The Face of Fair Trade

“My strength is my confidence,” said Zubaida Nizam, an artisan with Ankur Kala in Kolkata, India. Nizam has worked with Ankur Kala for the past nine years, primarily creating the tie-dye scarves that are Ankur Kala’s specialty.

Nizam grew up in a conservative Muslim family in Kolkata. Her father was paralyzed and unable to work. Her mother struggled to raise Zubaida and her siblings almost singlehandedly, working in a plastics factory. When the children were small, she often brought work home.

Nizam received training from Ankur Kala in the art of scarf making. She learned the basic skills through a two-year junior level training, followed by a senior level training in which she learned about budgeting, costing, quality control and leadership. Nizam has also benefited from other holistic programs of Ankur Kala such as meditation and yoga, and through attending seminars and exhibitions.

Nizam stressed the importance of quality control. “It’s extremely important to concentrate, and make sure that the final product is perfect,” she said. As tie-dye is a laborious process requiring much skill, she has also learned the art of patience as she struggles to get the right colors and shades. In the midst of the monsoon season, she needs to wait long hours for the scarves to dry, so that the next color can be added. “This has taught me to be patient and persevering,” she said.

Coming from a poor family, and being the eldest, Nizam is extremely concerned about her young brother and sisters, wanting to ensure that they receive a good education. She is able to do this through her earnings from making scarves. Ultimately she hopes to teach batik and tie-dye to other poor women, so that they too can earn a good living.

Ankur Kala’s name means “a seedling of art.” The center provides self-employment to destitute women who are victims of exploitation, by helping them produce and sell tailored articles, batik and tie-dye handicrafts and food products. Both the tailoring and catering units are geared to the local market, while the textile unit sells products locally as well as abroad. Basic education like reading, writing, simple accounting and business skills are taught, so that after training the women can successfully run their own small-scale businesses. Ankur Kala also makes the women aware of the social problems women face, in the form of a theater where the women perform, and in discussions. Ankur Kala has also been reaching out to women in villages for the prevention of trafficking of vulnerable young girls. An Ankur Kala team has been networking with these women through existing organizations, to teach them skills such as tailoring and kitchen gardening. It is founder Annie Joseph’s dream that each of the women will live the values of Ankur Kala and sow fresh seeds of hope, integrity and inspiration among others.

Ankur Kala was started in 1982 by Annie Joseph, a social worker inspired by her work with Mother Theresa and with the Taizé community in France. She established Ankur Kala to help poor and destitute women become economically self-reliant and stand up for their rights with dignity.

Ten Thousand Villages purchases tie-dye textiles from Ankur Kala, and has purchased products from the group since 1990.

Tie-dyed cotton scarf, India, $34.00