THE ARTISAN : BASHA
Basha’s high quality, unique kantha products are handmade by at-risk women and survivors of human sex trafficking in Bangladesh. The women artisans complete a training and rehabilitation program prior to beginning work. Basha provides weekly trainings, including literacy and life skills programs. The artisans also receive medical support, counseling, and day care assistance for their children.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Basha
We have always loved how beautiful kantha quilts are. When we learned more about the incredible jobs they create for women in need, we knew we needed to carry them at The Little Market. We talked to Basha's founder to find out more about the origins of the company and how it's making a difference for its artisans.
In Bangladesh, a place where women are constantly exploited, at risk for trafficking, and living in fear everyday of their lives, Basha exists to provide them with employment, empowerment, and hope. Basha was founded in May 2011 and continues to allow Bangladeshi women to lead a life they are proud of through the work they do hand-making the beautiful one of a kind Kantha quilts, accessories, and various other products they offer. The Little Market was so lucky to have the opportunity to do a Q&A with Basha’s founder Robin to learn more about the group’s values, products, and employees!
QUESTION:What motivated you to begin Basha back in 2011?
ANSWER: I came to Bangladesh in 2006 with an International NGO called Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). In 2008 we started a training programme for women wanting an alternative to being prostituted. The stories of the women we met were heartbreaking... nearly all had been coerced or forced into prostituting and they were deeply ashamed and desperate for an alternative. By 2010, we had seen so many women's lives changed, and knew we had only scratched the surface of the need within Bangladesh for dignified employment. I went to the US for six months, wrote a business plan and prepared as well as I could, and Basha opened it's doors for production on 2 May 2011.
QUESTION: Since the women Basha employs come from rough conditions and lifestyles, how do you help them transition from that way of life into Basha’s working environment?
ANSWER: Most of the women we employ participate in six to twelve months of training and rehabilitation before they work for us. They receive a stipend so they can find a safe place to live and focus on rebuilding their lives. They receive counseling, training, job skills and support for their children's education. As they near the completion of their training time, they begin to transition to full time employment at Basha. Once women are employed at Basha, we provide ongoing training in literacy, Basic English, life skills, health, nutrition, parenting, values... It is important to us that each employee continues to develop and grow as women, as employees, as wives and as mothers.The years of trauma do take their toll and we have found a sensitive work environment is essential for these women. Several women require Psychiatric care. Most need regular coaching and counseling. Some need specialized tasks or additional support to do their work. We also believe it is essential to focus strongly on the children of the artisans who work at Basha. Their children must never face the vulnerability and exploitation their mothers did. We put a lot into our day care programme with good teacher/child ratios, supporting the children in local schools or boarding schools, and supplementing the education with tutoring and educational play.
QUESTION: Can you elaborate on Basha’s commitment to fair trade practices in your offices in Bangladesh?
ANSWER: For an item by item list, please see our website: http://bashaboutique.com/how-we-work/
Basha operates with concern for employees’ social, environmental and economic well-being. We pay above the local standard for similar work, and employees also receive a share in any profits. Other employee benefits include: part-payment of medical costs, gratuity and severance pay, festival bonuses and a subsidized daycare. Women participate in monthly meeting to express any concerns. We have safety protocols and practice drills. We work closely with our vendors. From sourcing materials through to production and movement of products, we try to make a positive contribution to the local economy and leave a light tread on the earth. We use primarily recycled and repurposed cloth for textiles. Basha generally does not employ anyone under the age of eighteen. Girls between 16-18 who meet Basha’s criteria are provided employment in compliance with local labour laws, which include safe working conditions, restricted hours, and ongoing education.
QUESTION: We are so excited to carry your Kantha throw blankets and quilts at The Little Market! What is the process that goes into making products like these?
ANSWER: We have a couple of vendors who deliver hundreds of vintage/recycled sari's to our office each week. We check each sari to make sure they suit our purposes. We then select sari's and match them together so that they complement and accentuate one another. The matched sari's are then sent to our different offices for production. After the sari's are washed, the artisan will cut the sari's to the specified size: small, throw size, or single, queen or king bedspreads. Six sari's are layered to make Basha kantha nice and soft. The edges are stretched out on the floor and held down with brick so they are taut while the artisan bastes the sari's together. She then begins to sew the straight even rows of stitching called kantha.
QUESTION: What makes Basha’s products unique?
ANSWER: We carefully match sari's to accentuate each other and to appeal to international markets. Many other kantha producers combine patterns in a bit more eclectic manner. Bangladesh is a warm, tropical country so people typically use kantha that is thin- only two or three layers of cloth. Basha kantha is six layers, so it's thick and soft and perfect for cuddling up in cooler climates. Kantha is a beautiful textile tradition of the Bengal region. There is a lot of handwork that goes into kantha. It cannot be made without a lot of hours of meticulous handwork. Basha artisans embroider their names on blankets in recognition of the piece of art she has created. You can read about her hopes and dreams and even send her a message here. We love the symbolism of kantha; that just as discarded cloth is transformed into Basha kantha products, so discarded lives are transformed with renewed dignity and hope for the future.
QUESTION: What types of materials do you use for your products, and where are they sourced from?
ANSWER: We mostly use recycled vintage sari's. We have two suppliers who source them from villages in Bangladesh where colourful cotton sari's are commonly worn.
QUESTION: What is the one thing you would want your audience to know about Basha and its artisans?
ANSWER: When you buy Basha, your purchase really does make a difference in the life of the artisan who made it. It gives her dignified work, a living wage, education and hope for her children.
QUESTION: What does the future look like for Basha?
ANSWER: We dream of a day when every woman in Bangladesh does not have to fear trafficking or exploitation. We will continue to grow and expand to create employment for as many women as possible until that dream is realized. We are hoping to open a new production site this year near the Indian border where trafficking and prostitution is prevalent. We are hoping to expand our current sites to be able to employ more artisans. And we're looking to open our second combined training/rehabilitation programme and production site within the next five years. We will achieve these goals by expanding production of our current products and continuing to develop new designs and product lines. Every Little Market order helps!