Photos Courtesy of The New York Times

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.

WORK+SHELTER offers a variety of options when it comes to customizing your products and designs. Whether you are looking 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.

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

 

Theresa VanderMeer and Karina Rosenstein reviewing print samples at one of the natural dye artisan groups that we work with at WORK+SHELTER.

 

Let’s start with the basics– the  difference between patterns and prints. 

It is very important to differentiate between the two because patterns and prints are not the same – printed patterns are actually very different from woven patterns.

A pattern is any repeated design or motif, such as a stripes, floral, geometric, medallion, etc. It can be woven/knit into the fabric or printed on top.

A print can be a pattern, however it is not woven into the fabric but applied to the top with dye by various methods such as digital printing or screen printing.  

The easiest way to tell the difference between the two is by flipping it over. Generally, a woven pattern will show on both sides, while a printed pattern will be clearly more saturated on the top of the fabric or may not go through to the other side at all.

 

A few patterned fabrics printed by one of our suppliers.

 

Now that you have that down, we can dive into the different customizations we offer for our promotional and designer client partners. We work directly with the mills and producers/artisans, so there’s no need for a trader or middleman, making the process straightforward + seamless.

On the back end of fabric production, you are able to customize:

  • Yarn dyed fabrics in any Pantone color

  • Woven or knit textures

  • Woven or knit fabric thickness

  • Knit patterns

    • Stripes
  • Woven patterns and types of weaves

    (1)

    • Plain weave
    • Ikat
    • Chambray
    • Herringbone
    • Dobby
    • Jacquard
    • Etc.

Once fabrics have been produced you are able to customize in the following ways:

  • Resist dyeing

    • Bleach
    • Indigo

Examples of indigo resist dyed fabric from the natural dye artisan group shown above.

  • Printing

    • Digital
      • Digital print benefits:
        • No printing screens involved = no upfront cost
        • You are able to print one single item and/or a sample print
        • There are virtually no color limitations
        • The number of colors and the appearance of the print does not affect the cost of manufacturing
        • Fewer economies of scale than when screen printing – for example, digitally printing the first meter + the hundredth meter cost basically the same


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

      • Digital print challenges
        • It’s not possible to digitally print on colored fabrics, because the threads of the fabric are already saturated with dyes, and therefore the colors generally don’t come out in the intended shade


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.

    • Screen (analogue method of printing on fabric)
      • Screen print benefits:
        • Cost-effective when printing in bulk – for example, with an increase in the number of goods produced, the price of a single unit noticeably decreases
        • Screen printing works better than digital printing on brightly colored base fabrics (as seen below)

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 the preparation of a separate screen, and at $40 per screen the cost can add up. The Diaspora Co. tote above has over 10 colors, resulting in $400 of screen costs  
        • The number of colors possible per artwork is limited – we do not recommend printing over 12 colors
        • Due to the cost of preparation of the screens, it is not suitable for printing individual pieces or small volumes
        • Artwork changes after the sampling process result in additional costs because new screens need to be made
      • Hand screen (Medium or Large Scale)

        • Placement printing for small logos and designs
        • Printed on pre-cut pattern pieces or sewn products
        • Gold foil
        • Silicone on activewear, i.e. “grip strips”

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

      • Auto Screen + Rotary (Medium or Large Scale)

        • Full fabric for all-over prints 
        • Rotary printing minimums are at least 1000 meters of woven fabric or 500 kgs of knit fabric

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

    • Block
      • Traditional shapes
      • Customized block patterns
    • 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).

 

If there’s a specific type of 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:

  1. Woven Patterns, https://www.textileschool.com/135/classification-of-fabric-weave-patterns/
  2. Rotary Printer, https://www.imaterial.co.za/News/entryid/622/rotary-screen-printing-and-digital-printing-explained

Credit: Geoffrey Abraham

 

Despite the push for widespread vaccine access in late 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the globe. Related, 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. And 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)

Gary Stokes of OceansAsia holding masks found on a beach near Hong Kong in May. He says masks have been washing up in increasing quantities.
Source: Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — 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, a 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 will be 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/

Every day we are reminded that COVID-19 cases are still on the rise, so WORK+SHELTER, Chicago Fair Trade, and The Soondra Foundation have joined forces to bring masks to those struggling to access them. To aid in this effort, we have created the fundraising campaign, Masks Without Borders.

Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, masks have been a crucial component in staying safe + healthy, but the unfortunate truth is that not everyone can afford them. We are seeing this not only in Chicago, but also in other parts of the world.

The masks that are “affordable” are generally not reusable, and are made of a few layers of different types of plastic, called polypropylene. These masks are almost impossible to recycle and end up adding to an already vast amount of single-use plastic waste on our planet.

Getty Images

We have come together to find a solution to these problems– we will be distributing 10,000 reusable cloth masks throughout both Chicago + India. The masks are made out of eco-friendly materials, including organic cotton and fabric scraps left over from other items in production.

This way, not only are we helping to keep the population safe from the pandemic, but also helping to improve the health of our planet by keeping plastic waste & fabric scraps out of landfills.

There is some urgency with getting this campaign off the ground as we race to contain and combat COVID-19. We’d like to start making and distributing these masks as soon as possible, and we need your support in this effort.

W+S  Chief Happiness Officer Kavita distributing our reusable cloth masks in Delhi.

We’re raising $50,000 in order to produce and distribute these masks. As a group, we are uniquely placed to make this happen. WORK+SHELTER employs women in need and teaches them how to sew. Women regularly come to our factory looking for work, and recently we’ve had to turn a number away. Producing these masks will create more work and in turn, allow us to employ these women.

The Soondra Foundation works with people in India with compromised health, including children, who especially need masks to go back to work and school safely. The Soondra Foundation will be distributing these masks to some of the neediest folks across India.

Katherine Bissel-Cordova of Chicago Fair Trade and friend Carly Visk model the organic cotton face masks.

Chicago Fair Trade has relationships with non-profits across Chicago including the Night Ministry, the Center on Halstead, the YMCA, and many others. CFT will be distributing these masks to the most vulnerable populations right here in Chicago.

As a thank you for donating, we have some wonderful rewards for you (including an organic cotton face mask), which can be found on our Fundly page. If you want to get a mask in person head to the Chicago Fair Trade pop-up now through December 23rd.

 

Oftentimes, when people want to support us, they ask us where they can buy our products. So, to make it easy + fun for you this holiday season, we put together an ethical small business gift guide where we’ve highlighted a mix of our client partners and their products. By supporting their missions, you’re supporting ours as well.

 

SHOP KINSHIP

“We believe in a better place 🌎 starting with your face.”

  • Created by scientists and industry experts, Kinship makes clean, cruelty-free beauty + wellness products.
  • Their On the Glow Bag is made at WORK+SHELTER from our 100% recycled bottle fabric, helping to cut down waste in the skincare industry.
  • Perfect for your friend who’s in-need of a self-care day after a stressful 2020.
  • You can take 20% off sitewide from November 25th – November 30th with code YAY20

 

SHOP LEV APPAREL

 

“Designed to celebrate. Worn to empower.”

  • With size inclusivity as their foundation, Lev Apparel garments are designed to celebrate multiple body shapes and encourage women to feel beautiful in their own skin. 
  • Founder Krystle Marks believes strongly in “empowered women empowering women” and sought out WORK+SHELTER for our ethical production, fair- trade practices, and women-centric goals.
  • The Theodora Long Sleeve is perfect for your friend that’s always late because they can’t decide what to wear— you truly can’t go wrong with an ethically made classic white button down.
  • They will be rolling out a variety of deals all week, while also sharing socially impactful, local and small businesses near + dear to them as a way to celebrate Fair Trade Friday.

 

SHOP SOHZA SISTER

“When a woman is at the center of change anything is possible”

  • Similar to WORK+SHELTER’s goal of helping women in-need, Sohza Sister was founded by three sisters who came together with a goal to help women locally + globally.
  • Their products include a mix of jewelry, casual apparel, accessories, and more- all stamped with encouraging messages of women’s empowerment. 
  • The perfect one-stop shop— you can purchase a “Bag of Love” tote for $10 and fill it with a fun mix of products at a discounted rate.

SHOP DIASPORA CO.

“Building a better spice trade.”

