Partner Spotlight: WORK + SHELTER
Running a business is a great way to support other organizations that share common values and provide supplementary products or services. With bigger dollar amounts coupled with wider audiences, making business decisions is kind of like exercising extra-strong consumer purchasing power. And with great power, comes great responsibility.
Finding the right packaging for Many Hands meant applying our core values to a supplier search, especially when it came to sourcing cloth jewelry bags. Packaging is a key step in the lifecycle of any consumer item, and we knew that sourcing artisan-made bags could be a great opportunity to expand our social impact. With that, we set out to find production partners who could meet our stringent standards for transparency, labor, and materials sourcing - and luckily we found WORK+SHELTER.
WORK+SHELTER is an ethical sourcing and cut + sew business that employs and empowers women in India. Offering paid training and promotion opportunities, the only prerequisite for employees is demonstrated economic need. Their mission is to make it easy for organizations to purchase wholesale quantities of high quality, ethically made, customized sewn goods.
With headquarters in Chicago and a production center located in Delhi, WORK+SHELTER operates closely across the distance as one internationally diverse team. The women in New Delhi enter into the paid W+S training program and learn skills to create high-quality products for the export market (things like totes, tees, and jewelry bags of course). After completing the training and entering the production team, their pay is increased. Because many of the women working with W+S never finished school, this training provides them with the means to find dignified work they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
The women employed at WORK+SHELTER work a maximum of 8 hours per day, work in a comfortable environment, and take chai tea breaks twice daily. W+S also provides support for employees beyond the workplace. For example, they provide employees with regular health checkups, ensure that their children are enrolled in school and receive health care, and even support employees’ pursuit of independent entrepreneurial ventures. These types of well-rounded initiatives give the women and their families greater capacity for upward mobility (rising to a higher social and economic position).
WORK+SHELTER also makes public commitments to minimize waste and limit environmental impact through responsible sourcing. Over 95% of the fabrics sourced have an environmental qualifier— meaning that they are either recycled, upcycled, or organic. Their goods are made using an applied Lean Manufacturing process, allowing for maximized use of material scraps and high-end quality control.
The bags that we source from WORK+SHELTER are made from upcycled sari silk found in the local markets in India. Each handmade bag is a little different, just like each Many Hands piece. Small sewn items like jewelry bags are a great way to add value to small textile scraps, and it makes us so happy to know that these beautiful sari silks can find a new life with our customers. The silk bags even soften over time, while also staying strong - a great reason to reuse or re-gift them.
As a small company with in-house production, we want every element of a Many Hands order to reflect our standards for quality and responsibility. Integrating artisan-made packaging is not only an extra-special customer experience, it also allows us to directly extend a hand to a marginalized global community of women that would typically lack access to the global market. And as research shows, empowering women is smart economics - it leads to increased children’s benefits and greater provision of public goods like water and sanitation, and to name a few.
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR WOMEN'S ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Today around 1 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty, many of them women and children. Despite advances in education and rising incomes in most of the world, the global gender gap persists. This is due to things like adverse social norms, discriminatory laws and legal protection, lack of access to financial assets, and failure to recognize and redistribute unpaid household work (which is usually taken on by women). The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognizes the economic empowerment of women - to succeed and advance economically and to make and act on economic decisions - as a cornerstone of their mission. Efforts to close the gender gap are outlined across a few SDGs, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all.
Women’s economic empowerment is not only the right thing to do, it's also the smart thing to do. A UN report cites “strong and accumulating evidence suggests that lower levels of gender inequality are associated with gains in terms of income, economic growth and national competitiveness.” The report associates higher gender equality with faster economic growth, greater income per capita, and higher scores on the Human Development Index.
Simply having the opportunity to participate in the labor force could be the answer to many countries’ inequality and growth quandaries. If we want everyone to have a bigger piece of the pie, the pie has to grow. Bringing women into the labor force not only increases productivity, but also helps add diverse talent and foster human capital. Increased labor diversification is essential for innovation, technology adoption, and executing ideas. Isabel Allende, the famous Chilean novelist, once said, “If a woman is empowered, her children and her family will be better off. If families prosper, the village prospers, and eventually so does the whole country.”
As a woman-owned business, we prioritize efforts that boost social progress by closing the global gender gap. By ordering from Many Hands and receiving your pieces in a bag made by WORK+SHELTER, you play your part in helping us extend a hand to our sisters who have less opportunities for financial independence. You can also contribute directly to the women at WORK+SHELTER by donating to the organization, or for business owners, by placing your own order for sewn products.
Thoughts? Questions? Reach out to us - firstname.lastname@example.org