For the WORK+SHELTER team, producing apparel and accessories in India is a joy. India has a rich history of textile production, and continues to be a global superpower in the fibers sphere today. 

That means we can source top-quality materials in the same place they’re made, which saves our client partners from having to pay import fees. Sourcing locally is also the most sustainable option, with in-country transportation leaving only a small carbon footprint.

So we thought it was time to explore the history of textiles in India, and how that legacy shapes what we produce here at WORK+SHELTER.

 

HISTORY

There is archaeological evidence of the cotton industry in India dating back over 5,000 years, and Indian fabrics have even been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. Wild! And cotton isn’t the only notable export of the ancient Indian textile industry: Indian silks were traded throughout the regions surrounding the Silk Road in China, and further down the line to western countries. 

 

Fragments of block-printed Indian cotton discovered in Egyptian tombs by Egyptologist Percy Newberry and his wife Essie. (1)


There were many factors that played into the colonization of India by the British Empire, but prominent among them was India’s high-quality, low-cost cotton. England has a centuries-old history of spinning, dyeing, and weaving raw fibers into highly sought-after textiles. But the English climate isn’t suited to growing cotton. So when the U.S. abolished slavery, England had to turn elsewhere for raw cotton fiber. 

Under English rule, many Indian farmers were forced to stop their traditional practice of growing small quantities of many varied crops (aka subsistence farming). Instead, they were coerced into producing huge amounts of cotton and exporting the majority of it to England. Those exports, once processed into cloth and clothing, were shipped back to India to be sold to the Indian people–at a premium. “The sought-after Indian weaver and spinner became a destitute farmer, hungry and scantily clad in [British] cloth made from Indian cotton he so dutifully grew,” writes Tara Kashif in the Friday Times. (2)

 

Followers of Gandhi preparing to burn clothing and household items made of English cloth. (3)

 

Indian mill owners and activists soon rose up in opposition to this new system. In the early 1900s, Mahatma Gandhi and his followers ignited the Swadeshi movement, whose name translates to “of one’s own country.” They encouraged Indians to boycott English-made products (especially cloth and clothing) in an effort to overthrow their colonial English rulers. Gandhi urged the Indian people to use two “weapons” to achieve this goal: non-violence and handspun cloth. 

Gandhi encouraged people to learn to use a spinning wheel, so they could make their own cloth. He himself spun his own yarn and made his own clothes on a portable spinning wheel while he was held as a political prisoner in Pune’s Yerwada jail in the early 1930s. Hand-loomed cloth came to be known as “khadi.” Gandhi felt khadi was a symbol of independence and self-sufficiency and “described it as ‘the soul of swaraj’ (self-rule).” (4)  The movement gained traction, and the British Empire’s hold on the textile industry (and the country as a whole) began to falter. This led to a complete re-organization of India’s textile industry, and a re-clothing of the Indian people.

 

Gandhi spinning yarn at his spinning wheel. (5)


Gandhi’s teachings and traditions have carried on, and weaving remains an important part of Indian culture. Because there is a lengthy tradition of Indians spinning, weaving, and making their own clothing, Indian “fashion designers” didn’t start cropping up until the 1980s, and even then they mainly focused on one-of-a-kind garments. 

Economic liberalization and the spread of global pop culture propelled the industry, as did the opening of the National Institute of Fashion Technology by the Indian government in 1986. This led to a more widespread pool of designers and the introduction of “ready-to-wear” clothing around 1990, no doubt spurred by the fact that large U.S. manufacturers were starting to move their apparel production to India.

 

MODERN DAY

Today, India is the second largest producer of textile fiber in the world. India’s most common textile crops are—


Perhaps not surprisingly, cotton makes up 60% of India’s textile industry.
The tropical climate here is ideal for cotton cultivation, providing temperatures and moisture levels that are ideal for the six- to eight-month growing season.

Silk is the second most common fiber produced here. And the Indian silk industry has a happy side effect: The production of certain silks helps slow deforestation, since the forests where some silkworms live are protected.

The third main fiber produced in India is jute: a soft and durable plant fiber mainly spun into twine, rope, burlap, hessian cloth, carpets, and matting. You might recognize it as the main material of the popular “Apolis Bag,” shown below.

 


          Natural Jute (left)               |              Black Dyed Jute (right)


In 2000, in an effort to maintain their standing in the global textiles industry, the government of India passed the
National Textile Policy. They passed strong legal protections (including high tariffs) against importing fibers from outside of India in order to preserve the domestic weaving and milling industries. This explains why certain fibers and fabrics are difficult to find in India–hemp, for example. 70% of the world’s hemp supply is grown in China, while only two states in India allow hemp production.

 

W+S CEO Theresa VanderMeer and Finance Director Amanda Dye at a Khadi shop in Rajasthan.

 

At W+S we tend to work with two types of vendors:

  • Artisan groups that do small-batch, handwoven fabrics (more expensive, smaller scale)
  • Large mills that may have certifications (better rates but larger scale)

As mentioned above, most of India’s textile output is in natural fibers. However, this doesn’t mean India doesn’t manufacture synthetics.

Synthetic textiles can be:

  • Petroleum-based, as in the case of polyester and nylon
    • India does produce polyester, but we mostly steer clear of it for sustainability reasons.
    • The exception is rPET (yarn made from recycled water bottles), which is plentiful in India. We regularly source knits blended with rPET, and 100% rPET woven fabrics.  
  • Cellulose-based, or made from wood pulp
    • Rayon, viscose, modal, and lyocell are widely available in India. 
    • We often get requests for Tencel, which is a proprietary lyocell made by Lenzing and flush with eco-qualifiers. However there are other, less well-known producers of eco-friendly cellulose fabrics.

 

Theresa with longtime friend + current client partner Allyson Dykhuizen at a local fabric market.