  • Diaspora Co. is a direct trade, single origin spice company dedicated to building a better spice trade.
  • Founder, Sana Javeri Kadri, came to us wanting a tote bag made by a manufacturer whose values reflected her own.
  • Now known as the Diaspora Market Tote, this bag is made ethically, from 100% organic cotton by the women of W+S.
  • Perfect for the chef of the family- purchase a Diaspora Market Tote to double as a fancy gift bag and fill it with authentic Indian spices this holiday season.
  • Order now and receive FREE SHIPPING on all orders above $100.

SHOP LILY FORBES

“Sustainable independent fashion house sans seasons,naturally dyed, handwoven, and unisex.”

  • Combining fair trade production with sustainable fabrics, LILY FORBES creates high-end robes made from upcycled sari silk and organic cotton denim.
  • Founder Lily Shafroth Forbes spent a great deal of time in India working directly with our production team to learn about WORK+SHELTER’s ethical supply chain.
  • The Raw Indigo Denim Robe is perfect for your friend who’s constantly on Zoom calls— these robes provide a lovely balance between luxury + cozy, taking your work-from-home look to the next level effortlessly.
  • Purchase your robe today and receive FREE SHIPPING on all
    domestic orders.

SHOP THE FAIR SHIRT PROJECT

“A shirt that’s made fair, for men.”

  • The Fair Shirt Project was created to offer men looking for ethical clothing more options.
  • All Fair Shirt Project products are designed in Evanston, IL, and produced in India at Work+Shelter.
  • The Blue Plaid Short Sleeve Button Up is perfect for the man in your life who believes in living (+ wearing!) their values, but doesn’t want to sacrifice style.
  • Featured at the Chicago Fair Trade Coalition‘s Holiday Pop-Up Shop (online + in-person), where they will be selling men’s button down shirts (including all new long sleeve styles) and masks.

 

If you’re interested in partnering with WORK+SHELTER to make your products come to life, drop us a line at [email protected] or schedule a meeting with us if you’d like to chat through the process.

From the WORK+SHELTER team all across the globe to you + your family, we wish you a happy, safe, and healthy Holiday Season. And please remember to shop small!

Welcome to the third installment of our Designer 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 Designer Services are Right For You.

This post is going to give you a comprehensive overview of how & where we source our fabrics. We select the best of the best fabric vendors from across India, seeking to align fair trade, ethical, and sustainable values with the wide variety of fabric needs of our customers. 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 that can be a great fit for small and large production runs alike.

There are some specialty fabrics that are best sourced internationally. If you already have a source outside of India you like, we are able to help import your fabrics. However, it is typically more affordable and straightforward to work with our Indian producers.

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

At WORK+SHELTER, we have 5 main avenues when it comes to our fabric sourcing capabilities.

  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 minimus, but the piece minimums for your order may actually be dependent on reaching fabric order minimums. 

WORK+SHELTER is a full service production facility. We’re here to assist with anything that you may need within the development and sourcing processes, and to set the stage for a successful production partnership in the long run.

 

IN-STOCK SUSTAINABLE

W+S regularly hold inventory of many basic fabrics in-house including:

  • Organic cotton woven 5 oz and 12 oz canvas in natural
  • Organic cotton knit jersey in black, white, grey, and other select colors
  • RPET (recycled polyester) in select colors

We are oftentimes able to provide lower MOQs on your order if you are able to 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.

 

SMALL SCALE SUSTAINABLE

We have fostered many connections over time with small scale sustainable/ethical producers to provide beautiful handwoven silks, handwoven recycled fibers, and a variety of other woven fabrics to our clients. 

First, our sourcing team is able to buy “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.

Second, we are able to source custom hand-woven fabrics through artisan groups in India. It’s important to note that this process takes more time (4-6 weeks in fabric production time alone). Because of the small scale and handmade nature of this production, minimums can be as low as 50 to 100 meters.

An important note, the fabrics mentioned above are generally woven. This is because knits are almost always produced on a machine versus hand-loomed, making them more difficult to purchase on a smaller scale.

Both options listed above have a higher price point than machine woven fabric, as the fabric is produced by hand. But you get what you pay for an amazing artisanal heritage and a special hand-made quality outcome. 

 

INDUSTRIAL SCALE SUSTAINABLE

For larger scale production, we can provide fabric options in both knits & 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 infrastructural improvements that may be out of reach for smaller producers, so they can be a great solution for scaled, but still ethical, 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 a couple colorways).

