“Feminism is not about making women strong. Women are already strong. It is about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” – G.D Anderson
I have recently returned to the UK after 6 months working for Secret Projects India in Bengaluru. It was a lifechanging experience that has taught me so much about myself, human interactions, the sheer determination of women, the power of the global sisterhood, business for freedom and so so much more.
Having worked for Secret Projects in London for over a year, to finally meet the Makers whom I had heard so much about and to see the impact that the social business is having was so important to me. For 6 months I lived right next to the Secret Projects’ Training Support Unit and main office in a suburb in Northern Bengaluru. I lived and breathed Secret Projects and experienced what can only be described as ‘backstage India’.
My day-to-day life was so incredibly varied, with no day going completely to plan due to the wonderful and exciting unpredictability that is India! My tasks included audiovisual documentation of our Makers and their stories of empowerment, as well as carrying out interviews in order to measure impact and keep the connection between our Makers and our customers alive. I spent a significant amount of time in the workshop developing products and organising fabrics and materials for production and meeting with Makers in order to check on their progress and answer any queries.
I travelled far and wide in Bengaluru meeting stockists and connecting with other like minded brands, organisations and individuals in order to promote ethical production in the city. I also travelled beyond Bengaluru with my right-hand woman and Indian adoptive mother Lissy, Secret Projects’ meticulous and dedicated Quality Controller. We visited our Maker Groups in Hindupur and in the Nilgiris mountains to distribute materials and to lead training sessions on new products. These sessions were always incredibly motivating. We were always welcomed with such warmth and absolute eagerness to learn.
A highlight of my time in India was traveling to the northeast to the state of West Bengal. This being my first time in India, West Bengal was a completely different world to the South Indian experience that I had become familiar with in my first couple of months in the country. There, I met and spent time getting to know the inspirational Molly who runs a Secret Projects sewing unit in Canning Town, two hours outside of Kolkata. Molly is a talented seamstress and is utterly dedicated to the other Makers in her unit. She has built up a special safe space full of chatter and laughter and friendship, providing the vulnerable young women who attend the unit with so much more than training in dressmaking.
The Makers became my closest friends while in India: I spent time in their homes, I ate with them, I got to know their families, I went to the market with them, I was invited to their festival celebrations and birthday parties. Their warmth and compassion towards me was overwhelming. For me, this was the most amazing privilege of my role with Secret Projects: simply being human with these women and building beautiful friendships. The women showed me how every wound can heal and how every individual can rise up to claim their full worth and break into their fullest expression despite conflicting constraints around them. I have left a significant piece of me in India with these strong women.