I’ve been looking forward to sharing with all of you my most exciting sewing news to date! I’m starting a social enterprise!!! What’s a social enterprise you may ask? It’s defined by the UK government as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders or owners”.
But first, let me start at the beginning….
This summer I signed-up for a free workshop run over the course of three weekends through the University called ‘Ingenious Women.’ The workshop was described as promoting entrepreneurial thinking in the workplace. The weekends covered the three main topics of creativity, cash and control. Intrigued, I sent in an application to attend the course. I heard I was on the waiting list to attend but very quickly after that I got my acceptance letter for the course!
I didn’t know anyone ahead of time who was attending the course, so on the first day…I showed up for the bus and met lots of other women around my age and I knew straight away it was going to be an amazing experience. In the crowd I did see one woman I knew….and her name was Javita. Javita is doing her PhD at the University and we had met up a couple of times previously to talk about her PhD work. Straight away Javita and I connected. She’s doing her PhD on therapeutic approaches for working with children who have experienced child sexual abuse. After speaking with Javita about her work in India and the not-for-profit organization she started there with her husband called the Nedan Foundation, I knew she was an amazing woman. Just through talking over coffee I felt that we were bringing out the passion in each other for the work that we do. In the words of Anne of Green Gables…we were definitely ‘kindred spirits’.
Javita and I
So I was delighted to see Javita at the bus-stop. Little did I know in less than 3 hours an idea would be born that would see us starting a social enterprise together….
Our first activity at the Ingenious Women workshop was called our ‘deadly 50’. We had to introduce ourselves to the other participants (about 25 other women) using just 50 words that explained what we hoped to get out of the workshop. Here’s my ‘deadly 50’:
My name is Debi and during the day I’m a researcher who focuses on preventing violence against women and children and in the evenings I’m an active blogger and seamstress. I would love to combine these two passions and hope to explore through this course different ideas on ways to do this.
The crazy thing? Not more than 10 people later…Javita stood up and gave her ‘deadly 50’ introduction. She talked about the Nedan Foundation but she also talked about an initiative that has been going since 2008 called ‘Weaving Destination’ which builds upon the weaving tradition in Northeast India (which is very similar to the one in Scotland except in India all the weavers are women). What started as a women’s weaving collective with capital funding from the UN to develop a weaving center (using women’s own home-based looms) is now an initiative with three centers which employs 65 women. All of these women come from the indigenous Bodo communities in Assam, India. Due to the region’s location in the Northeast of India (bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and China), Assam suffers very high rates of human trafficking especially among indigenous communities. All of the women employed through Weaving Destination are either survivors of human trafficking, living with HIV/AIDS or are female migrant returnees who are highly vulnerable to re-trafficking, social exclusion and poverty.
The times we had met, I'd never told Javita about my hobby of sewing and she'd never mentioned the Weaving Destination! So when I gave my introduction, I saw her mouth fall open. And when she gave hers my mouth fell open! The instructor actually stopped and said ‘You two need to talk to each other’! And talk we did! In fact, we couldn’t stop talking to each other!!! Every workshop we were in the corner discussing plans to merge our work and start a social enterprise in the UK.
The goal? To promote the finest ethical silk (OH YES—Ethical Silk…more on that to come), vintage and local-inspired cotton print fabrics and products hand-woven by indigenous women from Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Assam, India to the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and sewing communities in Scotland and globally. And to reinvest 100% of the profits back into Weaving Destination and the charitable work of Nedan Foundation for work in the community to end trafficking and to provide sustainable livelihoods for indigenous women and their families.
Freakin’ awesome right??
So during the summer and autumn, Javita and I have been hard at work. Starting a business and especially a social enterprise is hard work. But I feel so incredibly blessed because Javita and I have so much fun together. We get on so well and having a partner to run ideas by and work through things together has been so amazing.
We were recently awarded the Social Innovation Incubator Award from the Melting Pot, which is Scotland’s premiere social enterprise hub. We were blown away—all of the support we have received has been amazing. This award provides us with a year’s worth of social enterprise business training, personal coaching, and workspace including use of a phone and laptop!!!
Now you may be thinking: Didn’t you just get a promotion at your job? Oh yes! And I have no plans on leaving my day job; I absolutely love it. This will be an après work project. The melting pot is open late on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Javita and I spend from 5-9pm there every week plus lots of weekend work. And I am absolutely loving it!! I have never been so fired-up in my life. I truly believe this work will make a difference in ending trafficking and violence against women and girls in this region and at the same time will provide fab-u-lous fabrics to those of us who are in our own ways developing a new culture of creativity and consumerism through our sewing.
A sneak peek at one of the Weaving Destination handwoven scarves
I am SO excited to share this news with all of you….many more details and posts to come! We do have some finished products we will be selling—mainly scarves that we hope to have up on Etsy at the beginning of December. I’ve been busy working with Javita and the weavers on fabric designs and we’ll be launching our own website and a fabric collection in the New Year! We also hope to do some bespoke fabric collections and finished products (an example being conference bags, etc.) and are so interested in hearing from you if you have ideas for potential collaborations! Most of all, it would be great if you could spread the word! Thank you all for all your lovely words of support!!