 

Because of its long history, cultural significance, and legal complexity, India’s textile industry can be complicated to navigate. So let us be your guides! We’d love to talk to you about the best options for your order; and we can put together custom swatch books on demand. Swatch books take 4-6 weeks to compile, and are tailored toward your project’s specific fabric needs. 

If you have a project in mind that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us. You can also find more information on our website here.

 

 

SOURCES

  1. https://www.google.com/url?q=http://jameelcentre.ashmolean.org/collection/6/1272/1274&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1633671904457000&usg=AOvVaw31t7WaUECNjNFvAgdkukqZ
  2. https://www.thefridaytimes.com/weaving-misery/
  3. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/indias-boycott-of-british-cloth-followers-of-gandhi-burn-news-photo/829942582
  4. Susan Bean, “Gandhi and Khadi: The Fabric of Independence,” 1989.
  5. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/the-story-of-khadi-indias-fabric/

ADDITIONAL RESEARCH

  1. http://char.txa.cornell.edu/IndianTex.htm
  2. https://www.ibef.org/industry/textiles.aspx
  3. https://learn.culturalindia.net/swadeshi-movement.html
  4. http://jute.com/web/guest/polices-and-statues/policies/national-textile-policy#:~:text=The%20Government%20of%20India%20announced,manufacture%20and%20export%20of%20clothing
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashion_in_India
  6. https://joybileefarm.com/sustainable-clothing/
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textile_industry_in_India#cite_note-17
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khadi#cite_note-7
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swadeshi_movement
  10. https://mettacenter.org/definitions/gloss-concepts/swadeshi/

WORK+SHELTER offers a variety of options when it comes to customizing your products. Whether you need to add your logo to our lineup of promotional products or you want an original print produced for your spring line, we’re here to make it happen. We work directly with the mills, dyers, and printers, so there’s no need for a middleman.

If you need help developing your product or idea, make sure to check out the previous posts in our development services blog series: How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Ideas to Life, When W+S Development Services Are Right for You, and Where W+S Sources Our Fabrics.

Technical client manager Holly Greenhagen reviewing weave and pattern options with a fabric vendor and CAD designer.

Pre-production, we can work with our suppliers to create custom fabrics for your project.

Depending on your order size and timeline, customizations can include:

  • Color: custom yarn-dying, to any Pantone color
  • Weave: dobbies, twills, jacquards, satins, etc
  • Woven or knitted patterns, such as stripes or checks
  • Fabric weight

 

We can also customize finished fabrics, with print, embroidery, or piece-dying.

Screen printing

Part of the beauty of screen printing is that it’s a manual process, reliant on the skill and knowledge of the screen printer.

Screen print benefits:

  • Low minimums, but also very cost-effective when printing in large volumes
  • Screen printing works better than digital printing on brightly colored base fabrics (as seen below)
  • Placement printing for small logos and designs

A screen printed tote for our client partners Diaspora Co., modeled by Sonam of WORK+SHELTER.

 

Screen print challenges:

  • Higher cost of entry for artwork. Each color requires a separate screen, and at $40/screen, the cost can add up
  • The number of colors per artwork is limited–we do not recommend printing more than 12 colors
  • Not suitable for printing individual pieces or small volumes
  • Artwork changes made after the sampling process result in additional costs, because new screens need to be made

One of our screen-printers printing a one-color design on cotton canvas.

Digital printing

For projects requiring more detailed artwork and numerous colors, we suggest going digital. In digital printing, there are no economies of scale; digitally printing the first meter + the hundredth meter cost basically the same.

Digital print benefits:

  • No screens involved = less setup cost
  • There are virtually no color limitations
  • The complexity of the print does not affect the cost of manufacturing

Digital print challenges:

  • It’s not possible to digitally print on colored fabrics, because the yarns are already saturated with dyes, and therefore the colors generally don’t come out in the intended shade
  • Minimums are higher than in screen printing; 100 meters is typically the minimum quantity

 


Notice the watercolor effect in this print— this is only achievable through digital printing.

 


Digital printing on natural fabric (top photos) versus white fabric (bottom photos). Colors will be darker + more saturated when printed on white fabric than on natural fabric.

Want to learn more about the digital printing process? Check out this video by HunbulTex.

Rotary printing

Rotary screen printing prints the full width of the fabric, and can be used for allover prints. Rotary print minimums are at least 1,000 meters of woven fabric or 500 kgs of knit fabric.

Rotary print benefits:

  • High, consistent print quality over large quantities of fabric
  • Extremely cost-effective at high volumes

You can see the different layers of color and pattern that each rotary screen adds in this camouflage fabric. (2)

 

For more info on the difference between printing styles, check out this article.

Embroidery

  • Machine embroidery for logos, motifs, or additional artwork
  • Hand embroidery for very small batch simple specialty designs


An embroidery machine creating a floral motif (left). An embroidered logo on jersey athletic shorts (right).

 

Bulk Piece Dying

We can offer bulk dying to custom Pantone colors, and offer both conventional and natural-dye options. Minimums are typically 100 meters per color.

 

If there’s a specific customization that you have in mind and aren’t seeing above, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

Credits:

Rotary Printer, https://www.imaterial.co.za/News/entryid/622/rotary-screen-printing-and-digital-printing-explained

Welcome to the third installment of our development services blog series! If you haven’t checked out the first two posts, we encourage you to do so: How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life and When W+S Development Services are Right For You.

This post will give you an overview of how and where we source our fabrics. We always seek to align our customers’ fabric needs with fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values. Lucky for us, India has a rich history of producing some of the world’s best fibers, ranging from hand-woven silks to rain-grown, drought-resistant cotton.

The WORK+SHELTER team meeting with one of the natural-dye artisan groups we work with.

At WORK+SHELTER, we have five main avenues when it comes to fabric sourcing.

