations offer to women in poverty are truly a rarity. Empowering women by being a part of the fair trade community means that we’re ALL connected to this positive change.
While we’re fortunate enough to get to know the women in India who make Mata, our customers are actually the ones who make the difference –you make a story like Harshali’s possible by shopping fair trade.
Everybody Needs an Aunty by Maureen
“Surita Auntiiiieeee!” is a common call at our women’s cooperative in Mumbai, and is usually shouted out in a high-pitched Hindi lilt. What is Surita Auntie’s job description? On a given day Auntie is performing any number of tasks– whatever must get done. If sampling fabric needs to be folded, auntie is called.
If a dress hem has to be unstitched or a button applied, call Auntie. Sometimes you see her sweeping up fabric scraps, cleaning up the chai cups after afternoon tea, or even packing freshly pressed dresses into bags for shipping.
Auntie is the first one to come in the morning and the last one to leave at night. She has the key to every room at the co-op and you feel you can trust her with your life. She is the one everyone depends on for the little stuff, which can then make the big stuff possible. “Auntie is crazy to work,” says Rosy, another woman at the co-op, commenting on Auntie’s seemingly endless work ethic.
We are forever grateful to this small powerhouse of a woman. Auntie makes our hectic couple weeks at the cooperative working on the next season’s collection that much smoother. And in India, anything relatively smooth is a blessing. Her job is not a glamorous one, but she really is the oil that keeps the wheels turning. She has three grown children, and while her work at the co-op made it possible for them to pursue higher education, I gather it’s the sense of purpose and belonging she gets from her job that also holds meaning. The cooperative is like a family, and a lot of people depend on Auntie.
All of us have a Surita Auntie in our lives, or maybe we fill the role in someone else’s. Thanks Auntie, we hope you realize how much you are appreciated.
A Day in the Sampling Unit by Michelle
The second day of design work in Rajasthan goes like this:
For me - up at 7am to watch the sun rise like a ball of fury over the lake. For the first time in years the lakes are full here - rain, rain and more rain has turned this town lush with beautiful shades of green. Breakfast while emailing (yes, our dear, dear guest house owner installed wifi for which I am ever so thankful) consists of "egg cheese toast" and a Starbucks coffee travel packet necessary to wake me up. Off to the co-op by 9am, running various errands along the way.
For her - the women we work with in the sampling unit do one of two things:
1) Some are trained to use the electric sewing machines and they come in to work at the co-op on a daily basis. These women stitch sample garments for both domestic (Fab India!) and international (Mata Traders!) customers; their work is complex and the same group of women have been at the sampling unit for many years now. For most it was their first time working outside their homes, and Manju commented to us that what stitchers like her enjoy most about their work is the professional environment itself and the opportunity to socialize with co-workers.
2) Other women are talented hand embroiderers. We asked Narabda, one of the embroiderers, about her morning, which sounds much like the start of any working woman's day. She rises by 7am to cook breakfast for her family, prepare her tiffin (to-go lunchbox) and send her children off to school; by 9:30am she meets with other co-op members to take a shared rickshaw into work, which is a ride of about 30 minutes. Indian business hours are 10am-6pm, and she's home by 6:30 or 7pm to cook dinner for her family (though living in a joint family, oftentimes a kind mother-in-law will have a warm dinner waiting!). Narabda tells us that today is a bit unusual for her - she normally can do her embroidery from home and only comes to the co-op when she is needed for sampling.
Once Mata designs are finalized in the sampling unit our pieces will move to production, where over 50 different women will stitch the garments. Then, hundreds of additional women come to the production unit from surrounding villages to learn the specific hand embroidery designs we create for each piece. These ladies then take their work home to complete, which is convenient since many care for young children and there are few other ways for them to earn an income in their villages.
So much care and hard work is invested in Mata's products, most importantly by the artisans we work with - we feel lucky our design process is so meaningful!