Khushi talking about how she loves her work

WORK+SHELTER exists to help women-in-need in India. This goal is accomplished in a number of different ways including meeting new team members or staff where they are on professional level, and providing them with opportunities, support, and tools along the way.

Our team members in New Delhi may have vastly different levels of educational or work experience. Some women have never been to school a day in their lives. Others have graduated from government schools but are still in need of foundational training. For our production team we have training initiatives on how to stitch, quality check, and finish garments. But we also have training initiatives for our junior level management staff. Junior level manager tends to be unmarried women in their early 20’s who need to work to support their parents or siblings. They may have basic education, but usually do not have any professional work opportunity or experience. Our recent trainings with them include the following:

  • Professional norms and standards coaching
  • Google Docs, Sheets, and Drive
    • Calendar invites, simple formulas, folder creation
  • English for emails
    • Writing basic emails, later refined by senior staff
  • Process document creation and refinement
    • Memorializing steps and tools

An excerpt from Khushi, who started off on the stitching team but is now overseeing logistics can be found here.


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An excerpt and self-assessment from the cultural homework of a junior level manager:

To support our mission of helping women-in-need by ordering custom-sewn goods, please connect with us at [email protected].

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.



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

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.



Our in-house merchandiser is responsible for going to the local markets to scout out what fabrics and trims are available

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.



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 6-12 weeks is typical.

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


WORK+SHELTER meeting with our screen printer, Pratap Singh.


We think of our clients as our partners, and act accordinglyit takes effective teamwork to bring a custom product to life!

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 most days, 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]. You can also find more information on our website here.


When someone offers you a glass of water, what’s your response? If you’re thirsty and it’s a hot day, satisfying your thirst, at least in the U.S., is a pleasure you don’t have to think much about.

Where we work in India, a glass of water is potentially dangerous. Simply put, water pollution occurs when unprocessed sewage or industrial waste ends up in the public water supply.

For us, in Delhi, where our production center is located, the issue is endemic. Delhi has been crowned the world’s 5th most polluted city. We’re a stone’s throw away from the Yamuna River, which according to a Google Maps review has “very poor water condition.” That’s an understatement. When WORK+SHELTER was founded over a decade ago, people would still bathe in the river. Now, the smell of sewage and industrial water is so pervasive it’s hard to even pass by in a moving vehicle. The river is technically “dead,” a painful term used when a river cannot sustain life.

A man looks for recyclable items on the banks of the Yamuna, on the outskirts of New Delhi. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images

To add insult to injury, this situation is especially tough for the many folks in India who are already struggling to meet basic food needs. Baseline, to get clean water one has to either purchase it for a premium from local water vendors or invest in a water filtration system that in and of itself can cost more than what low-income folks earn in a month. Even then, these systems are not effective if the water is too dirty.

What’s the Deal with Water Pollution in the Fashion Industry?

Water is a key player in the supply chain. Water pollution can actually be the result of many different stages throughout the production process. Take a cotton t-shirt: a large part of the production process surrounds the harvesting of the cotton. However, if that cotton isn’t being sourced organically, there is a high probability it’s getting treated with harmful chemicals and pesticides that the rain ends up washing away, into the groundwater.

A textile manufacturing plant in Tianjin, China. Credit: Lu Guang/Greenpeace

Fast forward, and that cotton has been spun into yarns that will later become your new favorite t-shirt.  But first they need to be dyed. Workers have to mix a variety of different chemicals together to get that color just right, and as a result these dyes could contain toxins such as AZO dyes, which are so bad they have actually been banned in countries including China, Japan, India, Vietnam, and the European Union. Not only can these chemicals harm workers, but if they are not disposed of properly these toxins then go and wreak havoc in the environment. The garment dyeing process is no simple process, and sometimes means dyeing that yarn/fabric/t-shirt several times to get it just right.

Water pollution is the most notable impact of clothing production, with around 20 percent of global industrial water pollution traceable directly back to the textiles industry.

When you look at that finished garment, it’s impossible to know everything that went into creating it. What were the conditions like during production? How much water was used throughout the process? And most importantly…

How is Water Waste Discarded After Being Used in the Garment Production Process?

Where does it continue or end its lifespan? That water waste or “sludge” can be defined as all of the leftover chemicals and toxins extracted after producing a garment. Unfortunately, oftentimes the answer to that question is that it ends up getting dumped into nearby waterways, where some people see it as “out of sight, out of mind.” I cannot stress how common this is, with  75%-80% of waterways in India polluted.