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

We recently produced an order of jersey double knit longline blazers for our client partner Lev Apparel. Due to the doubled weight of the knit and the increased fabric consumption from the design, they were able to more quickly reach the piece minimums than if they were ordering fabric for a lightweight t-shirt. 

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

To sum it up, heavier knits will have lower piece minimums and lighter knits will have higher piece minimums.

 

COOPERATIVE BUYING SUSTAINABLE

WORK+SHELTER works with clients big and small. We have 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 work with our client partners to bundle fabric orders. 

For example, if we are purchasing a large amount of specialty fabric, such as organic brushed fleece or a color of cotton jersey or RPET 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 would like to add on to the order.

If you are looking for ethical fibers but having a hard time meeting fabric production volume minimums, let us know and we will keep you in mind when there are other client partners seeking similar fabrics. If there is enough of a demand, we can arrange a group order and buy in bulk so each brand can achieve their smaller scale minimums.

 

CONVENTIONAL

Industrial Scale

Over 95% of the fabrics we source at WORK+SHELTER  have an environmental qualifier, meaning that they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. That being said, we are able to purchase conventional fabrics if you are not able to find exactly what you’re looking for from our sustainable/ethical producers, if the minimums for more sustainable fibers are too high, or if the sustainable supply chain timeline  is too long for your deadline. Please note, conventional sourcing must be a short term solution, with the goal of transitioning into sustainable sourcing practices over time. 

Market Ready

Finally, we have the ability to send our in-house merchandising team, including Bhawana, pictured here, to the local markets to source conventional materials for small scale production. This option is more of a “backup option,” as there is a lack of information available on the supply chain, usually available in very small batches, and the fabrics are only in stock while supplies last. It can, however, be a good solution for clients who are looking for ready made prints in smaller volumes.

 

 

As you can see, the WORK+SHELTER team has a wide variety of fabric supply chain solutions that can be a good fit for your order. We are willing to be flexible and work directly with our suppliers to meet your needs. 

If you have something specific in mind 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 utilizing WORK+SHELTER’s Designer Services but unsure what that entails? First, make sure you read our last blog post: How WORK+SHELTER Brings Your Custom Product Designs to Life.

This second installment of our Designer Services blog series will help you decide when it makes the most sense to work with us on your product design development, versus an independent patternmaker/product design specialist, or when a hybrid approach might work best for you.

The process of taking a concept and rendering it into a full blown product is both an art and a science, so it’s important to choose a product development team that can see your vision through to production.

To decide what your development team should look like, we need to figure out:

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

There are roughly three types of product development relationships WORK+SHELTER offers within our Designer Services:

  1. W+S product development
  2. Independent product development
  3. Shared W+S & independent product development collaboration

W+S PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

If you are new to the cloth/apparel industry, you will most likely need the highest level of assistance with the technical steps involved in bringing a new sewn item to life. We can meet you wherever you are between the steps of initial design and final production.

For full development support, all you need to do is provide the product idea, review samples, and then approve the final sample before the product is manufactured. Our team turns your initial designs/sketches/pictures/existing garment into technical flats and tech packs with measurements to then be sent for patternmaking and sampling. You will be able to inspect and approve each sample and provide feedback to our team before production starts.

 

One of our in-house technical designers, Taylor McCleneghan.

Partial development support is a great solution if your product will need just one or two rounds of sampling– i.e. a tote bag, makeup pouch, mask, scarf, etc.– and you’re comfortable with us taking the lead.  It makes the most sense to work directly with us on product development if your product is not highly detailed or does not require a fit model.  

One significant benefit is that we are then thoroughly familiar with your product, and can typically speed up the production process. Additionally, if we are creating all patterns, tech packs, and other production details for you, we do so in the way that works best for the team that will be actually constructing your sewn item. 

Basically, working directly with us is ideal for apparel or accessories that do not have complex fit needs, or if multiple rounds of samples are unlikely.


INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

If you have a product in mind that is more complex or detail-focused it may make sense for you to work with a local technical designer/patternmaker. By working with a technical designer that is near to 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.

You are welcome to find your own technical designer/patternmaker, or we can provide you with a referral. Working with one of our referral partners can help streamline the sampling and production process since we will have had experience partnering with them on previous production runs.

