Before I moved to India, a friend of mine joked that I should send her a full wardrobe at the start of every season. She was more than a little jealous of the items I'd picked up on a trip before—particularly the scarves with sparse silver threading that are difficult to find in the States—where I made my way East to West across the subcontinent from Kolkata to Varanasi to Delhi. My sister made me promise to buy her a few stylish hippie-cum-hipster skirts while my boss hinted at her desire for intricately designed jewelry. I was all too pleased to have my holiday shopping list laid out so neatly.
A reflection of the global economy, a great many women's empowerment NGOs in India have added employment and job training programs to their organizational structure that consists of textile making and exporting. In Kolkata, ex-prostitutes (Sari Bari and Freeset), women living in slums (Connexions), girls and women who have escaped sex trafficking (Made By Survivors), and rural women (Jeevika Development Society) are all carving out a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities by creating clothing, bags, plush toys, and other items that are desirable to those in the West. But in order for these items to make their way from the hands of their creators on one side of the globe to the person who uses the goods on other, there must be an entity facilitating that transaction. Enter Mata Traders.
Although I can't say for certain from which India-based NGOs Mata Traders receives their wares, it is clear this is their system of operation. They pay women workers a livable wage to make handmade clothing, jewelry, bags, and accessories that are then bought in a retail location in Illinois, through their online store, or purchased at the Women Thrive Worldwide World of Good shop. Alternatively, any individual or group can also sell their items as a fundraiser or a home show... kind of like an eco-friendly, fashion-forward, global economy consciousness raising Tupperware party, if you replace the passé pastel plastic with eclectic yet practical attire.
I was quite taken with the bold colors of the Pheasant Skirt, which is made entirely of a comfortable fair trade certified cotton. On most women this skirt would no doubt hit just below the knee, but at 6'1", I'm not most women, so my legs a tad more exposed. No matter, though. The hand-stitched, block-printed bird and swirly designs on the thigh are what attracts the eye. I can already hear the envy in my friends' voices. Luckily, this time, I can tell them how they can get one of their own without shelling out the cash for a plane ticket across the world.