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    At a young age, Colleen Clines knew exactly what she was destined to do. While attending graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, Clines traveled to India for a class, but came home with a business venture. Determined to effect change around the Indian sex trade, Clines, along with a few classmates, created the Anchal Project, an organization that teaches Indian women how to make quilts and scarves out of recycled saris. I was lucky enough to sit down with Cines, who graduated from Sacred Heart Academy in 2003, and discuss how the Anchal Project came into existence and what the future holds for her local non-profit organization.

    Tell me a little bit about how you got started.

    Sure! So this was not any part of my plan in life, but I’m more than thrilled to be doing what I’m doing and love it. The journey began when I was in graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design, and I was taking a seminar class called “Design for Development.” I kind of was drawn to the program initially because of a trip to India and more for selfish reasons, because I wanted to go there, but the focus was on coming up with innovative ways to solve problems in developing countries. So we traveled to India for ten days and prior to that, our project front was just to give a creative business program or ideas for a textile initiative. There was no guidance or direction beyond that. When we were in India, in Calcutta specifically, we were introduced to Urmi Basu, of New Light, who was working predominantly with children of commercial sex workers in the Red Light District of Kalighat.

    Upon meeting her, and learning about their amazing program with the children, we discovered that beyond health outreach and HIV awareness, there was no program for the women themselves. So this is where we started using our design-thinking minds and were determined to do something after seeing all the depression that women face there, and wanting to provide options to alleviate some of that. Upon returning to Rhode Island, we started very humbly, and put together our project, but were determined to take it beyond the class. So we started selling notebooks and notecards to raise funds, generated $400 during our art sale, and were able to launch the first cohort of women to train them in making products.

    When we were in India, we also discovered some of their traditions and saw a lot of opportunity there with beautiful textiles, and being designers, we were really drawn to that as well. So it evolved, and we continued to expand after graduation. We started a second partnership in Ajmer & Jaipur in Rajasthan the state, and up until the beginning of 2013, we had been working with up to 18 women and now we’re working with just over 100. 

    So, when you say you’re working with 100 women, that means those 100 women are located within India, is that right?

    Yes, predominantly in Jaipur and Ajmer.

    And has your company grown here because of that growth in India?

    It was really difficult being young and inexperienced, with no track record of proven success, and we had no idea how to run a non-profit. It was a struggle in the beginning while we were trying to find financial backing. But a couple years in, after quite a few grant applications, we were able to secure our first one with Dining with Women, and that helped propel the project, in addition to some support and a grant from Google. We were able to expand the program and really provide outreach to the artisans on a waiting list at that point. We started expanding the program and then secured collaboration with Urban Outfitters, which also really helped. So all of that happened last year, so that’s kind of how we had such a quick growth spurt.

    How is everything made?

    It starts with a sari that we go to sari markets and purchase in bulk. That journey has obviously evolved into higher volumes, but we’ll work with individuals to collect saris, something that someone has cherished for a long time and is ready to give up. So once those are collected, then they’re cleaned and distributed, and a collection of women who become leaders in the group cut them, sort them, and prepare them for the process to become quilts, scarves, whatever. And the process starts with these vintage saris. So once they’re given from the artisans, they’re hand sewn, collected again, and sent here to Louisville, and then we’ll put them online or keep them for pop-up shows.

    How do you go about recruiting women?

    One of our biggest strengths of the program is that we work with local leadership, local NGOs, or Non-govenmenal organizations, who had already been working within the community and understand what the needs are and do the recruiting. So now that there’s proven success and trust built up for a few years now, women come to our program wanting to get involved and local leaders also direct them our way.

    And what are these women’s situations? Are they still in the sex trade, are they coming out…?

    Most are still doing it, in addition to working with us. Our goal is not to be like, “You have to leave,” and it’s beyond complicated for individual reasons as to why they were initially involved within the sex-trade. But many do work alongside that, but I think a lot of them, want to leave, and are getting close to that. I think some of them just can’t. A lot of them want to create better futures for their children, so their children don’t have to go into the trade.

