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See you next year, Ajmer!

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See you next year, Ajmer!

We live for working side-by-side with the artisans, these moments are what we look forward to every year when planning out trip. The trips are never long enough, but we try to accomplish as much as possible while we are in India.  This year we shopped for new materials in the Jaipur Market and met with several organic fabric sourcing partners. We experimented with natural dyes, conducted amazing design workshops in story telling and introduced new design and colors for the upcoming seasons. We conducted many artisan interviews and did home visits to collect updated data for our social impact reporting. We celebrated International Women's Day with a fashion show, an educational workshop on women's issues, food, dancing and of course music!

Our last day in Ajmer at the Anchal office was packed full.  We sampled new Fall/Winter 2018 products with several of the senior artisans, taught the last day of our narrative series design workshop with nearly 100 artisans, and met one-on-one with the Project Assistants to conduct a few final artisan interviews. Despite the chaotic schedule, we could see the progress we had made in a little over a week. Women we'd never worked with before were building friendships in this new community and learning skills that would allow them to start a new career and even a new life. We were able to reconnect with artisans that have been with us since day one, artisan that have completely transformed since the first time we met them, artisans that are now the leaders in their families and in their communities.  The last day is always the hardest, we are never ready to say goodbye, and neither are they.

The artisans surprised us with a goodbye party towards the end of the work day.  We were all pulled upstairs as a line of women were waiting to place flower garlands around our necks. Made from colorful and fragrant flowers, the garlands are used to honor guests. Colleen was adorned with 6 or 7 garlands piled to her chin by the time the line of women waiting were complete!

We were also given thoughtful gifts from the women.  Despite us insisting that they don't spend a single penny, several of the artisans snuck out during the day and pooled their money together to buy each of us a token to remember them and to remember India.  Our favorite gift, by far, was a photo collage made for Colleen.  During the week, many of the artisans with smart phones were sneaking pictures of Colleen while she was working. Little did we know their plan all along was to frame these photos and gift them to Colleen at the end of the week.

Every gathering must end with a dance party, and our last day at the office was no exception.  Project Assistant Pooja set up a makeshift speaker and turned the music up extra loud.  Everyone gathered under the tent on the roof and laughed and danced together for over an hour. Gulshan came upstairs after awhile to wrap up the party, knowing that we needed to get home to pack for our departure.  However, the other artisans weren't having any of it and instead lifted Gulshan into the air until she was erupting in laughter.  This joy and playfulness was the perfect ending to the day. A few more group photos and a lot of tears later, the office was empty.

I knew the 10 days would fly by, but I didn't adequately prepare myself for how sad I would be when we had to leave. I’ve seen the faces of these amazing women in our Louisville office, I've heard and retold their stories, I've fallen in love with them from afar. To finally be in their presence, and work along side them, meant more than I could ever explain. The 10 days spent in Ajmer were by far my favorite of our trip. My heart is so full and I am energized to be home and continue to fight for these women and their families.

- Natalie

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