Quilts, Bags, Scarves, and Destroying the Patriarchy

Kentucky-based NGO Anchal is setting its sights on gender and income inequality for women in India, one beautiful textile at a time.

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When Colleen Clines took a Design for Development seminar at Rhode Island School of Design during grad school in 2009, she didn't intend to challenge fast fashion, empower and improve women's lives in India, and create a community. And yet. Her Louisville, Kentucky-based NGO, Anchal, does all those things and more: working with local NGOs across India and equipping women who are living below the poverty line with design skills and job training, Anchal employs at-risk women to create enchanting quilts, pillows, bags, and ties. Using a traditional, single-running stitch technique called kantha, the garments are made by hand—with five or six layers of vintage saris sewn together—and carry the signature stitch of the artisan who made it.

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Queen quilt, $350, anchalproject.org.

The first spark for the idea came when Clines went to the red-light district in Kalighat neighborhood of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) with her seminar class. There she met the founder of New Light, an organization that provides child care, education, and health services for the children of sex workers in the area (an estimated 10 million women and girls in India are currently trapped in commercial sex trade).

Weekender, $120, anchalproject.org.

"We discovered that while New Light provided a lot of outreach and support systems for the children of commercial sex workers, there were few opportunities for the women themselves," Clines says. When she returned to Rhode Island, she and the three other classmates on the trip had an art sale, raised $400, and started Anchal. With that amount, they trained eight women in India and slowly kept growing. Today, Anchal supports 77 artisans and has 45 women on their waiting list.

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Large kantha pouch, $52, anchalproject.org.

Anchal's founders aim to address multiple problems in the region, including illiteracy in low-income families and the environmental impacts of fast fashion. "We believe that you can't address one issue and only focus on it without looking at problems and global issues in this corresponding system," says Maggie Clines, Colleen's sister and Anchal's creative director. (She also secured funds from major backers, including Google.)

Square scarf, $46, anchalproject.org.

"As a consumer, as a buyer, you have a lot of power to change the world you live in," she continues. "Question where your product is made, who's making it, and how it's being made. The more we demand to know, the bigger and better change we can make." In 2013, Anchal collaborated on a collection with Urban Outfitters, more partnerships are on the way.

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Bandana, $28, anchalproject.org.

In addition to buying products made by Anchal artisans, you can support the organization by sponsoring artisans (donations contribute to their educational workshops and materials) or volunteering. "When you're looking at huge social issues or environmental issues, you wonder how you can even make a difference. It's really intimidating," Colleen says. "What we discovered is that it's a process. Just taking action and holding to it with patience was crucial." In the long run, Anchal hopes to expand beyond India, to other countries where similar organizations are needed. Onward, we say.

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Now, take a look at some of the gorgeous pieces handcrafted by the talented women working with Anchal.

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Fuchsia small grid throw, $110, anchalproject.org.

Gradient queen quilt, $375, anchalproject.org.

Teal and indigo cover, $52, anchalproject.org.

Indigo and teal large bias throw, $225, anchalproject.org.

Fuchsia and violet large bias throw, $225, anchalproject.org.

Large indigo throw, $225, anchalproject.org.

Queen quilt, $350, anchalproject.org.

Indigo weekender, $120, anchalproject.org.

Small kantha pouch, $28, anchalproject.org.

Small black pouch, $28, anchalproject.org.

Men's tie, $75, anchalproject.org.

Men's tie, $75, anchalproject.org.

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