  1. In-Stock Sustainable: readily available in-house
  2. Small-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
  3. Industrial-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase
  4. Cooperative-Buying Sustainable: made to order upon group client purchase
  5. Conventional 
    • Industrial: made to order upon client purchase
    • Market Ready: readily available

Minimum order quantities (MOQs) vary based on fabric choice. Woven fabric MOQs are measured in length (meters), while knit fabric MOQs are measured in weight (kilograms). WORK+SHELTER has flexible sewing minimums, but the piece minimums for your order are often dependent on reaching fabric order minimums. 

A note: because knit MOQs are measured in weight, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums. For example:

  • 500 kgs jersey double knit = 500 doubleknit ponte blazers 
  • 500 kg jersey standard knit = 1,500 lightweight jersey t-shirts

 

IN-STOCK SUSTAINABLE

W+S holds inventory of many basic fabrics, including:

  • Organic cotton 5 oz and 12 oz canvas, in natural
  • Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
  • Woven 80 GSM rPET (recycled polyester) in select colors

We can usually provide lower MOQs on your order if you use our stock fabrics. We have done the legwork for you to ensure that these fabrics are sustainable and ethically produced. 

Generally our in-house fabrics are best suited for promotional items and basic apparel, such as totes, t-shirts, and accessories. Exact minimums will be determined by your product. Typically, a 50-piece minimum would be our smallest order.

 

WORK+SHELTER director of client services, Amanda Dye, visiting a sustainable cellulose-fiber studio in Noida.

 

SMALL-SCALE SUSTAINABLE

We’ve fostered many connections over time with small-scale producers of beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other handmade fabrics

 

These artisan groups are able to supply custom handwoven fabrics in small quantities. It’s important to note that this process takes time; fabric production can take 4-6 weeks or more. But because of the small scale and handmade nature of this fabric, minimums can be as low as 50 to 100 meters.

Our sourcing team is also able to buy in-stock “leftovers” from large West Elm orders at a handwoven silk producer in Delhi. This allows us to provide top-of-the-line quality on a smaller scale, and makes these fabrics accessible to our client partners when they otherwise wouldn’t have been. These materials are available in limited stock and may sell out quickly.

Both options above have a higher price point than machine-woven fabric. But you get what you pay for: fabrics that are unique and special, and support an amazing artisanal heritage. 

An important note: artisanal fabrics available at small scale are generally woven. This is because they are hand-loomed. Knits, in contrast, are almost always produced on a machine, making them difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.

 

INDUSTRIAL-SCALE SUSTAINABLE

For larger-scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits and wovens that are GOTS, Fair Trade, BCI, or OEKO-TEX certified. Big mills are often able to make investments in water purification, solar panels, or other infrastructure improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled production.

To access certified fabrics, it’s generally necessary to place larger orders. When it comes to knits, sampling minimums start at 100 kgs, and production starts around 500 kgs (though this can usually be split into more than one colorway).

A smaller, sampling-size fabric run is more expensive, but it may make sense if you want to test the waters with a scalable supply chain before investing in too much product.

 

One of our vendors, KG Denim, made this video to provide insight into their sustainable production process.

 

COOPERATIVE-BUYING SUSTAINABLE

WORK+SHELTER has a special spot in our heart for small businesses, and understand it can be difficult to reach the large mill minimums for certified fibers. This is why we often work with our client partners to bundle fabric orders. 

For example, if we’re purchasing a large amount of organic French terry, or a color of cotton jersey that we don’t regularly hold in our inventory, we may reach out to our client partners that use similar fibers to see if they’d like to add on to the order.

If you’re looking for ethical fibers but having a hard time meeting fabric production volume minimums, let us know, and we’ll keep you in mind. With enough demand, we can arrange a group order and buy in bulk.

 

CONVENTIONAL

Industrial Scale

Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER  have an environmental qualifier, meaning they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if we’re not able to find the right fabric with the right MOQ and timeline for your order. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time.

Market-Ready

For some orders, we can send our in-house merchandising team, (including Bhawana, pictured here) to the local markets to source conventional materials for small-scale production. Because there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, fabrics are usually available only in small quantities, and fabrics are only in stock while supplies last, this option is best as a backup plan. 

 

 

If you have something a design that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

Are you interested in getting your product made with WORK+SHELTER, but not sure of the best strategy for your product development? First, make sure you read our last blog post: How WORK+SHELTER Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life.

This second installment of our series will help you decide when it makes the most sense to work with us on your product development, versus working with an independent patternmaker or technical designer.

To decide what your development process should look like, you should take into account:

  • The complexity of your product idea
  • How many rounds of sampling will be necessary 
  • Whether a fit model is necessary for your process

IN-HOUSE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

If your product is relatively simple, will need just one or two rounds of sampling (see some examples below), and does not require fittings, we can provide end-to-end development support.

If you need fittings but are able to conduct your own and give us feedback, your product can fall into this category as well: we can translate your feedback into pattern changes by our team.

An accessory like a tote bag, makeup pouch, hat, or scarf is a perfect product for W+S in-house product development. Apparel items such as sweatshirts, t-shirts, sleepwear, button-up men’s shirts, and simple dresses also fall into this category. In some cases we can even start from one of our in-house patterns, then customize the details (fabric, trims, prints or embroideries) to match your vision.

A technical drawing for a W+S wine bag.

You need only provide a technical sketch or physical sample (and, in most cases, some key measurements), from which we can work up tech packs, patterns, and samples. You’ll be able to inspect samples and provide feedback or approval to our team before production starts.

One significant benefit of having us develop your product from start to finish is that we become thoroughly familiar with your product, which typically speeds up the production process

 

INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

For more complex products, we recommend working with a technical designer and/or patternmaker in your area. By working with someone near you, you can be more hands-on with the initial steps of the product development process, including overseeing sampling and fittings.

You may also consider working with a specialized technical designer if you have a highly niche item that requires many rounds of product testing. And if you need help with the creative design processdeciding on how many pieces should be in your collection, how full a skirt should be cutthat’s a job for a skilled freelancer or consultant.

