When most people think of sweatshops, they picture women and children behind row after row of sewing machines. The sweat is beaded on their brow, the air is hot and stuffy, and they stay that way for 12-14 hours per day.
The reality is actually pretty close to this, actually. Sweatshops are awful places, and the benefit of buying fair trade is that you’re helping support a cause that’s taking women and children out of those conditions.
BUT. Sweatshops HAVE given sewing machines a bad reputation. Some people think that if a woman is in a room working on a sewing machine, then she’s being taken advantage of. She’s in a sweatshop.
And, this simply isn’t true. In places like India and Nepal, knowing how to using a sewing machine can actually change someone’s life.
Our Story With Sewing Machines…
See the woman at the top of this post? That’’s one of our artisans, making one of our bags on her sewing machine.
In Nepal, there are two types of work you can do when working with fabrics. The first is as a tailer. Tailers range in skill, of course, but they’re the ones responsible for sewing together clothing and bags. The other type of work is handiwork; this involves crochet work, and delicate work like sewing beading.
In Nepal, most of the tailers are men, and most of the handiwork is done by women. The sad thing is that even the lowliest tailer makes more money than a woman doing the delicate handiwork.
This is why we’re trying to so hard train more women on sewing machines. There has been some pushback from male tailers, and groups of tailers, in Nepal. But we are currently working with two women co-ops, run by educated Nepalese women, who are very excited to train more women on sewing machines.
Because a sewing machine is many women’s ticket to freedom.
If a woman knows how to sew on a sewing machine, she can demand more money. Women co-ops, like the ones we work with, can take more and more orders from different vendors because they can handle the increased work. This decreases the chances that they’ll have to lay off workers due to fluctuating demand.
Women also have the freedom to move to a new city because it’s a skill they can take anywhere and find work.
The sewing machine is an incredibly powerful survival tool in places like India and Nepal. Our goal here at Earth Divas is to train as many women as we can to work on sewing machines, so they can demand more pay and improve their quality of life.
Filed under: Fair Trade Living on May 24th, 2010