Blog

Reblogged from Sudara’s interview found here.

TANJA, YOUR EFFORTS ARE FOCUSED IN NEPAL, WHICH IS A BORDER COUNTRY TO INDIA WHERE OUR WORK IS FOCUSED SO WE ARE BASICALLY NEIGHBORS! WOULD YOU MIND SHARING WITH OUR READERS HOW YOU CAME TO FALL IN LOVE WITH NEPAL AND CONCENTRATE YOUR EFFORTS THERE?

For most of my life, Nepal was a mysterious place on a spinning globe. It became real to me when I went with Sudara (then known as, International Princess™ Project) to India in 2005. We were visiting a group of IPP seamstresses outside of Mumbai where I met several women who had been rescued after being trafficked from Nepal. Prior to that, I had no idea that Nepal was a “feeder” country into the sex-industry in India. It was then that I learned of the huge crime rings that send pimps up to remote Himalayan villages to prey on uneducated women and girls. Having spent their lives in the mountains, away from society, they are innocent and, therefore, ignorant to these schemes and fall victim to men offering them “good jobs in far away places”. It’s the same story everywhere.

Fast forward five years, I quit my job as an art director for a fashion company and decided to take a self-given “sabbatical” to do intensive research on the pandemic of human trafficking in South/Southeast Asia. I spent two months in India and Bangladesh visiting organizations that were doing intervention and rehabilitation with victims and survivors of human trafficking. Those two months left my heart broken and my head spinning.

Nepal was next on my itinerary and all I can say is that when I landed in Nepal after those two months, it was like taking a giant breath of fresh air. Nepal, like India, is a full-assault on the senses, yet on a micro-scale or maybe everything seems micro in the shadows of the Himalayas. Nepal has far less economic infusion than its giant neighbors India and China, which makes it desperately poor, yet somehow the people seem less fraught with desperation. They say the Nepali people are “smiley”, maybe that was part of why I fell in love with the country. The people are friendly, with generous spirits even in the face of unthinkable hardship. They don’t feel sorry for themselves, they have an incredible love for their country and they are not afraid of hard work.

[pictured above, Tanja with Sunita, our design partner and Srishti who is our artisan liasion]

Sometimes I think Nepal picked me. I can’t explain it. But from day one, it was a place where meaningful relationships were built and organizations opened their doors to me to show me “hope” first hand. 

met so many people that were innovative when it came to prevention, rescue and restoration. Plus, Nepal like many Asian countries has a deep history in handicraft. I was smitten by the curious alleys full of trinkets and market-ware. As an artist myself, I couldn’t help but think of things to make with all the raw materials around me.

When we started this business in 2012, Nepal seemed like the logical place to start based on the relationships I’d formed. And, it also was a scale that seemed approachable. As we’ve broadened our work there, I am ever more committed to helping stabilize the economy in Nepal by creating dignified jobs. Employment and education are the most effective tools in preventing human trafficking. Full stop.

 

AS ARTIST AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY, HOW DO YOU FIND YOURSELF DIVVYING UP RESPONSIBILITY IN THE DAY-TO-DAY?

I currently wear all the hats. And, let me just say, that I don’t wear them all well. Because there is so much that I do not know, I either learn by asking, doing or failing. I’m a graphic designer by trade so I naturally focus on the creative aspects of this business—the product design, sourcing, and branding. The heart of this company is job creation and all the jobs we are creating are creative. But a lot of the day-to-day tasks here in the states—the selling, the fulfilling, the future-thinking, well it’s a whole lot of grit and even more grace. And really smart friends who are generous with their skills.

 

YOUR PRODUCTS HAVE SUCH A CLEAN, CRISP LOOK TO THEM. WHAT DOES THE DESIGN PROCESS LOOK LIKE FOR YOU AND WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR INSPIRATION FROM WHEN COMING UP WITH A NEW SEASON OR LINE OF PRODUCTS?

I love that you noticed that because that’s how we want our pieces to be perceived. There are a lot of fair-trade companies that have a sort of “hippie” look to them, which is fine for some people, but you alienate a market of people who want to buy a modern-looking piece that’s fairly made. My personal style is a more modern, minimal take with a little “wink” thrown into the mix. I tend to buy things that I’ll like for years to come, so I approach design with that same vision for sustainability. I also want our things to be accessible for people, so if you keep it simple, chances are you’ll hit a larger market.

