TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TAFA Market Focus: MarketPlace: Handwork of India

TAFA is having its first public event during the AQS Quilt Show in Paducah.  We are excited to introduce TAFA to the public at large and are hoping to raise funds for our new website.   We have a silent auction and raffle, both available to online participants and a member exhibit and vendors.   These are ways in which you can donate to support our efforts.  This blog will feature the works and vendors during the time leading up to our show.  You can see all of the TAFA Market posts in one place by clicking on this link

Today's TAFA Market focus zooms in on:

MarketPlace: Handwork of India

MarketPlace: Handwork of India. Fair Trade Fashion

I still remember the first conversation I had with Pushpika Freitas, the visionary director behind MarketPlace's success.  We were at a fair trade conference out East somewhere.  Maryland?  Over 20 years ago, we were young, bright eyed and bushy tailed, full of dreams of how our ideas could make an impact somewhere, somehow.  For Pushpika, those dreams centered on job creation in one of the largest slums of Mumbai, then called Bombai.  Fast forward all those years and we are seasoned, less idealistic, but still at it, each working doggedly to make a change.

MarketPlace: Handwork of India's clothing is 100% cotton, dyed or block printed by hand and then accented with embroidery.

Pushpika's initial efforts focused on making quilts in India and selling them in the U.S.  She soon realized that in order to really create jobs for a greater number of people, apparel offered more opportunities and a larger audience.  MarketPlace, based in Evanston. Illinois (just north of Chicago) is the marketing arm of SHARE, based in Mumbai, India, produces the fabric and garments for sale.  You can read the story of how MarketPlace developed on this page.  The 1980's was a time where many non-profits, non-governmental organizations, churches and individuals, began to shape the fair trade movement, looking at how handicraft production and agricultural products could empower communities around the world.  MarketPlace was one of the pioneers in this movement and has developed a model which can be replicated by other groups.  Although MarketPlace has continued to make some items for the home (throws, pillows), its signature lines are the dresses, pants, and tops that any MarketPlace addict immediately recognizes from a mile away.  Participating in TAFA's Market actually makes sense for MarketPlace and completes a full circle from quilts and back to the quilt audience.

MarketPlace: Handwork of India works with women in Mumbai as well as other communities in India.  Some men are also employed.  They also make a special effort to find special jobs for the handicapped.

Now that the fair trade movement has some decades under its belt, the question of impact and success is raised.  How does one measure whether a project has really made a difference in a specific community.  Pushpika and I visited this question once and I remember her expressing how difficult it is to deal with the issue in terms of monetary rewards.  There are cultural and societal barriers that want to keep poor women in their place.  A husband may feel threatened by a woman making more than him.  Women have been provided with services that they might not otherwise access, such as loans for health care and home repairs.  Pushpika said that the real measure will be seen in the next generation, in the children who are growing up with more opportunities, better sanitation, access to health care, and with mothers who are an integral part of something they can be proud of.

Visit MarketPlace: Handwork of India's website.
Working with apparel involves many challenges.  MarketPlace sells through its mail order catalog and website, introducing two new lines every year, Spring and Fall.  That means getting samples ready on time for photo shoots, producing the fabric (all hand printed, batiked or dyed), getting the garments made, and so on.  There are always hurdles along the way.  Yet, year after year, they have stuck to it.

MarketPlace made a conscious decision not to be trendy, per se.  They have a distinctive look that has evolved over time.  But, for those of us who love the MarketPlace clothing, there are also old favorites that will always be made, only in different colors and fabrics.

MarketPlace clothing is extremely comfortable and lasts a long time.  They have also always kept the larger woman within their circle, offering sizes up to triple X.  I'm a big Viking and love how my MarketPlace clothing fits me.  Many of my things are getting threadbare after years of good service and I am looking forward to picking up some new pieces next week.

Reversible coats and jackets by MarketPlace: Handwork of India.
This apparel business has natural casualties in terms of unsold products.  For some reason or another, beautiful garments like the ones in this post, remain unsold, taking up space.  So, the good news for all you who will be coming to our TAFA Market is that you will get to buy the past season garments for half off!!!  That is an incredible deal and we hope that Katherine, MarketPlace's staff person who will be here in Paducah will drive back home with an empty car.

I am so pleased to have MarketPlace as a TAFA Member and that they are making this effort to be a part of our show next week.  Not only because of our long history as friends and peers, but because I really believe in what they are doing and because I can stand behind the product and say, "This is great.  I wear it, love it, and want more."  

I worked for MarketPlace for a stint many years back.  We had this idea of trying to help local efforts in Chicago with product design and marketing.  The challenges there were very different from the ones Pushpika has dealt with in India.  But, that is a long story and a subject for another post.  Meanwhile, we each move forward and hope that our efforts make this world a better place, one that has a foundation of beauty and mutual respect.


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