Celebrating Diwali, November 2021.

WORK+SHELTER was founded 10 years ago this month. 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 took chances on us when we were unproven and helped us grow. Thank you!

 

A WORK+SHELTER Timeline

2007:

  • 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.

2011:

  • 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.

2013-2014:

  • 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.

2015:

  • 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.

2016:

  • 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.

2017:

  • 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., including current strategic projects manager Nitu Choudhary and current finance director Amanda Dye.

    2017: Fair trade brand World Finds visits.

2018:

  • 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.

2019:

  • 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.

2020:

  • 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.

2021:

  • 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.
  • W+S Shelter celebrates 10 years!

“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

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