Hot tips – 

  • To jump-start the sourcing/sampling process and encourage seamless transition into production, we are able to ship fabric for your samples to you from our suppliers in India
  • When planning out your timeline, it’s always a good idea to prepare for at least one sampling round when transferring a design from a local product development or sampling team to W+S factory production.

 

Our favorite local pattern-maker, Xochil Herrera Scheer of The Chicago Patternmaker, working with clients during product development.

 

SHARED W+S & INDEPENDENT PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT COLLABORATION

Let’s say you’ve been working with a fashion or technical designer to help get your product vision from ideas/sketches to technical drawings, but now your team needs help moving into the production process. We can collaborate to help in choosing the right fabric, determining what minimum order quantities (MOQs) are involved, and/or starting the pattern making and sampling process. 

You might also be working with a technical designer who can help develop a full tech pack with measurements and details, but they don’t have the facility to start sourcing or sampling— that’s where W+S Designer Services come in.

When you complete your sampling with our team your design will be “production ready” upon approval, meaning once you give the green light your product will be put into production.

 

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

 

 

The main goal of our Designer Services is to provide you with all of the tools and guidance you may need throughout the process, and to set everyone up for a successful partnership in the long run.

Stay tuned for our next post, which will discuss the 5 main WORK+SHELTER fabric sourcing avenues and how we work with you to find the perfect fabric match for your product and order size.

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 us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.

WORK+SHELTER offers a range of Designer Services to guide you through the process of creating custom designed products. If you’re not someone who has a lot of experience in the production side of the industry, you might not initially realize how complex it can be. Some of you may have even gone through the process before on your own, and are looking for a better path.

The good news is, we can work with you regardless of experience level to fill the gaps where you may need help. We have assembled our own in-house team of designers, fabric experts, and pattern-makers to guide you through every step. We are also able to work with your in-house design team and collaborate throughout the process. Our designer services mainly focus on assisting with the development and sourcing for custom designed products before launching into production.

 

DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to initial product development, WORK+SHELTER can provide assistance with the following:

  1. Technical Flats
  2. Measurements
  3. Tech Packs/ Spec Sheets
  4. Pattern-making
  5. Grading
  6. Sampling

 

Our Production Manager, Ritu Marwari working with Founder + CEO, Theresa VanderMeer to finalize a tote bag sample for Ben & Jerry’s.

 

An important note–the process can take time— depending on level of detail in the product, necessary rounds of sampling & revisions, and designer experience.

Due to the nature of ethical manufacturing, sampling can take anywhere from 2-3 months, and once production begins it can be 3-4 months before you receive your final product.

Rapid development & prototyping can be achieved using in stock materials for less-complex products and flexible clients– resulting in less revisions & faster turnaround.

Throughout the development process, we will be considering the right fabric for the product(s) at hand and walking you through our ethical and fair-trade sourcing options.

 

SOURCING

WORK+SHELTER has five main avenues when it comes to our fabric sourcing capabilities:

  1. In-Stock Sustainable
  2. Small Scale Sustainable
  3. Industrial Scale Sustainable
  4. Cooperative Buying Sustainable
  5. Market Ready Conventional

The materials you need to source will depend on the product and on the size of the production order. Small batch production can pose challenges when it comes to sourcing, but we will work with our current stock and vendor connections to find you the perfect fit for your product.

 

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, based on client asks.

 

Once we decide on the material for the product, we move into sampling and then production.

 

PARTNERSHIP

The partnership between WORK+SHELTER and our clients is what really makes our Designer Services stand out. With custom designed products, it takes a whole lot of teamwork to bring these products to life. We’re here to help & lift you up throughout the process— the whole point is to use us as a resource whenever you need us. We are willing to work within all of our capabilities and constraints to find the best solution for your custom product needs.

On average, our US team is in India for 6+ months over the course of the year, working directly with our team to oversee every aspect of sourcing and production.

We pride ourselves on our seamless communication not only throughout our close-knit W+S community, but also with our client partners. Time zones are no longer a hindrance— we speak with our team in India every day, and are able to provide a quick response to any questions or problems that may arise along the way.

 

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

 

 

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing more insight into the specifics of our Designer Services and when they’re right for you to use them. We will also be discussing our different sourcing avenues in more detail to provide transparency about our ethical supply chain and options for our client partners. Stay tuned on the blog!

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 us if you’d like to chat through the process. You can also find more information on our website here.