With backgrounds in architecture, sisters Colleen and Maggie Clines joined forces to apply their design skills for good, creating the fair trade certified home goods and accessories brand, Anchal. After a trip to India in 2009 introduced Colleen to the exploitive world of commercial sex trade and the lack of opportunity for women in the community, she resolved to design more than just beautiful landscapes. At the same time, Maggie was working on conscious architecture projects, and they wondered how they could unite their passions. After raising funds to purchase a sewing machine, materials and a stipend for the first collective of artisans, Anchal officially became a 501(c)3 non-profit in 2010, and later expanded by partnering with an NGO in Ajmer, India.
Every purchase of an Anchal product has an immediate impact and provides an artisan with a full-time job, health care benefits, design training, and educational workshops. We caught up with Maggie to share more about Anchal, shoppable via our Fair Trade Federation Collection.
Faire: Tell us a little about your story and how you got started.
Maggie Clines: My sister and I both have backgrounds in architecture. My sister, Colleen, was in graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design when she took a trip to India as part of a class project to meet with local NGOs. She was so impacted by her time there, that when she came back we both graduated around the same time and decided to start Anchal. We began training artisans in textile production, and specifically, working with survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence. We started in 2010 with about eight women, and now we employ over 160. Everyone is based in India and they create all of our products, from wearables to pillows and bedding.
We visit our artisans once a year, for two weeks to a month at a time. We do a lot of impact reporting, so we interview them to see how they are progressing emotionally, financially, and skills-wise. We also do design workshops and watch how production works to help make improvements.
Why is it important for you to build a mission-based business?
This career path caught the both of us off guard. We were pretty driven to have a classic architecture career, but we realized we could apply our creativity and design in a more unique way. There has always been a part of us that cared about participating in a global community, and doing good in our lives. We realized we could do all of that at the same time. Colleen was very impacted by meeting the women in her first trip. She saw the exploitation and trauma and was inspired to do something.
What was it like becoming verified as a fair trade brand?
We used the design thinking and creative problem solving skills we learned in school, plus a little bit of being young and naive. We learned as much as we could — we asked questions, talked to people, found connections as best we could. We ultimately didn’t apply to the Fair Trade Federation until 2014. It took some time until we had production in a place we felt comfortable and proud of.
Are you close with other small businesses in the fair trade community? How do you support one another?
Ultimately it’s a community of like-minded people who are passionate about the same things. Sharing similar experiences and knowing that you’re not alone in this is really nice. It’s a community where you feel safe and comfortable to share. We learn a lot from other members too, there is so much knowledge and storytelling in the group.
What advice would you give to other brands that may want to get involved in fair trade programs?
There are a lot of benefits to the program. There is, of course, the element of community, but there are a lot of different ways to connect and learn too — from resources, webinars, and a conference. It also gives your customers the validation that you’re doing the right thing and holding your product to a high standard. We believe the fair trade values are the essence of our business, so we keep to those principles every time we make a new decision. It drives us to the next level of excellence.
What tips do you have for selling a mission-based brand or product?
For us, we’ve always been hyper-focused on design. We believe that our product and aesthetic stands alone and the story is the extra benefit. Every Anchal artisan stitches her name into each of our pieces, which is a purposeful way we connect the story into our product design. We want to challenge consumers to support a brand that connects you to the individual who sewed it together. We challenge them to be better consumers across the board.