 


Our technical account manager, Holly Greenhagen, working with one of our master cutters, Pravin, on pattern placement for a client order.

Hot tips – 

  • To jump-start the sourcing/sampling process and encourage seamless transition into production, we are sometimes able to ship fabric for your samples to you from our suppliers in India.
  • When planning out your timeline, keep in mind that we require at least one sampling round when transferring a design from a local product development or sampling team to W+S factory production. This lets us get to know the product, and lets you check a sample for quality.

 

CUSTOM PACKAGES

Still not sure what you need? That’s probably because every project is unique, and not every product fits neatly into one of the above categories. No problem! We’re always happy to figure out a custom solution to your development needs. 

Custom packages can include any combo of the following services:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Measurement charts
  3. Tech packs/spec sheets
  4. Patternmaking
  5. Grading
  6. Sample making
  7. Marker making

Product-development package prices range widely, but a portion of the charges are always creditable toward your bulk production order.

 


Xochil Herrera Scheer,
 working with Amanda Dye of WORK+SHELTER and a prospective client in Chicago.

 

 

No matter what level of service you need, your U.S. W+S client manager will work hand-in-glove with the team in India to make the process as seamless as possible. Our main goal is to provide you with the tools and guidance you need, and to set everyone up for a successful partnership in the long run.

Check out our next post, which covers WORK+SHELTER fabric sourcing and how we work with you to find the best fabric for your product and order size.

If you have an apparel or accessory design that you’re looking to develop, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information here.

Behind every great product is a thorough product-development process, and WORK+SHELTER offers a range of development services to help get your custom design ready for production.

Our in-house team of can guide you through every step. Or we can work collaboratively with your design team to fill in any gaps between your developed materials and our production team’s needs.

 

DEVELOPMENT SERVICES

WORK+SHELTER’s full menu of services includes the following:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Measurement charts
  3. Tech packs/spec sheets
  4. Patternmaking
  5. Grading
  6. Sample making
  7. Marker making


Our favorite local technical designer + patternmaker, Xochil Herrera Scheer of The Chicago Patternmaker, working with clients on a technical specification sheet.

 

Our team is happy to give guidance on fabrications, trims, construction details, grade rules, and more as needed. We always review samples in house before sending them to you, to make sure they meet or exceed standards.

An important note: the pre-production process can take time, anywhere from 2-6 months, depending on the level of detail in the product, how many rounds of revision are necessary, and whether a custom textile needs to be created. 

Have a shorter timeline but a slightly flexible vision? Rapid development & prototyping can be achieved using in-stock materials and our retail-ready patterns for less complex products. Clients coming in with some materials in hand (production-ready patterns, for example) will also experience a shorter lead time.

Still not sure how much help you need? Read more about that here.

 

SOURCING

One of the W+S queens, Bhawana Acharya, is our in-house merchandiser and is responsible for going to the local markets to scout out what fabrics and trims are available to meet client requests.


Typically the first step in product development is finding the right materials for your project. The fabrics and trims you choose help determine the price and quality of your product. What you choose to use can also make an impact on the environment, and a statement about your values. All of our stock fabrics have at least one eco qualifier, and we’ll always work to find you the most earth-friendly options for your product(s).

Sourcing depends not only on the product itself, but also on the size of the order. Small-batch production can pose challenges when it comes to sourcing, but we will work with our current stock and vendor connectionsand consider other customers that might have similar needsto find you a good fit for your product. Once we confirm fabric and trims, we can more accurately predict the cost of your project, and then move into sampling.

An important note about sourcing in India: working with fabric that is not manufactured in India is discouraged by the Indian government, which puts a large tariff on imported textiles. Luckily, India is full of beautiful, sustainable, high-quality fabrics.

Want more info on how we source our fabrics? Check out our post on sourcing, here.

 

BULK PRODUCTION

By now you may be wondering, ‘Yes, but when will I get my completed production lot?” Once product development is completemeaning production-ready patterns and all fabrics and trims are in housebulk cutting and sewing can start. Production times depend on order size and complexity, but 6-10 weeks is typical.

We are always happy to talk through timelines with you at the outset, since every project is unique.

 

Client partner Samantha Jo, left, along with Karina Rosenstein + Theresa VanderMeer of WORK+SHELTER meeting with our screen printer, Pratap Singh.

PARTNERSHIP

We think of our clients as our partners, and act accordinglyit takes effective teamwork to bring a custom product to life! We love that our clients want their products made ethically; fair treatment of the people sewing the products is our whole reason for being. In return, we’re here to help and lift you up throughout the process, to be used as a resource whenever you need us. 

We pride ourselves on our timely communication, both with our close-knit team in India and with our client partners. Time zones are not a hindrance—we speak with our facility managers India every day, and are able to provide a quick response to any questions or problems that may arise.

If you have an apparel or accessory design you’re looking to develop, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

 

 

We are excited to announce that we have reopened! General lockdown in Delhi has ended, and both WORK+SHELTER and our vendors are warming up our production and supply chains.

For more information on Delhi’s reopening plan, check out this article from ALJAZEERA.

Even though we are reopening, the COVID-19 crisis is by no means over. We will ensure that health and safety protocols are strictly followed by all employees as we ease back into production.

  1. We will be getting COVID tests for employees on a need basis, and when available. There is still a shortage of test kits + medical staff in testing laboratories, so we will be focusing on employees that are recovering from COVID, employees that are showing symptoms, and employees that have traveled recently.
  2. Our Strategic Projects Manager Nitu Choudhary is working on booking vaccination appointments for all employees as they become available. At the moment vaccines are in short supply, with only a handful of employees having received a first dose.
  3. WORK+SHELTER employees will be working in two 7-hour shifts instead of one shift in order to better social distance. Shifts will not overlap in order to ensure groups do not intermingle. Between our two neighboring facilities, everyone will have ample social distancing space.
  4. Attendance is capped to avoid overcrowding.
  5. All employees will fill out + sign COVID symptom screening forms before each shift as well as complete daily temperature checks.
  6. Employees who are able to work from home will continue to work from home.
  7. Our facilities will be cleaned and sanitized between shifts and at the end of every day.
  8. We will ensure employees are taking proper safety precautions at home + outside of work, and have advised to avoid travel unless extremely urgent.

