Anchal ProjectSometimes it is amazing the stories that can fly under the radar here in town.

Today we bring news of Louisville women-led Anchal Project and its new deal with Philly-based hipster apparel chain Urban Outfitters.

Colleen Clines is the co-founder and executive director of Anchal Project. Clines gave Insider Louisville — via my ole’ Sacred Heart and Trinity High School connection — the exclusive announcement:

 “Anchal is excited to be working with Urban Outfitters on an exclusive Urban Renewal + Anchal Collection. Urban Renewal’s pieces are one-of-a-kind and vintage, making it a perfect match for Anchal’s vintage sari quilts to be transformed into clothing.”

Anchal Project has been packaging scarves and quilts this past week and will ship out 1,500 pieces to Urban Outfitters. The items will be available online and in select stores beginning October 1.

According to Clines, a portion of proceeds from the sale of each sale will support Anchal’s effort to provide alternative careers in textiles to marginalized and exploited women in India.

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All images courtesy of Anchal Project. Click to see full size.

(A career much different than giant textile companies with unsafe warehouses, as we saw disaster strike in Bangladesh back in April.)

If you are unfamiliar with the Anchal Project, there is quite a story  behind it.

Clines met fellow co-founder Devon Miller in graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design as the two were earning their masters degrees in landscape architecture.

They took a trip together to India in 2009. After brainstorming, a fundraising campaign and a stipend, the two launched Anchal Project in the same year.

The result is Anchal Project, a501(c)(3) Non Profit headquartered right here in Louisville, with a mission to aid some of the most socially scarred women of India.

“Our main target focus is women who were forced into prostitution, for one reason or another; through lack of opportunity, lack of education or forced by family members into the sex trade,” Clines said.

What’s the job?

The Indian women Anchal employs make scarves, quilts and other fashionable items in exchange for assistance through economic and design workshops, as well as social, economic and personal benefits.

According to the project’s webstite:

“Quilt-making is the medium through which we instigate, collaborate, and facilitate economic and personal transformation for the commercial sex workers involved in the project.”

Anchal receives help from its business partner in Calcutta, from NGO New Light, and in Jaipur from NGO Vatsalya. They provide much of the ground work and educational services to the women, as Anchal supplies the jobs.

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Colleen Clines in India.

 

Anchal team members have led workshops since 2010, particularly in design — graphic, web, etc.

But much of their work falls back here in the United States, which is why Anchal’s team is working with Urban Outfitters, a deal which Clines believes will expand Anchal’s reach in India.

Clines on what Urban Outfitters brings to the table for Anchal Project:

This collaboration has allowed us to really build up momentum on the ground in India. We are now able to support more women in their journey to becoming artisans. I am thrilled for our mission and products to reach a new, younger audience. I think it is only the beginning for Anchal to solidify more opportunities to women who have been forced into a life of exploitation.

Clines had made acquaintances with a designer at the retailers, which eventually led to interest to involve Anchal with the Urban Renewal project of Urban Outfitters.

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“I think they really felt drawn to the uniqueness of our product and the personal story behind each piece,” said Clines.

On Clines’ most recent 2013 trip, Anchal was able to hire nine more women.

This isn’t the only coup for Anchal since its inception in 2009.

In 2012, Anchal’s partner New Light was featured in a documentary titled “Half the Sky, “in which “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera was involved. The actress, during filming, learned of Anchal, and has this to say of Anchal via their website:

I was inspired by Anchal’s program to support women out of the sex trade. I felt compelled to partner with them on the Didi Connection.

According to Clines, the Didi Connection brings women together through beautiful, one-of-a-kind scarves created by Anchal artisans. By selling 600 scarves, we are supporting 15 of our sisters in leaving the sex trade for good.”

In addition to celebrity endorsements, Anchal received grants from Dining for Women, as well as a Google Global Impact Award, which allowed AP to triple in size, as the company now employs sixty Indian women artisans.

Google also made Anchal Project part of their new app called One Today, which is allows for daily donations.

Anchal was contacted by Google during the beta testing phase of the app, which was recently made public. Since then, “three of our projects have already been funded,” said Clines.

Colleen Clines also is listed at No. 18 on Public Interest Design’s Global 100 — a list of people using design and service for development purposes.

The Louisville native’s name is found alongside some of the world’s most well known social entrepreneurs.

“I really can’t believe I am on a list with Bill and Melinda Gates, Jan Gehl, Bruce Mau, and the Prince of Wales!” said Clines.

In the future she may be further up the list as Anchal Project has brought in Doug Stegner to aid in strategic planning. Clines and company had little experience on the business side of things. Stegner is to help develop a five-year program for the project.

Clines said her greatest watching the “growth and empowerment within the women who have been involved with project from the start.”

When I first met Shakuntela, she was quiet, fragile and reserved, almost nervous to speak to others,” Clines said. “Now after two years at Anchal and working as a leader in the group, I see a new confidence and willingness to share her experiences. Two years ago I wasn’t even able to ask her a direct question and now I see a completely new woman. She sits with a new confidence, one that only comes from self-empowerment. This is what fuels me, my fellow sisters in India.

The hardest part of the project has been being told no, Clines said.

“We would approach ‘experts’ in the field and potential donors who would all advise against our model and mission. This was very difficult to hear over and over again; you start to believe the negativity,” said Clines.

But the Anchal team has continued to to land awards and grants while improving the lives of women caught in dire circumstances.

Creating a product — and website — that is aesthetically pleasing is a goal for the Anchal.

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“We are developing new product where you aren’t just guilted to buy it, but buy it cause it looks good.” (Adele Reding Photography for StyleBlueprint Louisville.)

Adele Reding Photography for StyleBlueprint Louisville.

“We are developing new product where you aren’t just guilted to buy it, but buy it cause it looks good,” Clines told me back in May.

Maggie Clines — sister of Colleen — is involved with much of the graphic design involved with Anchal Project, and in charge of showcasing much of the inventory and product on their website. You can browse Anchal’s online store here.

There is also a team of tech-savvy interns: Emma Chapman and Rachel Marrilla of the University of Louisville and Charlsey Grahm of the University of Richmond.

Louisville natives Paige Henney, Kelly Allen and Brittany Coppola are some of the contributors to the site’s eye-candy-filled blog, which highlights achievements and personal stories of Anchal.

In selling stylish product in support of a good cause, a group of women in-tune with 21st Century economics and entrepreneurism, and loaded with graphic, design and communication skills, have created an international start-up company with two locations in India — and have landed endorsements from corporations such as Google and Urban Outfitters.

It’ll be fun to see where the Anchal Project, where the motto is, “Designing change stitch by stitch,” goes from here.

Michael Tierney

Michael Tierney

Michael Hannon Tierney is a writer for InsiderLouisville, various blogs, and does occasional freelance work. The world traveler, and magna cum laude graduate from the University of Kentucky holds degrees in History and Political Science. Tierney also writes, and performs original music time to time...