One process we have observed in dyeing facilities several filtration or separating stages and then finally an evaporation stage where the sun was used to evaporate remaining water, leaving only the waste. The compacted waste then gets picked up by a waste management specialist and taken to a facility to be disposed of properly.

But the issue is complicated. Well-resourced factories have the best chance of accommodating regulations by investing into water waste management systems. Small scale factories can have a harder time investing in these systems. In low-income areas, this becomes more than an environmental problem, it becomes a case of ethics. These factory workers need their jobs in order to make an income to support themselves and their families, however if the factories are not disposing of their water waste properly then all of the employees are at risk, along with those living in nearby communities.

How Does WORK+SHELTER Cut Down on Water Pollution?

One option is to pressure mills to build proper water waste management infrastructure over time. This requires serious relationships in order for them to see that the downside of NOT building this infrastructure will cost them over time. It also requires the willingness to spend more on fabric upfront, since the mills have to cover the costs of this infrastructure somewhere, and accessing capital in developing markets can be especially tough.

Another more direct option is to only purchase certified materials. For us, over 70% of the fabrics we purchase are GOTS certified. GOTS, also known as the Global Organic Textile Standard, aims to define requirements that ensure organic status of textiles, from harvesting the raw materials, through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing up to labeling in order to provide a credible assurance to the end consumer. Basically, to be GOTS certified means that the clothing or textiles are made through a sustainable process, using organically grown fibers. 

Organic cotton is grown without toxic chemicals, but unless the clothes are certified under GOTS, bluesign®, or Oeko-Tex certifications, toxic chemicals may be added in the textile production process.

When being considered for a GOTS certification, mills undergo a heavy inspection to ensure that the fabrics are the real deal. Remember those scary AZO dyes we mentioned earlier? A large part of the GOTS certification process involves checking fabric production processes to ensure there are no AZO dyes or other harmful dyes being used.

Swaddles for our client This Feels Nice, made from GOTS-certified organic cotton.


While water pollution is a very serious issue in the broader fashion and promotional products industries, we are excited to be able to provide access to eco-friendly materials for our clients. If you’re curious about our in-stock GOTS-certified fabric offerings, drop us a line at [email protected].



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


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.

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, button-up men’s shirts or other apparel items we have in-house patterns for 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



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 team placing a pattern on an upcycled sari

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.



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

Product-development package prices range widely depending on ease of implementation

Discussing fabrics with
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]. You can also find more information here.

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 – a range of basic colors in organic cotton (woven + knit)
  2. Small-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase – typically our in-house fabrics are dyed, or small batch artisan silks
  3. Industrial-Scale Sustainable: made to order upon client purchase –
  4. 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



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
  • Organic cotton 8 oz duck, in white, used for digital prints and dyeable at 100 meter minimums

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  team visiting a sustainable cellulose-fiber studio in Noida.



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 100 meters.

Our sourcing team is sometimes 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.



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 production volumes starts around 500 – 1,000 kgs (though this can usually be split into more than one colorway).


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


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.


For some orders, we can send our in-house merchandising team 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]. You can also find more information on our website here.

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, managing and quality checking the entire supply chain so the production process for your sewn good is streamlined.

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.

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 (50 units), 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 (1x set-up fee of $40)
  • 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
  • Minimums are higher than in screen printing; 100 meters is typically the minimum quantity per print


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.


  • 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 Dyeing

We can offer bulk dyeing in custom Pantone colors. Minimums are typically 100 meters per color.

Tie Dyeing

We offer tie dyeing. Minimums depend on product and are upon request.


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


Rotary Printer,

Celebrating Diwali, November 2021.

WORK+SHELTER was founded in 2011. To celebrate, we compiled a timeline of highlights and turning points as we’ve grown our staff,  our expertise, and our reliance on green materials.

We couldn’t have gotten this far without our wonderful clients, who helped us grow. Thank you!




  • W+S founder Theresa VanderMeer visits India for the first time, as part of a program at the University of Michigan funded by an Indian philanthropist team, to study how economic empowerment affects women’s well-being.

Quality control training in progress.


  • Following a successful crowdfunding effort, in December Theresa founds WORK+SHELTER in north Delhi as a not-for-profit center that pays women a fair trade wage. 
  • For the first several years, W+S makes hand-knitted items that are sold direct to consumer.
  • Relying solely on donations, the focus is providing support to local women at risk due to societal issues related to widowhood, divorce, abuse, and neglect by teaching them a trade.

“When a woman starts earning an income, it transforms her ability to care for her children and herself, and it gives her a status in the family that she might not have had before.”       

–Theresa VanderMeer

W+S takes delivery of its first industrial sewing machines.


