Kantha is a traditional form of embroidery that’s popular in
Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal. For hundreds of years, women
in India and Bangladesh used kantha stitching to create something to keep them
warm. Using a small, straight running stitch, they took old pieces of cloth and
sewed them together to create blankets, throws, scarves and shawls.
Now, a skill passed down from generation to generation, kantha
refers to both the tradition of creating a beautiful and useful product out of
discarded items, as well as the kantha craft itself, which features a signature
running stitch. While kantha traditionally refers to upcycling old materials,
some kantha items are now also made with new fabrics.
This beautiful, reversible kantha throw was handstitched by
Najmeen. Najmeen is 29 years old and has been working with Prokritee for five
years. Prokritee provides work for women in Bangladesh with little or no
income. Makers work in a safe environment and are given a fair wage, which
helps them take care of their families and send their children to school.
Prokritee provided training for Najmeen and taught her how to do kantha
stitching. This particular throw is made with recycled cotton fabric purchased
from a local market in Bangladesh. It took Najmeen almost six days to make this
Before Najmeen joined Prokritee, she and her family
struggled to make ends meet.
“We didn’t have enough income to pay for food or give our
children an education. We didn’t have enough money for medicine.”
After joining Prokritee though, things got better for
Najmeen and her family.
“I am now able to buy good food and clothes for my family. I
can now pay for my children’s education.”
Najmeen’s dream for the future is to continue giving her
children an education so they can be literate and have successful futures.
It’s no secret that the commercial tanning process for
leather is hazardous. Not only is leather tanned with compounds that are
harmful to the environment, but this chemical process is also damaging to the
health of the people working in the leather production industry.
Many of our bags, purses and wallets are handcrafted using eco-leather by makers working with the Craft Resource Centre (CRC). CRC is a fair trade resource and marketing centre in India that tans their leather products without using harmful chemicals. In other words, instead of using azo dyes, formaldehyde and other harmful substances, eco-leather is tanned using environmentally-friendly materials derived from sustainable tea bark extracts and waxes.
Indro Dasgupta is the director of CRC and we were fortunate
to spend time with him this past spring. During his visit with us, he outlined
the eco-leather process. He explained that since the government in India has
banned the use of cow in the production of leather, CRC eco-leather products
are made with water buffalo. The water buffalo are first used for milk and
meat, and then the skin, which would typically be considered waste, is sold to
CRC for the production of leather. In other words, no animals are killed for
the purpose of making leather. CRC is simply upcycling the waste produced by
Indro also explained that after the raw hide is collected, it
is tanned with eco-friendly materials on a drumming machine and then it’s set
out to dry. Once the leather is dry, it is then waxed, shined and sprayed.
Finally, the leather is assembled into beautiful purses, wallets and bags.
Mallika Manjari De is a quality checker and packer working
with CRC. She is 28 years old and has been working with CRC for almost two
years. When asked about how her life has changed since working with CRC, she
said, “Life was difficult. I found it difficult to make ends meet. Now, I am
able to buy necessities for my home.”
Eco-leather is more than a fashion choice; it’s a way to better the environment and improve the lives of people like Mallika. Browse our handcrafted eco-leather collection online.
Most of the makers we work with are women, and most of those women are mothers. With Mother’s Day approaching here in Canada, we just had to tell these stories. Each one shows the resilience and exceptionalism of the maker mothers of fair trade.
Every day, as we unpack, sort, ship, shelve and gift beautiful fair trade products, we think about the hundreds of amazing women who have turned a handicraft into a livelihood, and a livelihood into a future.
Tamil Arasi, maker with Blue Mango, India:
“My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse.”
“I joined Blue Mango in 2009 after my husband died of a heart attack. I was at a loss about what to do. How would I support my children? I had worked as a health worker part -time in the past, but decided to come to Blue Mango instead because of the support they provided for me as a widow, and the steady work. I like it here because it’s friendly and I can forget my troubles. My daughter graduated from high school and is now studying to be a nurse. My son is in 12th grade and he wants to be a policeman. I don’t like that idea because I don’t want him to get hurt. I’d rather he was safe behind a desk at a government job!”
Rawshan Ara, maker with Prokritee, Bangladesh
“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids.”
“Before joining Shuktara, I had no source of income and struggled to provide the basic needs of my family. Back then I wasn’t able to send my kids to school. I was leading a hopeless life.”
“At the very beginning of my career here, I received a three-month on-the-job training on making handmade paper products. Later, I received more lessons from the design team of Prokritee.”
“Now, I am able to earn and provide the basic needs for my family, and send my kids to school. I also learned that I enjoy making handicraft products.”
“My future dream is to create a better life for my kids. I want them to get higher education. I also want to own a land and a house of my own. To me, fair trade means getting fair wages to support my family, working in a peaceful environment, and living with dignity.”
Rajakumari, maker with Blue Mango, India:
“People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity.”
“In 2000, when Blue Mango started in a tiny shed, I was one of the first 4 women to join. After some time, the program expanded to the point where Tamar madam needed help and in 2005, I was offered the position of Supervisor. Although the job is stimulating, I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of running a program of 55 women especially since I only have 8th grade education.”
“Several years ago, my husband collapsed on the road from a stroke. At that time, my son Pradeep was fifteen and my daughter Jeyanthi was ten. People told me that my life was over, but I didn’t listen. I was not going to live in poverty and rely on charity. I could see that the only way to raise my kids was to continue to work at Blue Mango and build a new life for us.”
“Thanks to Blue Mango, I was able to raise my children on my own. My son has a computer job in a company and my daughter has graduated and is a school teacher. Nobody from my family has ever gone to college. I don’t have to depend on my father, I don’t have to depend on my brothers, and I won’t have to depend on my son. I have pension and savings, and does that ever feel good! My neighbors have never seen an independent widow before.”
“Because of my story, new women immediately learn that Blue Mango is not a charity, but a place where women develop financial strength and pride through perseverance and hard work.”
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