“Plan for the economy tanking.”

I wrote these prescient words down in my notes in 2018. Starting and building WORK+SHELTER was its own gigantic challenge. But humming along with dozens of employees, I knew the hard part wasn’t over – I was sure that there would be forces outside of our control that could unravel all of the years and years of efforts to bring fair wages to women in need in India. But how this all came to be – a pandemic stretching across the entire world – would end up being more abrupt than I had anticipated.

As a growing social enterprise, we have experienced our fair share of ups and downs. Now, with over 40 full-time employees who cut-and-sew every single project made-to-order, we are constantly hustling to ensure we have the right amount of business at the right time. Sometimes we have production booked over two months out. Sometimes we’re racing to find work for the women to do the next day. We’re used to rolling with the punches, and know that the best we can do now is adapt and take advantage of this temporary respite to take rest, plan, and build infrastructure for our future.

Here at W+S, production has been paused in India, and will remain paused for at least another week. During this time our main priority is the financial security, health, and well-being of our employees in India. With that in mind, we are ensuring the women are paid a full wage even during quarantine, and keeping them busy with in-home trainings on leadership skills, technology, and English.

And then, our beloved client partners have been wonderful, inspiring examples of how to keep forging ahead despite the tumult. We wanted to share a few examples of how different types of businesses, indie designer Lev Apparel, promotional products company Peace by Piece, spice company Diaspora Co, and the brand spanking new menswear line, Fair Shirt Project, have been thinking creatively to not just keep their businesses afloat, but deepen their relationship with their supply chain, including WORK+SHELTER.



Donates 20% of Online Sales to WORK+SHELTER


Krystle Marks is the founder and CEO of Lev Apparel. Based in the midwest, her apparel company focuses on women’s empowerment by putting body celebration and fairly paid production at the center of its ethos. This work is so, so important. Many of us have been socialized to be ashamed of our bodies, and the fashion industry has been complicit in pushing out a disempowering “you’re not good enough” narrative, in part by producing a limited range of sizes that do not respect the truth of how diverse all of our bodies are. Lev Apparel designs clothing for a variety of body shapes, and cares deeply about building a more inclusive line as they grow. Their values run deep, and transcend just style and fit. By ensuring that the work that goes into making their clothing is done by women paid a fair wage and treated with respect, they support the creation of clothing that is supportive to both maker and wearer, and if both beautiful and soulful. 

Because WORK+SHELTER’s production is currently paused, the production of Lev Apparel’s newest collection has been placed on hold. In the meantime, Krystle and team are taking orders for their current pieces while offering free shipping and various bundles as a way to encourage more orders.


The women of WORK+SHELTER modeling Lev Apparel’s Theodora blouse.


They are also ANGELS and will be donating 20% of their online sales made between April 9th-12th towards helping the women of WORK+SHELTER. Please consider making a purchase, a vote of advocacy for women in India and all over the world.



Offers Pre-Order Option for WORK+SHELTER-Made Tote


Diaspora Co. is a wholesaler of sustainably grown spices. We have been collaborating with founder Sana Javeri Kadri for over a YEAR to craft the labor of love that is the beautiful market tote bag shown below (the yellow organic cotton dye is inspired by turmeric). This tote is thoughtfully designed to serve multiple purposes, including holding an abundance of organic spices! It has fabric walls that split the inside of the bag offering different compartments and a small internal zippered pocket that’s great for keeping your wallet safe. Pre-orders for this bag launched in early March and sky-rocketed so much that the Diaspora team decided to nearly double their initial order. Now, with the W+S production pause, the Diaspora team has continued to offer the option to pre-ordering the Diaspora tote bag.


The Diaspora Co. market tote, made from organic cotton by WORK+SHELTER, alongside a close-up of the design detail.


Pre-ordering is exceptionally helpful to small businesses during this time because it means they are receiving money now and can use that money immediately to continue to pay their suppliers (like us!) and employees. This in-turn allows these workers to support themselves and their families during this pandemic. Diaspora Co. is also using pre-orders to fund an emergency healthcare fund that directly supports the 100+ migrant workers, daily wage laborers and farm help that work on their partner farms.



Encourages Clients to Pre-Order for Future Events


Lauri Pastrone is the founder of Peace by Piece International (PbP), a promotional products space that helps connect corporate clients to beautiful, ethical and customizable gifts that restore opportunity and dignity in disenfranchised artisan communities around the globe. We had been collaborating with Peace by Piece to put together a sample order of a variety of different products including foldable bags and quilted pencil pouches made out of fabric from recycled bottles. But when the COVID-19 crisis hit, the corporate event was cancelled. Instead of putting all sampling efforts on hold, PbP pivoted. They are now moving ahead with an order of one hundred of lanyards and planning to ship those lanyards out individually to all of the folks that were supposed to be attending the event, but are now quarantined at home.


Lauri Pastrone, founder of Peace by Piece International, enjoying her time in India with the WORK+SHELTER ladies.


In addition, Peace by Piece is also encouraging their clients to pre-order for prospective future events, including those that are planned for fall of this year. They are reaching out to previous clients and encouraging them to help keep their suppliers afloat with down payments for orders, even if the client isn’t exactly sure what artwork or even specific item they want for their event.



Places Additional Product Order to Help WORK+SHELTER During COVID-19 Crisis


Holly Greenhagen kept hearing about the lack of ethical apparel options for men. An active member of Chicago Fair Trade Coalition and Production Manager for Mata Traders during the day, Holly decided to deepen her advocacy by founding the Fair Shirt Project, a collection of fair trade mens’ button ups. We started to discuss Holly’s vision with her in late 2019, and were able to collaborate to get these new pieces launched in just three months.


One of the pieces from the Fair Shirt Project collection, made with love by the women of WORK+SHELTER.


Holly had not yet even received her first order when she heard about how the Coronavirus was impacting WORK+SHELTER. In a really considerate effort to help is through this tough time, she immediately placed a second order. We are so thankful to Holly and the Fair Shirt Project for her pre-order. During this time, the money from pre-orders directly supports the wages and well-being of our women in India, so that they can continue to be paid, even while in shelter-in-place.

I hope these examples of our amazing women-owned, ethically minded client partners have given you some good ideas on how to be proactive during these days of social distancing and quarantine. If you would like to help us ensure we can pay the women of WORK+SHELTER for April, please consider placing a pre-order, even if you’re still working out design details. Beyond that, I’m always available to have a conversation about future projects, events, or your vision for a new line.

Thank you for all of your love and support during this time of need.


Much health and happiness to you and yours,



Theresa VanderMeer

Founder + CEO of W+S