For our week-long celebration of women for International Women's Day, we spoke to a very important woman that we work closely with almost every day; Shari Keller of our wovens manufacturer, Mehera Shaw. Shari's commitment to fair trade practices and transparency across entire supply chains is laudable and inspirational, and we asked her a few questions about why it's so important for her to support local communities and fair trade manufacturing.
What motivated you to start Mehera Shaw, and specifically to do it Fairtrade?
We founded our company in 2007 based on our desire to ensure fair trade practices with artisans. We had been working with another manufacturer for our brand from 1999 and were increasingly concerned that we needed to know first hand how everyone was treated, what the working conditions were, that everyone was being paid a living wage and that there was transparency and clear communication.
We have had a long standing connection to India and its artisans and so we felt the next step, and the only step we could take, was to set up our own manufacturing company in Jaipur and work directly with artisans, to be able to ensure all fair trade practices are followed personally.
So we initially founded our manufacturing company for our brand to ensure fair trade manufacturing. We then made our manufacturing services available for custom orders as a means of developing fair trade working relationships throughout the supply chain, and as a means of promoting fair trade.
Our deeper motivation has always been, quite simply, a love of working in India and a belief in Mahatma Gandhi's ideals for humanity. Together with our Jaipur team, we've built up our company one day at a time.
Workers at Mehera Shaw. Courtesy of Shari Keller.
Tell us a bit about the Mehera Shaw Foundation and how it assists women?
Our Foundations’ mission is to support small-scale, decentralised production in the rural sector with the intention of developing improved skill base for artisans (particularly women).
This keeps village populations in their native place, and by selling both within the domestic and export markets, we have created an artisan product of high-value, but with low environmental impact.
We are also developing women’s cooperatives which include skills training for basic textile crafts, recycling and upcycling projects stemming from textile “waste” generated from the production we do for labels like ALAS, micro-lending and funds, and business mentoring.
A big part of the Mehera Shaw Foundation is the Upcycling Project; a project for women’s development and skills training. We train female artisans to make fashion accessories and homewares using basic hand stitching techniques and post-production scrap fabric.
The Mehera Shaw Foundation provides the training, raw materials and designs in support of cottage industry development. The women in the program are from urban slum and rural areas in and around Jaipur.
The foundation's goal is to generate a sustainable livelihood for these artisans within their traditional communities.
Woman at the Mehera Shaw Foundation, working on the Upcycling Workshop. Courtesy of Shari Keller.
What are some of the positives and challenges of being a female business owner?
I think being a female business director sends a positive message to the community, both the immediate community within which we work in Jaipur and the community at large who participate in slow fashion and positive change.
Within the community in Jaipur, I think seeing a woman in a leadership role is empowering to our women staff. It changes how all our staff think about their daughters, about when their daughters will get married, how much education they can get, and who they are as people. It changes how they think of themselves and the level of respect with which they treat our female staff. I've seen that it's positively affecting the choices our staff are making for their children, and that they are gradually in support of gender equality.
Machinist at Mehera Shaw. Courtesy of Shari Keller.
In the larger community, I think being a female director sends a positive message for change, gender equality and a fresh vision of what business relationships can look like, and what the core values of companies can be about.
I think as a very general statement, women do tend to work harder to communicate and work as a team which creates a more transparent workplace and a company that is more connected to the community.