The second part of that answer is that I am inspired by my surroundings. My studio is based in Portland, Maine, which may not be as breathtaking as the Himalayas, but boy is it pretty and I am inspired by beauty. Our latest collection was a bit inspired by the woods and waters that are prevalent in Maine. It’s a place that celebrates the authentic, so I think our pieces have that same honest approach.

And naturally, I’m inspired by all that’s possible in Nepal. Anything is possible there, (but not everything should be). So, everything I design is made with the understanding that quality raw materials have limited availability in Nepal. And, consistent craftsmanship has to be worked hard to attain. It’s a constant challenge. Keeping our designs clean and simple definitely works in our favor.

 

WHEN WAS YOUR LAST TRIP TO NEPAL AND HOW HAVE YOUR ARTISAN PARTNERS BEEN IMPACTED SINCE THE MOST RECENT EARTHQUAKE BACK IN MAY?

I was there for the month of June. I was really anxious about that trip because the ground was and still is shaking. Everyone was affected. Many of the artisans lost their homes and were sleeping outside for fear of being crushed by already crumbling surroundings. The trauma is real and continues to be. It was interesting though, by the time we arrived, we could feel that people had grown weary of talking about the earthquake, they wanted to return to “normal” so they were very anxious to get back to work because it made them feel normal. One of my favorite moments was when we were working with our textile team, one of the artisans was quietly making small felt hearts. Through an interpreter, we asked her how she was doing. She said, “Even though the earthquake has shaken my heart, I still find happiness in making these small hearts.”

 

WE ARE SO EXCITED ABOUT THE BAG YOU DESIGNED FOR SUDARA BECAUSE IT MARRIES TWO LIKE-MINDED COMPANIES IN SUCH A BEAUTIFUL WAY: YOUR DESIGN, OUR FABRIC/PRINTS AND NEPALI CRAFTSMANSHIP! CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE MORE HOW YOUR MODEL WORKS AND HOW YOUR ARTISANS BENEFIT FROM MULXIPLY PRODUCTS?

This collaboration is very meaningful for me. Your founder (and my bestie), Shannon Keith is the reason I even know about human trafficking. She invited me to go to India back in 2005 and it changed the course of my life. So because of that, ten crazy years later, MULXIPLY is creating jobs in Nepal to eliminate the exploitation of at-risk people that could end up trafficked to India—it’s full circle and incredibly redemptive. And it feels like such a victory for both Nepal and India. It may be small, but it’s mighty.

Part of our mission is to partner with artisans and indigenous organizations. They know the plight of their people far more than we ever will. And, they are committed to being catalysts of change. The problem is that without the infusion of outside projects, they are not sustainable, nor can they grow. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, we simply want to increase its momentum. If we create more projects, they can employ more people. We currently work with 4 groups of artisans in Nepal and we are committed to increasing that number. Creating dignified jobs stabilizes economies and keeps communities together and thriving. It also keeps heritage handicraft alive which Nepalis are very proud of. But at the end of the day, for us, it’s about the people. We can’t change the whole world, but we can help make their lives better.

      

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS SURROUNDING THIS COLLABORATION, THE ISSUE OF FORCED SEX-SLAVERY OR THE NEED FOR JOB CREATION GLOBALLY?

Something that came to light on this last trip to Nepal was the need to employ men as well. Our business started with the mission to employ women since they are most at risk for being trafficked into sexual slavery.

There is however another form of slavery that is happening in Nepal (and in many poor countries) that is undermining societies in extremely dangerous ways. In the last few years, over two million young Nepalese men have left the country to work for “man-power” companies in places like Saudi Arabia.

They are tricked or pressured into taking what appear to be “good construction jobs” but end up being indentured slaves. Many of these men are away from their families for months at a time, some of them return only in caskets. It’s devastating that entire cities are being built on the bones of these men. The damage is far-reaching. Back in Nepal, entire villages have seen the population dwindle to nothing but women, children and old men. Societies are undermined and suddenly women and children are far more at-risk than they were before.

Learning of this issue, spurred us to figure out ways to create projects that would employ men as well. Our entire jewelry collection is made by a group of metal-workers. All of them are young men.

 

Pictured below are the finished products from our collaboration with MULXIPLY. Click image to view/purchase the item in our online store.

