So many times when we see a photo of a woman working on a sewing machine, we often think of a sweat shop. For me, it’s a beautiful symbol that represents huge progress for women in Nepal. Let me explain… and let me start at the beginning.
My fair trade philosophy is simple… do we want to provide Aid or Trade. I vote for Trade.
The two easiest, most effective means of trade are agriculture products like coffee and bananas… or handicrafts. I vote for handicrafts. But there is an inherent problem with handicrafts. It’s a small potato’s market. How many people buy handicrafts on a regular basis… not many.
So the challenge is finding products that Aritsans can make and sell that have scope and scale. And the simple answer is garments. We started with handbags, hats and scarves, but our ultimate goal is to make clothing.
In the early days… around 2004, everything was made by hand. Hand-crochetted hemp hats and belts, and recycled silk scarves and purses. Over time, we started making cotton handbags and feel like this is our sweet spot. But when we first started, there were so few women tailors. A tailor is someone who sews with a sewing machine.
Traditionally, in Nepal, men work with sewing machines and women do hand-stitching. The men make about 5 to 7 times more than women, simply because they can operate a sewing machine. We first began to seek out women tailors, but realized that there were just not enough women tailors.
Our solution was to create the EarthDivas.com Tailoring School for Women. We rented out a building, bought 6 new sewing machines, a diesel generator, cutting equipment, and hired a master tailor to teach the ladies how to sew with a sewing machine. We then paid 6 ladies to attend the school for 6 months, and bought all the fabric and supplies that they would need. Upon graduation, the goal was for these ladies to begin making handbags for EarthDivas. The transition from school to production has been a challenge. There are so many challenges such as buying and dying the fabric, cutting patterns, buying zip’s and snaps, and stone washing produced pieces.
Early on with the Tailoring School, we partnered with Beni Ghale to run it. She runs a fair trade business in Kathmandu called HeedNepal.org, and while the initial school session went great, we’ve had a hard time making samples and giving orders to the tailoring school. I know that if I could spend more time in Nepal, I could overcome these challenges, and like everything in life… nothing is as easy as it seems. But the goal is to keep pushing forward in the right direction, and trying to improve things on a daily basis.
I’m certain that with time, we’ll achieve the goal that we’ve set out for ourselves, and that is to employ thousands of women Artisans, making thousands of beautiful one-of-a-kind works of art, for women all over the world. It’s just a matter of time…