We are working to obtain a third space so more women are able to come back to work while maintaining proper social distancing. Your donations have been extremely helpful in this process, but we still have to navigate some difficult bureaucratic obstacles before we achieve this goal.

 

 

Production of current orders will resume in the order they were placed or as discussed with our team. We will continue to update all clients on current order progress and expected delivery dates as it comes up. If you have any questions about your current order, please reach out to our team at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us.

Finally, we are accepting new orders! If you’d like to learn more about working with us, check out these blogs:


How W+S Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life

Where W+S Sources Our Fabrics

Customize Your Products With WORK+SHELTER

 

Thank you for your support as we work to open safely. We appreciate you.

Photos Courtesy of The New York Times

OCTOBER 2021 UPDATE FROM OUR FOUNDER + CEO THERESA VANDERMEER:

Since starting WORK+SHELTER nearly 10 years ago I’ve never gone more than about 6 months between trips to Delhi. So you can bet that I was both nervous but very, very eager to return after getting vaccinated earlier this summer, ending a 1.5 year long pandemic related hiatus.

Here are updates from what I personally saw on the ground:

+ When I arrived to Delhi in early July only one of our employees had received their first vaccine dose. By the time I left nearly 80% had received theirs.

+ Your donations (over $33,000!) are still being put to work, covering wages for those recovering from vaccines or sickness.

+ We moved production into our third space, allowing the women more space to socially distance, and streamlining production so we’re able to more efficiently produce orders.

+ We visited new suppliers to scout out more eco-friendly textiles for both our designer and promotional products clients.

+ The team is learning. It was especially incredible for me to see one of our seamstresses, Seema Devi, acting as a junior level manager. She started working with us cutting threads off of sewn goods, but is now managing complex cutting orders on her own.

Witnessing the progress at our center was a deeply affirmative experience for me. We show up to the bigger goal of making our industry a more ethical place every day – but seeing the tens of thousands of pieces of organic, ethically sewn goods is another matter – the impact was, and is, visible.

-Theresa

 

 

MAY 2021

As COVID-19 continues to be a global concern, we felt it was important to provide some updates on how it continues to affect our team and our operations, especially our center located in Delhi, India.

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN INDIA?

The first call Theresa (our CEO & Founder) got from India on Friday April, 30th began with heartbroken crying.

“People are dying everywhere!” Nitu, one of our two India head managers, shared.

As you may have seen by now, India is currently in the midst of another HUGE wave of COVID outbreaks resulting in country-wide lockdowns and a palpable death toll, with close to 18 million casesThere is a widespread shortage of medical oxygen, hospital beds, and other lifesaving supplies. 

Nitu shared with Theresa that she had spent hours tracking down an ambulance for a friend’s sick parent, only to have them turned away at the door of the hospital. The high death rate is causing crematoriums to run out of space, so cremations are happening in nearby parks, parking lots, and other public spaces.

One of our W+S Queens, Anju.

HOW IS THIS AFFECTING THE WOMEN OF WORK SHELTER?

Despite weeks of lockdown there are multiple deaths in our neighborhood every single day including our downstairs neighbor of the company apartment, as well as our go-to doctor, Dr. Modi. Our landlord is sick -even Nitu herself was sick, but luckily was hit with a mild case and is now recovering.

Bottom line, everyone is scared.

Our center is closed in accordance with the lockdown. Some of the women are able to work from home. Those without machines will make masks by hand for donation to local folks in-need. We have a small handful of employees who are currently residing at our center and will be able to make some progress on sampling.

Please note, the health and well-being of our employees in India is our top priority during this time. All employees will continue to be paid in full during lockdown time.

Taking temperatures at our facility before being tested for COVID.

Nitu told us that people are trying their best to help one another, but are totally overwhelmed. But we are doing our best to help, to be of service.

What a beautiful opportunity we have – to even have resources in the first place, to be connected to the need, to be capable of sharing this information with one another. 

“We know the US team is there for us – it helps,” our other manager, Ritu shared.

99% of our organizational funds at WORK+SHELTER come from sales, and that’s been true for years. But at this time, with our production fully on hold, and the chance to help not just our colleagues, but also their communities, We’d like to ask you personally – please make a donation or set up a complimentary campaign immediately. Every single dollar will be spent to support the women and their communities directly.

Food donations being distributed at Matri COVID Kitchen in Noida, a neighboring town of Delhi where many of our vendors including our screen printer operate.

HOW WILL THE DONATIONS BE ALLOCATED?

+ Paying the women their full wages to make masks for donation from home, or to rest at home if they are sick

+ Providing COVID tests now and regularly until the surge dies down

+ Medical expenses for vulnerable, sick families in our community

+ Direct gifts of food and cash payments of 500 rupees, or $6.66 USD to individuals in our region of Delhi who are food insecure

+ Vaccines when they become available

FOR LARGER GIFTS

+ Our non-profit EIN # is 90-0896007

+ Gifts from Donor Advised Funds are welcome

+ Email [email protected] for any queries related to giving

TOGETHER WE’VE RAISED $23,301.92 FOR COVID-19 RELIEF

A huge THANK YOU goes out to everyone who has donated this far. Your donations are making a difference. We’re on our way to hitting our goal of $25,000.

Pictured here you see Ritu, our Production Manager at WORK+SHELTER distributing food in our neighborhood in New Delhi. If you have ever touched one of our products, know that it was likely Ritu’s hands who conducted quality control, Ritu’s eyes who reviewed the tech pack. This photo was taken last week just before she received word that her mother was sick. By nightfall the same day, her mother had passed away.