Our mission is to stabilize economies in the developing world through creating dignified jobs by investing in indigenous, artisanal businesses who collaborate to produce our contemporary designs via age-old techniques. In doing so, we are keeping heritage handicraft alive and providing local employment in societies where those with little or no education are at risk of being trafficked to other countries or enslaved in migrant worker schemes abroad.

We partner with people and organizations that mirror this mission because they love and understand their country far more than we ever can. We consider it an honor to work alongside these teams. We are humbled by their expertise and willingness to take on our projects.

OUR TEAM INCLUDES:

The Association for Craft Producers Nepal (ACP):

team_2015_ACP

Founded in 1984 with just 38 producers, ACP now employs over 1,200 artisans, of which 90% are female. ACP recognizes the need for female employment in both rural and urban settings, providing opportunity for both. Situated at the foot of the Himalayas, ACP also recognizes the exquisite beauty of their country and as stated on their website, “takes careful and deliberate steps to preserve our environment”.

The current Executive Director, Meera Bhattaraihas nurtured the growth of ACP for over ten years placing it at the forefront of the Fair Trade movement in Nepal. She understands the plight, particularly of women in Nepal and fosters an environment of “future-thinking”. In addition to a fair wage, each employee is provided with an interest bearing retirement fund, a monthly stipend for employees who keep their children in school for 4 consecutive years, a medical allowance, and a Producer’s Alliance which protects and encourages knowledge of employee rights. Most of these benefits are not the norm in the developing world and certainly not a right.

Since our launch in 2012, we have worked tirelessly with ACP. They produced our original felt + leather collection, our canvas + leather collection and our forthcoming leather accessories.


Yala Mandala:

team_2015_YALA

We took a wrong turn down an alley in Patan’s Durbar Square and wandered in to the surprising studio and passion project of Pravin Chitrakar. A true visionary, our journey with Pravin and his team of artisans has been nothing but rewarding. His commitment to keeping Nepali handicraft alive and thriving is so contagious, you can’t help but intentionally design projects for his team to create. He understands Nepal more than anyone I have met in this process. He loves his country with such dedication, you know he’s in it for the long haul.

Pravin is an artist first. Therefore, his outlook on the world around him is largely aesthetic. He doesn’t see an old house falling in on itself. No, he sees an opportunity to construct a creative space for artisans to display and sell their work. Instead of building a factory, he found a space with a garden in the middle so his metal workers could work in an airy space with ventilation and sunshine. He’s built an expansive atelier which includes: metalsmithing, weaving and paper making. He understand without a doubt that in order for Nepali handicraft to stay alive, it must adapt to the market, which therefore makes working with him and his team a collaborative dream.

Featured in the photos above is Mahendra. We love his story because is represents innovation, hope and risk. He was working as the security guard for Pravin’s studio. One day when they were chatting, Pravin asked him what he’d want to do if you could anything. Turns out, he really wanted to learn the art of metalsmithing. We wanted to make jewelry. So, Pravin took a chance on him and now he is one of Yala’s finest artisans. He made our samples, which were and are exquisite. We also love that Pravin named his sister his Chief Financial Officer. Julia, pictured top right is a calm yet driving force in the business. Both brilliant and gracious, she is a part of what makes Yala Mandala mission so successful. She is also a major advocate for the women’s equality movement in Nepal.

Yala Mandala produced our entire jewelry collection as well as our gift boxes.

Making something is always a process. It’s different for everyone and everything, particularly when you choose to make your things in far-away places like Nepal.

Our design process is a collaborative experience that evolves over conversations about what we like, what we see trending in the marketplace and what can actually be made in Nepal. We sketch ideas, play with patterns, send emails, sew samples and source hardware. We often hand-carry or ship our hardware to Nepal as it is difficult to find quality hardware there. Rome Fastener in Connecticut has been a great help to us. We love that they are a long-time Made in the USA, family-run business and take the time to work with the small guys like us. Our newest partners Yala Mandala, based in Nepal are exploring hand-forged hardware with us. It is our hope that at some point every element of our pieces will be made in Nepal.