  • W+S produces its first large-scale order, of hand-sewn Christmas ornaments.
  • W+S takes delivery of its first industrial sewing machines.
  • W+S produces an order for the South African consulate and has a fundraiser at the Dutch ambassador’s house in Delhi.


  • W+S produces its first tote bag order.
  • W+S buys its first industrial overlock sewing machines, allowing it to take t-shirt orders.
  • W+S develops a relationship with a local printing artisan and starts offering screen-printed products.

“I love how no one makes anyone feel like there’s a ‘boss’ or there’s a ‘worker.’ Everyone works like a team.” –Khushi,  who started at W+S as a stitcher but is now a member of the logistics team.


  • W+S ships its first woven apparel order.
  • W+S gets orders from its first fortune-500 clients.
  • After success at a global trade show, W+S makes the shift to becoming a hybrid model with both nonprofit and for-profit legal entities and moves to a new, larger center.
  • W+S starts vetting its vendors for sustainability by asking questions about the inks used in its printing process: “You cannot say you’re helping women if you’re not also actively working to protect the environment they’re living in.” –Theresa VanderMeer

Using the electric cutter.


  • W+S works with its first organic cotton vendor, as it starts to step up its commitment to environmental concerns.
  • W+S raises the bar by investing in a Pantone book and an electric cutting machine.
  • W+S expands its management team with new hires in both India and the U.S.

    2017: Fair trade brand World Finds visits.


  • W+S ships its first order to a big-box retailer.
  • W+S stops paying its seamstresses piece rates and starts paying them salaries.
  • W+S starts to formalize its training program.
  • W+S institutionalizes the use of tech packs and starts adopting other lean manufacturing principles.


  • In a year of increasing demand and growing capabilities, W+S increases its staff of stitchers and expands its space again.
  • W+S starts working with digital files and markers.
  • W+S starts incorporating B Corp standards into its processes.

Gathering in the new office, 2019.


  • W+S introduces rPET (recycled polyester, made from discarded plastic bottles) to its line of stock fabrics.
  • W+S pays women their full salaries during India’s national lockdown due to COVID-19. The women on staff in India spend their time in lockdown working on their English and leadership skills.
  • W+S starts producing face masks and leans into producing custom apparel to get through the pandemic, with a newly beefed-up sampling department.


  • W+S pays women their full salaries during Delhi’s regional lockdown due to COVID-19.
  • W+S invests in additional machines so the women can make masks at home for distribution to the community.
  • W+S expands its factory, with beautiful new spaces for the line sewers and packing and QC staff.

“WORK+SHELTER saved me from quitting. I think I always had the courage but was lacking self-belief. That’s what I learned here. Now this is my happy place.” –Rita, a stitcher at W+S


  • W+S scales up training processes resulting in increased capacity for more complex stitching
  • W+S develops a more sophisticated supply chain for digitally printed items



Want to help us continue to grow and provide support to local women at risk? You can donate to our nonprofit arm right here.

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 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. The women at WORK+SHELTER often earn 5x more what they were earning before after completing training with us. Sweatshops are all too common, and 85-90% of sweatshop employees are women. WORK+SHELTER was built from the ground up to support women-in-need.


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 1.5x 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.


Have you ever felt like fabric scraps are the bane of your existence? No? Ok, maybe it’s just me! At WORK+SHELTER fabric scraps are one of those pests, that no matter how hard you try (unless we’re working with a zero-waste* design) you simply cannot avoid them. Think of it this way, you have a giant, rectangular sheet of fabric that you measure out and cut down into the shape of a t-shirt, but then what? You’re left with some small, really funky, shaped pieces of material.

You have two options:

  1. Discard them in a nearby landfill, where they will likely be incinerated
  2. Make cool stuff out of them!

Many factories do choose to throw their fabric scraps away. It’s hard to perfectly predict the amount of fabric waste associated with making one t-shirt, since manufacturers work with different patterns. However, according to a case study done by Reverse Resources, when surveying over 40 factory managers in Europe + Asia, they found that waste from production falls between 10% to 30% from intake materials. If this was the case at WORK+SHELTER, we wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly at night knowing our scraps were going to waste. If the only bottom line you’re measuring is profit, it can make sense to just throw scraps away. However, at WORK+SHELTER, we consider people, planet, and profit as equal stakeholders. Thus, we choose to put our fabric scraps to work.

How does WORK+SHELTER repurpose fabric scraps?


