How Hand and Cloth Has Used Compassion and Endurance to Change Women's Lives

This quarter, we’re pumped to be partnering with Hand & Cloth, a company that exists to support dignified work to at-risk women through specific, unique, collaborations and partnerships and through their gorgeous textiles and blankets, and honor towards tradition. 

Hand&Cloth on the Yellow CO. Blog

Tell us a little about Hand and Cloth-what’s the story? 

We are a group of textile enthusiasts on a mission to support dignified work for women at-risk.

We first started after a trip to India, where I fell in love with the tradition of kantha. It was also in India where I was overwhelmed by the fact that women face the risk of exploitation and trafficking if they do not have access to dignifying work.   I came back to Chicago and told my girlfriends about the idea of creating a sustainable textile brand that could support dignified work for women. My friends were a group of talented women and our distinct skill sets complimented one another. Together we developed Hand & Cloth. Today we partner with global artisan groups and designers, curating handmade textiles that are beautiful, functional and rooted in global textile traditions.

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Why did you choose the name Hand and Cloth? 

The name “Hand & Cloth” is an image not only of the creative work women are doing with their hands and with cloth, but also of the creative, healing work that God can do in their lives. As each textile is handmade by a woman, our prayer is that each woman would come to know that she too is handmade by God.

Tell us about Katha-what is it’s significance with the women you work with, and what exactly does it mean? 

We are completely charmed by the history of kantha!

The tradition of kantha begins with the thrift of the Bengali women. For centuries, Bengali women have taken their discarded cloth and sewn it together with a simple running stitch to make a blanket.  The functional kantha dorokha (“two-sided quilt”) was not a work of art, but simply what the poorest families used to keep warm.

Hand&Cloth on the Yellow CO. Blog For generations of Bengali women, kantha has been a form of quiet expression. Most kantha was made by illiterate women who would stitch stories into their quilts – which often would take years to complete. The same kantha is known to have been worked on by a grandmother, mother, and daughter. Many of the kantha motifs reflect the needlewoman’s desire for happiness, marriage, and fertility. These women would then ”autograph” their pieces either with their name or by indicating their relationship with the person for whom the kantha was intended.

As we began researching how to source sari cloth for kantha in West Bengal, India, we heard about the sari vendors. Kitchenware peddlers by day, they traveled to rich women’s homes to trade cooking pots and spoons for old saris. At night the kitchenware peddlers become sari vendors, spreading their wares in deserted markets and dimly lit alleys. We once believed that sari-vendors were part of West Bengal’s charming folklore. But then we went to the sari markets! Imagine our delight when we saw piles of vintage saris and had the chance to barter for sari cloth to our heart’s content!

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Each kantha is stitched together with layers of sari cloth using the kantha stitch.   When we first started working with an artisan group in India, we loved that fact that we didn’t have to teach them how to make the product, in fact, they taught us!   We now partner with artisan groups in Bangladesh and we love the fact that the artisans are creating a product that is part of their cultural heritage, because this increases the aspect of dignity in their work.

How have you seen your mission played out? 

We have seen our mission played out through our partnerships with artisan groups like Basha and Motif. T hese social enterprises and artisan groups are committed to creating dignified work for women in Bangladesh. During a visit to our partner, Basha, in Bangladesh, we loved getting to chat with the artisans. Each of them spoke of their children, and the hopes they have for their children’s futures. One of the artisans has dreams that her son will become an engineer. We loved knowing that the women are earning a living wage, which allows them to provide for books and uniforms for their children’s education. And we loved the women’s sense of expectation and purpose when they shared their dreams for their children’s futures!   Basha even goes so far as to offer educational training and literacy opportunities to the women and daycare for their children.

What would you say to someone that wants to build their own socially conscious business? What’s your best advice? 

Don’t do it alone. Create a board for your business or social enterprise.   These will be the people who say “no” when you haven’t thought everything through and say “keep going” when you want to quit.

Hand&Cloth on the Yellow CO. Blog

What dreams do you have for Hand and Cloth? 

Our dream is for Hand & Cloth to exist in other places of the world where there are textiles that are beautiful, functional and rooted in local tradition, and wherever that textile can support dignified work for women at risk.

So, what does GRIT mean to you? 

Grit is a combination of compassion and endurance – it keeps you going!

SARA AULIE for the Yellow Co. Blog

Sara Aulie

Founder at Hand and Cloth