We plan our trips to Nepal based on market deadlines. Things take time in Nepal so we build our delivery schedules knowing this. Full production once samples are approved takes anywhere from 2-4 months. It’s imperative to spend time with our artisans in the development process — it’s essentially our reason for being. Currently we are there for 4-8 weeks a year, but it never seems like long enough. the time spent with our teams is focused on getting our samples to a place that we are confident that they will be carried through full production. It’s always hard to leave. Despite the endless turmoil in Nepal, it is an incredibly hospitable country that takes you in and treats you like its own.

We currently work with four different groups in the Kathmandu Valley. Our time on the ground is split between meetings, spending time with artisans, working on samples, sourcing natural materials and researching new ideas. Each year, we are thrilled to meet more like-minded individuals who are not only creating dignified jobs for the Nepali people, but honoring their heritage and keeping age-old handicraft alive. Plus, exploring in the valley and villages is an endless source of inspiration. You never know what you will find. We met Yala Mandala our jewelry partners by taking a wrong turn down an alley.

Our favorite part of this venture is ultimately meeting the artisans, learning about their lives and working alongside them. It’s so very different from our daily lives, it’s both humbling and inspiring to hear about what they must overcome on a daily basis. They know so much more about how things can be done than we do. Being knee-deep in their creative process is a joy that there really are no words for.

We are reminded when we face challenges in our production or quality issues, that these are all part of the process. Life is hard in Nepal, and working there is no exception. Recently two massive earthquakes shook this already fragile country to its core. Nepal will be rebuilding for years to come. As a result of this, we are even more committed to investing in our current partners, seeking stability and continued growth for them. They persevere. We persevere. And it’s in the midst of this bustling creative process where beauty is created and lives are changed.

As stated above, collaboration is the name of the game for us. MULXIPLY wouldn’t exist without Nepal and it wouldn’t exist without YOU. Every single piece that makes its way to our website, to your shop, and to your hands, brings with it a story. Thank you for being part of it.

Being a western woman in the developing world is a bit of an odd thing. Not because we are generally heads taller, shades paler and always sweatier than the locals, no, the “odd” is what happens in your head. It’s wild here. Humanity is raw, it’s not sanitized or pre-packaged. It’s just down-right messy. So, inevitably you find your head spinning with questions that boil down to The One Big Question, “How is this fair?”.

It stops you in your tracks. Facing this mind-bending question of why each of us is born in to our place in the world is a hard hurdle to get over. I don’t know if you ever can. Honestly. Because the thing is, not one of us has the ability to choose the life we are born in to.

We all ask the “Why me?” in our daily lives, particularly when things aren’t going our way, when we feel unlucky, wronged, ripped-off, etcetera, whatever. But when you see small children with missing limbs begging on dusty streets or a destitute mother surrounded by her hungry babies, the issue of injustice becomes a little more hard-hitting. “Why them?” “Why not me?”

But, I’ve learned to stop asking this question with the intent of seeking an answer. There is no answer. Some might say oh that’s just bad karma. Others will say this is evidence that there is no God because a loving God would never allow such injustice. But there is no easy approach to this. And quite frankly, it is we humans who inflict injustice on each other, indirectly or directly. We can’t blame God or Karma. We can’t. We have to own the fact that we live on planet where there’s a lot of harm done in the name of self-preservation or power. There’s a lot of fall-out from bad choices made by ourselves or others. That’s the reality.

But that’s not the end of the story. The “Why?” can be the impetus to the “How?” How can we who have much help those who have little? How can we who were born in to relative ease and privilege help those who have felt nothing but pain since they left the womb? How can we be Grace to one another? And that, I believe is the true answer to the question of “Why?”. That’s where The Why ends and The How begins.

 

 

It is hard to describe the feelings I (Annalisa) have been experiencing over the last week. They’re somewhere on the continuum between excitement and anxiety. While I knew we were ready to come to Nepal to begin the execution phase of this incredible journey, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for arriving here. Truthfully, I don’t think that anyone from the US can really be prepared for seeing Kathmandu for the first time.

Tanja called her blog Beauty Lost & Found. It’s an apt title – and I was thinking about exactly that as we drove from the airport to our hotel. There is beauty here; the women’s faces and saris, the beautiful fruits and vegetables being sold at the roadside, the old brick buildings with their detailed ornamentation work and carved wooden doors, the temples, the colors of marigold and pink and orange that you see amidst the haze that settles in the valley.