Scrap Rugs

For longer pieces of fabric scraps that we collect, we give them to local weavers who are able to magically transform them into beautiful rugs. For any smaller pieces, we save them onsite for times when the power goes out. This is a pretty common occurrence in India and when the power does go out the women lose access to our sewing machines, since they are powered by electricity. During this downtime the ladies create small rugs from the saved fabric scraps. One year we gave all of our employees a large scrap rug for the holidays.


Pictured: a scrap rug made entirely from a mix of fabric scraps.

Training Fabric

Each time we hire a new employee at our center in Delhi, they enter a paid training program where they learn skills such as cutting, sewing, stitching and finishing. As with anyone learning a new skill, mistakes happen. Training presents the perfect opportunity to put those fabric scraps to good use! The women use them as practice materials to make any and all test products. Which brings us into our third use…


Clothing for Vulnerable Children

During the training process, we start the women out with small projects, including sewing together children’s clothing. Because the dimensions are smaller than adult sized clothing, we find it more effective for them to master these small projects before moving onto larger apparel items. Once these t-shirts are finished they are sent to orphanages or non-profits to be distributed to children in-need.


Face Masks

We donated over 10,000 face masks to a variety of organizations globally during the pandemic.


Pictured: a family in Delhi wearing WORK+SHELTER made face masks from 100% organic cotton fabric scraps.


Donate the Scraps for Educational Use

We partnered with Professor Christine Facella at Parsons School of Design in New York City, USA and her students on ideas for how to turn fabric scraps into creative new products. We sent actual scraps from our factory in India to NYC for the class to work on. See for yourself what some of these amazing students were able to come up with here!


One thing we find important to note about fabric scraps is that they are inconsistent. One week we may have an abundance of organic cotton fabric scraps and the next week we could have a pile of recycled polyester scraps. This is what makes it tough to fulfill custom design pieces using scraps. 

If you would like your scraps put to use for your order (maybe a small zip pouch?), check out our recommendations below on best practices when designing with scraps:

  • Keep it small! Fabric scrap yields are limited by nature, so plan for a product with a low fabric utilization (think scrunchies or face masks).
  • Keep it simple! We can’t always promise that printing or embroidery will be available for fabric scrap products, because sometimes the pieces are too small to work with, so it is best to stick with a simple product design.


Pictured: WORK+SHELTER face mask, zip pouch + scrunchies all made from our 100% organic cotton fabric scraps.


Beyond that, we’re happy to discuss designing out scraps for the design-lovers out there by sharing fabric widths and other relevant production details. And then for our promotional products buyers out there, our line has already been developed with scrap reduction in mind.

As always, we’re open to new ideas and happy to answer any questions you may have, including how to best utilize scraps from your order! Drop us a line at [email protected] if you want to discuss options. 

Zero waste* = [according to the Zero Waste International Alliance] the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health

Close to 80% of material used at WORK+SHELTER is cotton. Almost all of that is organic.

Why does that matter? Well, besides the fact that this crop has likely been converted into material that is probably next to your skin right now, producing cotton can have startling social, environmental, and economic impacts. For starters, check out these quick facts:

Right?! Indeed, the material we choose to use in our production and the material your products are made of have a direct impact on people, land and water. That’s why we’ve run all over India to find the best cotton around, namely:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified yarns
  • Recycled, undyed yarns
  • Rainfed cotton
  • Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) material

Why Organic?

Our trusty sustainable sidekick. 

Let me be clear – the organic versus conventional cotton issue is complicated, and in this case when we use the word conventional we also mean GMO (Genetically Modified Organism), because in the case of GOTS certified cotton, conventional + GMO comes as a package deal. There are very smart folks that say conventional GMO cotton is better for farmers due to higher yields, and for the planet because it’s actually less likely to need pesticides than organic non-GMO cotton. Conversely, there are also very smart people who believe that Monsanto is trying to take over the world and that conventional cotton is their path to dominion. What’s going on here?

  • Pests are not only adapting to, but building a tolerance against natural “organic” pesticides so they continue to come and bother the crops, making more work for the farmers who oftentimes have to remove the pests by hand – more work = less profit
  • GMOs help cut out additional processes in the harvesting production that are not so eco-friendly including excessive water waste
  • GMOs provide a much larger yield with less labor and resources than organic cotton

I know, it’s a lot. But that said, part of supporting ethical production through our buying choices is being able to avoid decision paralysis and understand the trade-offs. When working with limited data points, and the understanding that ALL production uses resources, and therefore has impact, we still have to do our best to make the best decisions we can for our stakeholders (environment, employees, supply chain, clients, P&L, etc.). Which brings us to our decision:

WORK+SHELTER sources Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The certification itself covers more than just whether the cotton itself is “organic.” 



