I cannot say how excited I am about today’s Creative Louisville. First off, I am pumped to get the series going again but more importantly, I’ve been wanting to feature Anchal Project for months. Admittedly it was me dragging my feet and getting distracted that kept this feature from happening last year but I couldn’t be happier to kick off the 2016 features by introducing you all to Colleen.
Colleen is the humanitarian, entrepreneur and creative force behind Anchal Project. The brand was inspired by the belief that design can be a catalyst for social and environmental innovation. Using their design background, they’ve partnered with woman in India to create their beautiful textiles. The brand’s mission is “to address the exploitation of women around the world by using design thinking to create employment opportunities, services and products that support empowerment.” To put it plainly, they provide women in India with employment opportunities where they create beautiful products that are sold through their site and partners. The sales allow Anchal to create more jobs, more opportunities for women and ultimately an escape from poverty and dangerous sexual exploitation. I can keep trying to explain it eloquently but they explain it perfectly on their website.
So when you purchase one of their bright beautiful pillows and throw on one of their cozy scarves, you’re helping women in India improve their lives. See just by getting dressed you can do something to change the world before 8 am.
One of my goals for 2016 is to get down to the Anchal Project HQ and meet Colleen (i’m thinking it should be at our shared favorite lunch spot – Mayan Cafe) but I feel like I’ve already met her by following the amazing growth of her company. It’s even more inspiring to see something like this happening here in Louisville. Oftentimes I feel like we hear about companies doing impactful work like this but they are based in New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s a testament to Colleen’s love and passion for the city of Louisville that she’s built this endeavor here. But enough of my blabbing, read below to learn all about Colleen, Anchal and the one thing you’ve got to try here in the 502 (it hasn’t made the list before and now I’m adding it to my to-do’s).
* Name: Colleen Clines
* Company: Anchal Project
* Title: Co-Founder & CEO
* How did you get started in your field? Ever since I can remember I enjoyed making things. My parents encouraged us to create our own toys and games. It helped we weren’t allowed to watch much television. In addition, giving back to others has always been part of my vernacular since childhood. However, the two things did not connect until graduate school at RISD. It was during the Design for Development seminar that I realized I could combine my passions for design and women’s rights. I truly believe that every profession can be used for positive change.
* What inspires you? The potential for human centered design to change lives and the environment.
* What three words describe your work best: Human Centric, Holistic, Vibrant
* What three words describe YOU best: Creative, Passionate, Adventurous
* One thing about you that might surprise people: I was an Irish dancer all the way through high school, wig and all!
* Why Louisville? So many people end up leaving Louisville, what helped keep you in the 502?: The rumbling possibilities for young professionals to create innovation in a compassionate community.
* Favorite Louisville Neighborhood: Highlands
* Favorite Spot for a Drink: Decca
* Favorite Lunch Spot: Mayan Cafe
* Favorite Dinner Spot: Jack Fry’s
* You’ve got to try (or go to): Ride bikes through the Parklands
* Favorite Festival: Forecastle
* Favorite Pizza Spot: Spinellis
* If someone is visiting from out of town and only has time to go to three places, where do you send them? Waterfront Park & Big Four Bridge, Jack Fry’s, Zanzabar
* Your company is such an inspiration, what inspired you to start Anchal? During a graduate seminar at the Rhode Island School of Design, our class traveled to India and I was exposed to the extreme oppression women faced there. I was inspired to create change. We felt compelled to take the project beyond the classroom with the conviction that our design training in collaboration with local leadership could address seemingly intractable social and environmental systems. The women we met became our sisters, sisters we had to fight for.
* As part of your work, you literally change people’s lives – what is one story or moment that has stuck with you and continues to drive you? I never understood what true empowerment felt like until this moment. Despite the immense hardship each artisan has faced, they have fought for change. Change in their lives and change in their children’s lives; undeniable during our visits to the artisans’ homes. // When I spotted Laxmi’s smile flash as she anxiously stood in her doorway awaiting our arrival, I knew we were about to witness something special. She was glowing with pride. She welcomed us inside with chai and explained while we were munching on biscuits that after 11 years of renting her home, she was now a proud homeowner! She then told me, “I wait all year for you to come.” I nearly lost it. Fighting back my tears, I reflected on Laxmi’s transformation as I took in every detail inside her home. The sewing machine, tiny crochet decorations and a single bed for a family of 5, the humble space could not have looked more beautiful. Like many artisans, Laxmi was extremely reserved upon joining. You could sense the extreme adversities and pain she must have endured. However, three years later I saw a different person in front of me – a strong, empowered leader who fought the oppression with design.
* What is your favorite piece/product? I love the graphic quality of the Gradient Throw. The more complex composition of the quilt paired with the patterns within each panel makes it a real knock out. Plus, I truly admire the advanced skills required to make them by the artisans.
* How has the brand grown and evolved since you began? It was really difficult being young and inexperienced, with no track record of proven success, and we had no idea how to run a non-profit. It was a struggle in the beginning while we were trying to find financial backing. But a couple years in, after quite a few grant applications, we were able to secure our first one with Dining with Women, and that helped propel the project, in addition to a grant from Google. We were able to expand the program and really provide outreach to the artisans on a waiting list at that point. We started expanding the program and then secured a collaboration with Urban Outfitters, which helped us evolve our product and visibility. Everyday is still a battle, but we have grown significantly having trained over 150 women in India! Ultimately my biggest take away from the last 5 years is to not be afraid to fail. Just take action, evaluate your action and adapt your action to make it better.
* What would you want people to know about Anchal and it’s mission? One of the coolest things about an Anchal product is that each piece is not only made from vintage saris, but it’s also 100% one-of-a-kind. Each artisan stitches their signature onto the quilts, scarves, and pillows, so you have a direct connection to the woman you are supporting with your purchase.
* What’s next for you in 2016? We will launch a natural dye project in India & Louisville that will provide more jobs to women and stylish new products! Stay tuned…
Images provided by Anchal Project.