    Do you have a way of communicating back and forth? Do they have access to technology so you can communicate regularly?

    I communicate regularly with the team through Skype, but not directly with the artisans due to translation issues…but that keeps me in touch with what’s happening. I feel the most connected with the project when I’m in India, for a month or so at a time. We spend a lot of time doing design workshops, listening to the women, learning, changing, and constantly trying to improve our program, based on how things are going and where they want things to go.

    Do you always have a translator when you’re over there?

    Yes! Well, sometimes not always, so it’s a lot of hand language. We have to get the point across while working with such a tactile thing, you can communicate through doing. So that’s generally how things work, with a lot of laughter in-between.

    Have you picked up bits and pieces of language here and there?

    Sure! It’s a little challenging, depending on where you are in India and what language they’re going to speak, but I can communicate a little of how to get things moving, so that’s helpful.

    Is it hard not to bring your work home with you?

    It always happens and never turns off, so I’ve tried learning balance, because I can burn myself out and I need to know when to turn it off. But being with a small non-profit, trying to do what we’re trying to do, with great vision for the future, it’s difficult. Everything feels overwhelming, with the amount of people that rely on you, so you have to be able to step away and realize that you’re not going to get any more work done by taking it home and constantly doing it. You have to step away.

    Can you tell me a little bit about your partnership with Urban Outfitters?

    Our collaboration with Urban was for a specific collection of apparel last year that was released in October of last year. They use portions of the materials that the artisans make, vintage saris hand-sewn together, and fabricated them into clothing back here in the states. That was kind of a one-time thing, but we’re working to create other products in connection to them, so I think that’s something I’m excited about as we continue to pursue that. My interests lie in reaching a wider audience that might not normally buy fair-trade, and it might bring some consciousness into larger retailer stores.

    Speaking of the road-shows, how did those go?

    It was an experiment to see…We had great success here in Louisville, but we’ve got supporters all over the country, so we wanted to start meeting them in person, and reaching a new audience and spreading our message to others. So we went to five other cities, met some wonderful people, and I think things will continue to evolve there. Once you can see it, touch the fabric, hear the story firsthand, I think word of mouth is more powerful than anything else.

    What is your main motivation?

    I just left the Women for Women Luncheon, and I’ve been reflecting on a little bit of that, and I think I get most excited about the power design has to facilitate impact. Before graduate school, before the seminar, I associated giving back to the community or doing something positive with volunteering or working directly with a non-profit, but I didn’t really directly plug in that I can use my skills and passion for design and make it into something really great. So that’s what really pushes me to continue. And then obviously the women. Hearing their stories, learning about their struggles, I want to fight for them. They’re my friends, and you know, while they’re a world away, they’re worth fighting for.

    Who would you say inspires you?

    There are so many people that I look to that are doing amazing things and work, but I think it circles back to my parents. They put such trust and faith in what I’m doing from the start, and early on gave me the direction that I could do whatever I wanted, and have supported that dream along the way. My mom’s an amazing lady and confidant and she kind of inspires me every day.

    Absolutely! Moms are the best. Lastly, what has been your proudest moment?

    Probably when we were in New York and I got to see the collection with Urban for the first time. That was pretty amazing! I was like, “we’ve done something great here,” and that was super exciting, especially after months and months of hard work and years of hard work getting there. It started clicking then, and that was amazing. 

    To learn more about the Anchal Project and to donate, please visit their website here. 

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    About Aimee Jewell

    My name is Aimee Jewell and I am a graduate student at Bellarmine University, where I'm studying communication. When I'm not writing for Louisville.com, you can find me at the Louisville Palace, the Mercury Ballroom, or Camp Hi Ho helping with events. Follow me and see what I'm up to on Twitter at @AimeeJewell13.

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