Watching this can be a deeply disempowering experience, but what your donations have done is incredible. They have provided a platform for our leaders in India – Ritu, Nitu, Kavita, Sakshi, Suman – to make direct impact. These are women who care deeply about our mission, and knowing that they are resourced to distribute funds, food, medical support, masks, and more has given them increased agency during this hard time. It’s incredibly powerful.

For that we thank you – we are grateful. This is only the beginning of our outreach plan.

As more donations come in, we will be using them to:

+ Work with our neighborhood pharmacist to cover costs for those who cannot afford medication

+ Provide free, healthy food to COVID patients

+ Provide extra rental supplement for ladies who have to support entire joint families on their salary alone

+ Buy electricity-free sewing machines so that the women can scale production of making masks at home for donation within India

We ask that you please continue to show your support by sharing our campaign (below) or donating to the cause.

“I am so impressed by WORK+SHELTER’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves + their families. I have always felt like there needs to be a purpose to the work you do, and I feel extremely proud to be working with WORK+SHELTER.”

-Erin Glanz, Curator of Collective Heart

Erin Glanz, Curator of Collective Heart

Our CEO + Founder Theresa VanderMeer sat down (virtually!) with Erin Glanz, curator of Collective Heart, for a conversation about being women entrepreneurs and what it was like collaborating on the launch of our fair-trade accessories line. Collective Heart is owned by women, made by women, and loved by women.

Theresa and Erin were initially connected through a mutual friend and sparked a conversation over a LinkedIn message.

W+S: Tell us a little bit about that first conversation-

EG: I had been recently laid off due to Covid after 13 years working for the same company in wholesale apparel sales and it was the first time I had to look for a job in as long as I can remember. Then it was as if the universe threw me a bone when I got Theresa’s message… 

Originally she had contacted me to see if I may be interested in helping W+S with some outside sales for their promo items and custom goods for indie designers. As we chatted, I told her it was something I was sure I COULD do, since I do know how to do sales. However, I do not have any contacts in the promo world, so I would be really starting from square one in that regard. 

I explained that the majority of my contacts were all retail buyers and we began to discuss the possibility of bringing W+S products to the retail market. Of course, there were many, many logistics that would need to be discussed in the months to come, but it all started with this “what if…?” conversation.

W+S: Can you tell us a little bit more about your background and how it has made you uniquely suited for this collaboration?

EG: In my past job our focus was on clothing with a conscience, so I had the pleasure of working with many brands & specialty boutiques over the years that supported our organic, sustainable, fair trade, zero waste, made in the US, and/or woman-owned designers. So I was instantly drawn to the mission of W+S and the incredible work they are doing in the lives of the women who work for them. I also knew that many of the buyers that I have strong relationships with hold similar values and would absolutely love to support this company. It felt like such a natural fit. 

Because of my 13 years of working with eco-friendly designers and also directly with buyers and hearing their feedback on every design, I had a pretty clear idea of which styles were going to be the best to start out with for the first season—like the decision to start out with accessories only. We did have to go back and forth quite a bit about pricing in order to make the collection approachable and available to many types of stores. Most buyers do know that organic cotton is more expensive than conventional cotton or that fair trade goods are more expensive than mass produced, but we wanted it to feel inclusive rather than exclusive. 

My background also gave me the eyes to look at the collection from a buyer’s perspective, knowing that they like to place orders that will merchandise together. So I chose prints and created distinct color stories per delivery so that all of the prints, however different, could all work back to each other!

Left- Square Tote & Makeup Bag   |   Right- Market Tote & Dopp Pouch

W+S: We love all of the fun prints + colors! How did you go about finding the independent artists and subsequent artwork?

EG: I initially created a Pinterest board for print inspiration and discovered through one of the pins this site called Creative Market, which has the work of independent freelance artists from all over the world! We are using prints from women artists in the UK, Greece, Ukraine, Russia & Berlin.  I chose designs based on color stories, with a separate color story per delivery, but with a mix of prints that all merchandise well together. 

Prints are very subjective, so that is why I wanted to offer a wide variety per delivery. While some stores LOVED the ladies & tigers from our first collection (or first “drop” in industry lingo), others went more the tropical & abstract route… everyone tends to buy each collection a little differently, which is fun! When going over pricing, we kept coming back to the fact that digital printing costs more the larger the bag and screen printing could be less expensive, so we decided to also add in some screen prints. 

At that point, I was excited about adding in the “Give Back Tote of the Month” program, where I chose one screen print per month (2 for our third drop) that would correspond to and celebrate a nationally recognized holiday in the upcoming month and give back $1 of the sale of each bag to a non-profit or charitable organization associated with that holiday. In keeping with the overall mission of the brand, the organizations that were chosen were picked in order to help specifically women (and children) and any other marginalized groups they are a part of. 

A selection of prints from Drop 3 and Drop 4.

W+S: What are your top 3 go-to items from the collection?

EG: My favorite style since the first round of W+S samples I received has been the Market Tote! It is the perfect carry ALL and fits so much!! I love that it is fully lined and has 2 separate compartments and an inner zip pouch for your valuables. And I also love that on one side of the inner piece is another panel of print! 

I also love the Small Silk Scarf! I am on the busty side, so never have been into scarves since I always felt like they added bulk to an already large area on my body. But I have been loving the small size as a cute neckerchief & hair accessory. Also cute tied on your wrist or on a bag strap! 

And I do use the Silk Eye Mask every morning once the light starts creeping in. And it’s the best when I realize I still have a few hours to sleep and get to put my eye mask on and really fall back asleep in the dark! It’s probably my favorite few hours of sleep!

The Market Tote, Small Silk Scarf, & Silk Eye Mask.

W+S: What has it been like working with WORK+SHELTER so far?

