My favorite moment is walking into the workshop again for the first time, the joyful smiles and warm welcomes of mutual love and appreciation immediately fill my heart. Though there is little communication, the emotions and expressions depict a strong bond of friendship and understanding that does not require words. Now all of the hard work and sacrifice from everyone involved feels worth it. “It is our favorite time when you come to visit. You come every year and we all can get together and be happy,” Neetu shared.
We spent the first few hours together sharing stories of accomplishments, videos, model photos, catalogs and photos of our studio. I enjoy beginning the workshops by sharing more insight into what happens to their pieces after they leave their hands and arrive in our studio. I try to genuinely share in detail how much they are loved and their pieces are treasured by our supporters. As the words are translated, the glimmer of pride in their eyes and smiles is something they rarely receive as a woman in their community. To start we shared the Anchal catalog, each artisan delicately turned each page as if it were a sacred book. They visibly treasured each moment and glow with pride, something I would never have seen on their faces when they first started. Sheela shared,"Sometimes we wonder why the measuring has to be so perfect when we are making the product but when we see the catalog and see how the product is used, it all makes sense to us. This makes me feel really proud seeing the product like this!"
Shakuntla, in particular, showed great confidence by holding the book first and telling the others to wait. Shakuntla is Anchal’s first artisan, joining in 2010. And even though she holds the highest seniority, she did not display this type of confidence just even two years ago. Then when we then showed Shakuntla her photo in the Fashion Revolution Zine, she was smiling larger than I had ever seen. I started tearing up knowing how far she has come with her confidence level after confronting her husband and finally ending a lifetime of severe domestic abuse and violence. No to mention last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer and thankfully is now in remission. Afterward, she exclaimed with excitement how she wants to come visit me in the United States. Another amazing sign of courage and boldness. Shakuntla is the strongest bravest woman I know and I am so honored to be her friend.
We ended by showing the video Maggie made and filmed the last time we were in India. They were so precious while they intently watched and grinned ear to ear. they watched calling out artisans names, different products and ended in cheers and clapping. I am always blown away by their happiness when they join together, but while they were watching the video it was the most joyful and proud I had seen. Firoza shared, “I really love seeing the catalog, your office, and video! You share stories, but this helps me understand where our pieces go and where you work. It made me feel really proud.” Sheela also said, “We spend so much of our life stuck inside the house and you are showing us that there is so much to see outside. My mother-in-law always asks me what will you do when you go outside. Now we can tell them.”
The artisans and I have been on this journey together with a full appreciation for each other and with full transparency, which is rarely the arrangement between buyer and maker in the textile industry. Anchal did not begin by wanting to produce textiles and finding people to make it. We started with a call to end women’s exploitation and support women’s empowerment. By having great mutual respect and open dialogue together, we are doing just that! I can confidently say that more than ever we are changing lives. Sometimes invisible financial ways, but most importantly through the inside of each woman. These brave and bold women have become a force of strength for themselves and the generations to come.