But as we drove through the streets (an adventure in itself – think of a giant game of chicken between cars, motorbikes, rickshaws, buses & trucks, pedestrians and stray dogs), we saw trash everywhere, homeless children, a river polluted with raw sewage, people scrabbling out a basic existence by selling food in the hot sun… and more. Down-river, there was smoke. “That’s where they burn the bodies,” Tanja said. We drove on.  We arrived at our hotel perhaps 20 minutes after leaving the airport. All that, in 20 minutes. I fought to hold back tears then, and we were only at the beginning, and watching from a distance, so to speak.

It is exactly this which confirms that we are supposed to begin here, and begin now. This is where we can do something. This is where we can serve.  We don’t really know what awaits us tomorrow, when we meet with the first of the co-ops, but we are hopeful, and hope is needed here. It truly is.

 

 

We discovered HOLSTEE and their super inspiring manifesto a few months ago, right around the time we started GIVEGIVE.

They just did a really awesome collection of stories of people that are making shifts in their lives to do something different, following their passions, etc. And, they included us in their collection. We are thrilled!

Check it out:
http://mylife.holstee.com/post/22196295932/this-is-a-story-of-a-journey-still-in-motion-two

Thanks HOLSTEE!

At least once a week, Annalisa and I both have these “what are we thinking?” moments. Starting a business is equally exciting and terrifying. We are good at some parts of the equation, and other parts we really don’t have a clue. Part of what makes this endeavor fun is learning new things. Part of what makes it scary is the realization that there sure are a lot of new things we need to learn!

I’ve been rereading one of my all-time favorite books— “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, by Eugene Peterson. Its forthcoming and truthful message is that anything that we are passionate about, anything that stirs us to a lifetime of commitment, anything that requires a serious act of commitment and sacrifice, is in fact, a pilgrimage. A concept we hear very little of in our google-it-quick world. We are an impatient people and we want what we do to be act-and-react, start-and-succeed. This I know.

So we at GIVEGIVE are on a pilgrimage. This is a journey over unfamiliar terrain. We will ask a lot of questions along the way. We have to get comfortable asking for a lot of help. We will need to sit down and take rocks out of our shoes. We’ll probably need to turn around at times and retrace our steps. We’ll probably even want to quit and retreat to the comfort of the familiar at times. That’ll be normal. And that’ll be okay.

But, along the way, we’ll see incredible vistas, meet amazing people, hear stories of life-change. We’re bound to be indebted to countless hands who help. We’re going to learn more than we ever imagined and definitely arrive at a different place than we started.

“The experience of being in-between—
between the time we leave home and arrive at our destination;
between the time we leave adolescence and arrive at adulthood;
between the time we leave doubt and arrive at faith.

It is like the the time when a trapeze artist
lets go of the bar and hangs in midair,
ready to catch another support:
it is a time of danger, of expectation,
of excitement, of extraordinary aliveness.”  – Paul Tournier, A Place in Time

So, here’s to the pilgrimage of extraordinary aliveness!

One of the key tenets of GIVEGIVE is that we believe in the power of love to heal, to empower, to uplift and transform lives. To say that you love someone or something is to say that you believe that person or that thing. So when we say that GIVEGIVE is designed with love and made with hope, this is what we mean. We believe in the power of creative work to change women’s lives, and the world, for the better. Let’s face it, we are all in this together.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

One of the most exciting things in life is to start something – something new, something BIG, something daring, something meaningful, something worthwhile. And starting can be scary. But one of the things I’ve learned in my almost-40 years on this earth is that if you have a partner at your side, it’s not as daunting as doing it on your own.

That said, Tanja and I (Annalisa) have been hard at work starting GIVEGIVE. We’re learning as we go, and we have already learned so much, and been blessed by so many people offering their help, experience, and insights. We are thankful. While our business model and designs are “crystalizing”, as Tanja likes to say, the one thing that hasn’t evolved over the last few months is our mission. That’s been clear from day one.

GIVEGIVE is a fair-trade fashion brand. Our mission is to provide sustainable, creative work to women in developing nations — work that minimizes their risk of entry into abusive vocations such as forced prostitution and bonded labor. GIVEGIVE is designed with love and made with hope.

We are delighted and excited to share with you our experiences in developing our company and transforming lives. We hope you’ll join our mailing list and keep checking in on us. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and right here via our RSS feed.