EG: Working with W+S has been beyond a pleasure. Everyone has been incredibly professional, super detail-oriented and always follow-up on my millions of questions! I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and love a fellow salt of the earth Midwesterner, so Theresa (CEO + Founder of WORK+SHELTER) and I definitely got along right away. And we share a very strong work ethic so that always makes for a great working relationship. 

The entire team has been so lovely and accommodating and have consistently helped to find solutions to any challenges that have come up along the way.  It has been a true partnership where we have all invested so much time and energy and it is feeling so fulfilling to be so close to finally shipping our first delivery! We are currently working out the logistics to add some organic cotton tees and crewneck sweatshirts with fun screen prints into the Pre-Fall collection, which I am super excited about.

W+S Queens enjoying a chai break on the roof of our production facility in Delhi, India.

W+S: Why is our mission so important to you personally as well as Collective Heart as a brand?

EG:  Knowing that the fashion industry is one of the most polluting and the most wasteful, it is hard to understand how any brand can close their eyes to this and keep doing what they have always been doing. It is also devastating to see how workers (especially women) have been treated in factories that produce fast fashion. I am so impressed by W+S’s efforts in helping women because it is not just about paying them a fair wage, but it is also about giving them a better life overall and a chance for a better future for themselves and their families. 

This project has definitely given me a purpose again and I feel extremely proud to be working with W+S. I personally feel that I really could not sell something that I didn’t believe in, and it is so rewarding to also be working with like-minded buyers that also share the same values and are so enthusiastic about this collaboration. My personal goal is to be able to sell enough Collective Heart so that W+S will be able to keep hiring more & more women!

Meenu, one of our seamstresses, hard at work while making the Collective Heart products.

W+S: Can you talk about some of the challenges and benefits of being a female entrepreneur?

EG: For me, since this is the first time I have ventured out on my own, the challenges I am facing are mainly just that of being a new entrepreneur and trying to figure it all out. I actually think the timing has been pretty good to become a new woman entrepreneur due to the current collective consciousness and this moment in time where there is so much active support of women-owned businesses. 

I have gotten a lot of empathy about my job loss and have gotten so much encouragement about turning it into something positive. And that support has helped me to believe that this was all possible! And I think we have all reevaluated priorities and values during this past year and I want to spend my time doing something good that supports other women because we are definitely stronger together! 

There is a sense of sisterhood that feels so amazing that connects the queens at W+S, Theresa + team, the print designers, myself + my family, the women entrepreneur boutique owners and ultimately the end consumer who gets to enjoy the product that was realized due to the efforts of so many women’s heads, hands and hearts.

The Standard Tote in two of Erin’s favorite prints from Drop 3.

W+S: How many stores have picked up the line already? And how can stores get in contact with you if they’d like to place an order?

EG: We have been so thrilled by the amazing turn out of support for this brand new line, especially during a time when a lot of buyers are cutting down on the number of vendors they are working with and/or reassessing their inventory mix. 

We have had 26 stores pick up the line for Spring 21 so far, some with multiple locations so it will be in 30 doors. And there are many more interested in bringing in the next delivery! It has been really amazing to reconnect with buyers I have worked with for over a decade and they have been super supportive and very enthusiastic about the new endeavor of mine. I have also been fortunate to have connected with some new buyers that I am very excited about partnering with, and it is so fun to meet these lovely new women, whether on Zoom or just over email!

Anyone interested in taking a closer look at the line and potentially stocking it in their stores can reach out to me via email at [email protected] or at 786-253-1970 and I will be happy to send linesheets. 

A big THANK YOU goes out to Erin Glanz for taking the time to sit down with us and share her knowledge & experience! Keep an eye out at the end of the month for a GIVEAWAY with some of the fabulous Collective Heart products. 

If you have an exciting apparel or accessory design in mind that you’re looking to develop or discuss further, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with our team if you’d like to chat through the process. 

-Theresa VanderMeer, CEO + Founder of WORK+SHELTER

At WORK+SHELTER, we focus on supporting women in need and poverty alleviation by providing Indian women with fair-trade work. At our center in New Delhi women are entered into our 8 week paid training program where we teach them the skills to create high-quality products for the export market.

We do not have any prerequisites to joining our training program. Because many of the women that work with us never finished school, our job training in sewing and production management provides them with the means to find dignified work they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. 

Each woman has her own story of hardship. Some have had to make tough decisions on whether to eat or send their children to school, have suffered through forced arranged marriages, or have even endured coerced abortions (oftentimes when their family learns they are pregnant with a girl, since daughters are largely considered undesirable because of the outlawed but still prevalent practice of dowry). To put it frankly, their choices are limited. Thus, access to paid training at WORK+SHELTER and a consistent income can be transformative for them.

 

WORK+SHELTER training program


The training program consists of an eight week course, with difficulty level increasing every week.
The first week is mostly an orientation, focused on getting comfortable with the facility + the sewing machines and learning safety guidelines. The women then learn how to operate and maintain the machines, starting with the single needle + straight stitching. We make sure the women are comfortable with each step before moving on. In the second week they move on to sewing on fabric with variations of the straight stitch, and in the third week three they learn to sew five different types of seams. In the fourth week they learn to construct the W+S standard tote bag, and in the fifth week they move on to the W+S standard zippered pouch, and in following weeks refine their efforts. Upon completion, they are awarded a certificate detailing their new skills. 

When the women complete their training and begin to produce goods, we increase their pay. Our employees are paid fairly, regularly, and given an annual opportunity to earn raises + promotions. Many companies in the garment industry pay a piece wage, and employ people only when they have work. At WORK+SHELTER the women are paid whether or not the products they have made have sold, the commissioning client has paid, or whether or not there is work for them to do. This consistency allows them to plan and save, oftentimes for the first time in their lives.

 

 

WORK+SHELTER provides a clear and transparent career path, with four different role “tiers.” Each employee within these employment tiers is paid the same amount, with an additional daily performance-based bonus opportunity. Further, twice daily team meetings ensure the women have access to a forum where they can share their feedback or concerns.