GOTS conducts an in-depth review of social and ecological criteria. The certification process is actually very intensive because they look at the fabric production from so many different angles. 

The process begins by reviewing the harvesting process of the raw materials, then moves onto analyzing the environmental + social impacts and finally ends with making sure the fabrics are properly labeled to ensure credibility to the consumer. One of the main reasons this certification has such high credibility is because it’s backed by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.



GOTS is also praised for the emphasis they place on proper waste water management techniques in the fabric production process + the dyeing process. That emphasis helps to lower the risk of harmful toxins leaking into water sources as mentioned in our previous blog, How Water Waste in the Fashion Industry Today is Polluting the Future. We see this happen all the time in India because not all factories have the means to efficiently dispose of their waste and so it ends up getting dumped into a nearby river. All in all, GOTS focuses on making the supply chain as eco-efficient as possible by looking at the process from start to finish and everything in between.

In sum, we buy GOTS certified cotton because we believe that on the whole it provides stronger environmental and labor standards than conventional cotton.


Why Recycled Cotton?

We could not be more pumped about our new recycled cotton source.

The hard truth is that the United States alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year. According to Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles, 95% of textiles that are landfilled each year could have been reused or recycled. Of that 95%, it is estimated that around 80% is cotton-based. If we do some quick math here, that adds up to somewhere around 16 billion textiles that could be diverted from landfills, getting a second, more sustainable chance.



In addition to avoiding old fibers languishing in landfills, recycled cotton has the benefit of being VERY low impact. Think about it. Much of the energy, water, and dye process for this material happened during its first life. Remember earlier when we mentioned that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce ONE cotton t-shirt? Well, using recycled cotton saves much of that water usage. This is mainly because producing cotton from scratch is a highly water intensive process. Beyond that, it has a natural, almost denim-like light blue color to it so there is no need to put it through the color dyeing process. Win win 🙂


Why Rainfed Cotton?

Well first-off, what in the world does “rainfed” mean?

For agricultural purposes, “rainfed” means that the crop in question relies on rainfall as its water source. Why is this important? Well, water is one of the most valuable resources when it comes to the textile industry, especially in cotton production. Oftentimes, if the water supply is not coming naturally from rain water, then the water is getting diverted from lower income areas that once relied on it as their water source. This can cause serious water-access issues for low-income populations, especially in countries like India because food insecurity is already a systemic challenge. Water usage in crop production also uses a great deal of energy to transport the freshwater from the source to the cotton farm and manually water the crops, whereas with rainfed cotton there is no need. 

These are a couple of the main reasons why at WORK+SHELTER we have added a cotton source from Kutch, India that uses the rainfed technique as their water source. What’s also wonderful is that the water doesn’t need any treatment, as rain water does not have the dangerous man-made chemicals that are often seen in river-originated water sources.



Along with the environmental impacts, our rainfed cotton vendor is also a social enterprise that focuses on sustainable cotton production, while preserving agricultural + artisan livelihoods at the same time. This rainfed, organic cotton is hand-spun and hand woven in the traditional khadi style, meaning that the actual processing of the material is done without the use of electricity. This means no coal was burned to fuel production (72% of energy in India is from coal), and also that artisans without access to power can participate in the supply chain. So many wins!


Why Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) Cotton?

BCI = Better Cotton Initiative…sounds important. That’s because it is!

Our final and latest source of sustainable cotton is brand-spanking new to us. The main aim of BCI is to make cotton production all around better for the people producing it, and the environment in which it is grown. BCI employs 7 principles to this end, supporting + training farmers in growing, regularly assessing the farms, and diving into best supply chain methods and always measuring impact.



One thing we like to note about BCI certified cotton is that because it has to go through a hefty evaluation process the cotton tends to be sold in larger quantities while abiding by higher minimums. This opens doors for large scale manufacturers that are looking to produce at higher volumes with eco-friendly fabrics.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this differs from our previously acclaimed GOTS certified cotton. Well, while GOTS certification focuses heavily on the production process of the cotton and the water + chemical usage, BCI focuses more on the social and economic impacts of the farmers producing the cotton. Both very important components with similar views on doing good, they just go about achieving positive impact in different ways.

Cotton Options for Your Order

Finally, rather than just talking about how much we love our sustainable cotton fabrics, we want to share them with you! We have a variety of woven and knit materials in stock, which means they are available even for quick-turn, low minimum orders.


Pictured: WORK+SHELTER Carry-All Tote in 100% Organic Denim fabric.


Would you like swatches? Or maybe you want to inquire further about a custom color or rainfed options? Drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a time to virtually chat it out with us.