One beautiful October morning, Colleen Clines, Co-founder and CEO of the Anchal Project, happened to be in town. Over a hot cup of coffee we discussed how the throes of vigorous passion for change can cultivate something wonderful.
Lore Collection: What inspired this project?
Colleen Clines: I always viewed service as a volunteer experience outside my chosen profession until I took a RISD seminar class named "Design for Development" where I realized that design could be a vehicle for positive social change. We went to India in 2009 as a part of the class. There we met women in the commercial sex trade and learned about some of the local textiles being made in West Bengal. Through conversations with local leaders and non profits we committed to taking the project beyond the classroom! Being naive young designers we just went for it! We generated $400 selling notebooks and note cards at the RISD art sale, sent it to India and trained the first group of women in Kantha quilt making. It was a great opportunity, not only to tie in beautiful vintage sari’s, but also was a quick technique that they could learn to start making money.”
LC: Was it your design originally? Did you come up with the technique?
CC: It’s a tradition that exists in West Bengal but slightly different. After the first batch of textiles was sent to us, we realized we needed to have a heavier hand on design guidelines. It took a while to get there, but the idea was always training the women involved to make the design decisions themselves. Teaching basic color theory and composition is key to creating all one-of-a-kind pieces.
LC: That’s the wonderful thing about art; even without a traditional education, it’s possible to be successful by following your visual, and creative instincts.
CC: Absolutely! It's pretty amazing what the artisans are able to create in the workshops we’ve conducted. With our guidelines and the design training, all the decisions can be made by them, with a western palate in mind.
LC: How did ‘Anchal’ become the word that you chose to represent this project?
CC: Atisha Varshney, a Co-Founder in Landscape Architecture at RISD with me, is Indian and shared the Hindi word with us. It was the perfect fit. Anchal is the edge of the sari, and the most decorative. Women wearing it often use it to wrap their children; providing love and comfort. So, it felt natural.
LC: Can you tell us a little bit more about how you found and built your team?
CC: We started with the 4 co-founders. Everyone had a background in either landscape architecture or architecture, naturally when we graduated people started making moves to execute that training. I expected to do the same, but I was committed to getting Anchal off the ground. It was hard. Devon and I worked closely for the first two years building the foundation. When she left my sister Maggie joined the team. You need someone close and committed to launch a start-up like Anchal; Maggie stepped up to be my partner. More recently Lauren Radziminski joined us from American University in International Communications and Tess O’Keefe contributes to development remotely from Boston. No one person can do this alone. I am proud of the strong group of passionate young women running this project together.
LC: Do you have the same team of women working with you in India from the beginning, or is that somewhat transitional as well?
CC: Within India we partner with local non-profits that take on a lot of the leadership. We have hired additional project managers to oversee larger production, like when we collaborated with Urban Outfitters last year.
LC: Tell us a little more about that?
CC: We had a really good experience working with the Urban Renewal team of Urban Outfitters. Together, we created the Anchal x Urban Renewal Collection composed of 11 pieces of apparel. Each piece used textiles made by Anchal artisans and Urban transformed them into dresses, skirts, tops and jackets. This collaboration was a unique way to blend design, fashion, craft, and women’s rights into one garment. Not only are the pieces beautiful & unique, they ultimately have great impact on the lives of the women who made them. I am thrilled for our mission and products to reach a new younger audience at Urban. The movement in socially and environmentally conscious products is on the rise because the public is demanding a change. Anytime you can support a good initiative through your purchase, it is a win. Collaborations with large brands and retailers create the perfect platform for maximum reach to new audiences and increased impact in the lives of the artisans. Our hope is to continue such partnerships.
LC: How often do you get over to India?
CC: Last year I was there for two months on separate occasions. This year we focused on marketing and fundraising, so I haven’t gone. We’ve always felt that the project should run sustainably without a heavy hand from us, and we have been able to do that this year! For the first time I didn’t feel like I needed to be there. I am going in February to make new product samples and help improve operational logistics. We are starting to over-dye fabric and I think it will subdue a lot of the really crazy prints; we are really excited.
LC: So how did you transition from landscape architecture to textiles?
CC: I am shocked when I really think about how that happened. You guys know that a design foundation applies to many things. Technically, I’m not a textiles expert, but the design process can apply to multiple mediums.
LC: But surely, you’ve picked up some skills of the trade?
CC: From a conceptual point of view you can address it like that. My background in landscape is helpful in that we study urban systems. When you can look at complex systems like that, you can look at the sex trade in India or a business model and apply design thinking to it, and make change in that system. Things are starting to fold back in. We won a competition in Louisville to grow natural dye plants in vacant lots. We want to integrate that into the project. There is a little bit more of an overlap that I can envision happening. I’m excited. We have one lot now that will be the demonstration space, and our intention is to replicate it as a network within the urban environment. Then that becomes a different model; essentially another outreach for women here in the states. So, cool new things in the works and exciting to fold landscape back in.
We look forward to sharing with you, the wonderful work of Anchal Artisans in the Lore Collection!
Cheers! Margaret Hinge & Jayna Aronovitch