Unfortunately, this standard is rare throughout most of India. Women at WORK+SHELTER are paid significantly more than the industry average, including 5x or more what they could be earning elsewhere in Delhi. Sweatshops are all too common, and 85-90% of sweatshop employees are women. As such, in 2013 women still only earned 62 percent of a men’s salary for equal work. WORK+SHELTER is working to change that!

 


We work daily to combine the power of community, positivity, and inspiration to create a truly supportive + inviting workplace.
The women we employ work 8 hours per day, and are paid double for any overtime hours. They work in a comfortable environment, and take chai breaks twice daily. 

But our reach isn’t limited to the workplace; we are often instrumental in supporting our employees in various ways. For example, WORK+SHELTER provides regular wellness check ups and dental screenings for all of our employees. We may also ensure that an employee’s children are enrolled in school and are receiving proper health care, or support our employees towards pursuing their own entrepreneurial venture. We encourage our employees and trainees to pursue health, prosperity, and their dreams.


Since we launched our
Masks Without Borders campaign in late November of 2020, we have been able to hire two additional women as trainees (shown above). The organic cotton face masks are ideal for trainees to start off with as they are relatively simple to make, and mainly made from fabric scraps. The more capital we are able to raise, the more masks we are able to make + the more women we are able to hire. If you’d like to learn more about the campaign and/or donate, click here.

Credit: Geoffrey Abraham

 

Despite the push for widespread vaccine access in late 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the globe. An unexpected “side-effect” has emerged: single-use plastic waste in the form of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc. has been piling up at alarmingly rapid rates. One of the easiest ways to combat this wasteful trend is by encouraging the use of reusable cloth masks. However, there are many people in the world that either do not have access to reusable masks or cannot afford them. Therefore their options become the “cheap” alternative of single-use plastic masks or not wearing one at all.

THE PROBLEM

In July of this year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated that 75% of pandemic-related plastic waste will end up in landfills and our oceans. Beyond that, many items aren’t being disposed of properly and end up littering our streets and sidewalks. “The UN Environment Program (UNEP) has warned that, if the large increase in medical waste (much of it made from environmentally harmful single-use plastics) is not managed soundly, uncontrolled dumping could result.”  (UN News, July 2020)

Discarded face masks on the side of the road with trash in Queens, New York.
Source: Lindsey Nicholson / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“On a beach about 100 metres long, we found about 70,” said Gary Stokes of OceansAsia. One week later, another 30 masks had washed up. “And that’s on an uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.” (The Guardian, June 2020)

“Once in the ocean, masks collect algae, attracting small fish that in turn attract larger fish, he said. A dolphin or whale could mistake a mask for food, and the mask could get caught in the animal’s digestive tract, which could result in death.” (New York Times, July 2020)

Discarded face masks and gloves wash up on shore. (Getty Images)

Beyond the more visible issues of mask pollution, when the plastic in these masks is exposed to sunlight it can start to break down in a process known as photodegradation. Instead of decomposing and disappearing, it turns into smaller and smaller pieces, a.k.a. microplastics. These microplastics then remain in our waterways + oceans for years to come and are ingested by marine life, eventually leading to human consumption down the line. “This is especially dangerous as degraded plastics can absorb and hold on to high concentrations of toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, as well as other chemical pollutants. Once microplastics are floating in the sea, they are currently impossible to collect.”(Slate, October 2020)

Microplastics compared to a U.S. penny.
Source: National Geographic

The plastic waste issue hits especially close to home for us at WORK+SHELTER. In Delhi, the home of our production center and our team in India, the vast majority of waste is incinerated, including many plastics. This contributes to Delhi having some of the worst air pollution in the world, and is one of the reasons we avoid single-use plastics within our production center, and instead use cellophane-based packaging. 

Smog fills the air around Delhi’s India Gate on October 28th, 2020.
Source: Sunil Kataria/TOI, Delhi, BCCL

THE SOLUTION

One of the main reasons plastic masks are ending up on the streets and in landfills in the first place is because many people either do not have access to reusable masks or cannot afford them. That’s where we come in. Together with the The Soondra Foundation and Chicago Fair Trade, WORK+SHELTER is committed to donating over 10,000 reusable cloth masks to those in need. 

Recipients of donated W+S masks in Delhi, India.

Each mask is made from organic cotton fabric scraps at our ethical production center in Delhi, allowing us to train and employ more impoverished and at-risk women. By using fabric scraps to make the masks we are not only keeping plastic out of landfills and our oceans but are also reducing textile waste, one of the largest sources of pollution behind plastics. After the masks are produced, the Soondra Foundation and Chicago Fair Trade will be distributing the masks throughout Chicago + India.

One of our W+S queens, Hema Tanwar, modeling the organic cotton face masks.

To achieve this goal we are asking for your help to raise $20,000. This will allow us to pay the women making the masks a fair wage, as well as supply any additional materials needed and cover distribution costs. Please consider donating if you can, and if you can’t we would really appreciate you sharing the campaign with friends, family, and/or on social media. We are offering some fun rewards when you donate, including your very own WORK+SHELTER made organic cotton face mask. Read our latest blog post, Masks Without Borders, to learn more about the campaign and visit our Fundly page to donate today!

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7297173/

https://slate.com/technology/2020/10/disposable-masks-ocean-pollution-archaeology.html

https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1069151

https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/climate/covid-masks-discarded.html

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/08/more-masks-than-jellyfish-coronavirus-waste-ends-up-in-ocean

https://www.waste2wear.com/covid-19-increased-plastic-waste/

https://weather.com/en-IN/india/pollution/news/2020-10-28-delhi-air-quality-remains-very-poor-deteriorate-over-next-two-days

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/covid-19-has-worsened-the-ocean-plastic-pollution-problem/