Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The bags are delayed, but right now, as I type this, the tags that will be stitched on the inside are being printed. Things are coming along and even though I am not in India right now we communicate about once or twice a week to see what needs to be done. This project is a test to see if we can bring everyone together and work in a timely manner. Since this is a new process for us there are a few bugs to be ironed out but things are moving along; slowly but surely.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I haven't forgotten!

It's been a while since I've made an entry, but I definitly haven't forgotten about my project! I have two prototype bags right now. I am trying to get some good pics of them to post here as soon as possible. I am back home now in the good ole U.S of A. and enjoying spending time with my family and friends

As I am writing this, the yarn production is going on, and then after that, the weaving, stitching and printing. The bags are supposed to ship out around christmas time. I can't wait. I've already got my eye on some places that would be perfect for retail.

For Olivia, my email address is drop me a line. Thank ya'll for keeping up with me! Valli

Friday, August 31, 2007

Manual spinners and weavers

Manual handspinning....Gandhi was a handspinner and a weaver in the latter part of his years.

weaver...we were taking a tea break...tea at three.

manual weaving

P. Mary is the eldest of her five member household. They live in a three-room home with a new baby on the way.


These are pictures from two villages; Srivilliputhur and Sublapuram, Madurai westside. These folks concentrate on manual weaving and looming. Right now, most of the people here only have enough work for about 10 days out of one month. I want to change that for them...let's give them something to do!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Fair Trade Farming

Mr. S. Palanichamy taking us on a tour down the main road of Vannampatti.

The village children out for a break from class; they almost trampled me when I pulled out my camera...

lunchbreak "tiffen" (food), menu: Chilli-fried chicken,veg khurma with chapatti... i love any kind of fried chicken. Masala-fried fish was also on today's special.

Mr. S. Palanichamy with his family and neighbors in the Vannampatti village. Everyone in this village is either tied to or sustained by cotton farming.The men in the background in the button- ups are Mr. Vishvaasam and Mr. Saravanan, the guys that hosted me and bring education and knowledge to the farmers.

Mr. S. Palanichamy's daughters with the cotton that has been picked and cleaned.

Mr. Jeyaraj with Mrs. Jeyaraj showing off the grandbaby

Vannampatti Catholic school children. There are also Hindu and Muslim families in the village.

There are 16 different farmers "groups". Mr Jeyaraj is the president of the local farmers federation and showed me around his farm.

This rooster was very curious and hated my camera
Indigenous cotton variety

Peanuts and banana the peanuts are simply called "groundnuts" in english.

Mr. S. Palanichamy with some cotton...fresh picked!

The Fair Trade vision here is based on four different components that are the basis of the NGO's work, my interest, and the well being of all the people involved . They are:

1. No child labor is used
2. No use of chemical pesticides in the growing of the cotton
3. Equal wages for equal work
4. Social development, meaning the farmers meet together on a regular basis, share ideas, discuss problems and create relationships.

One other thing that should be noted; the farmers use something called "menu" (FYM farmyard menu) which is a mix of organics as fertilizer consisting of compost and manure that eliminates the use of chemical fertilizers as well...this cotton is not "certified" organic...but will be in the future.(we are working on that)

In 2006, 80 farmers were involved in the fair trade program. Due to climatic problems and social conflicts, 40 farmers produced cotton on 100 acres (2.5 acres each). The farmers grow the cotton along with the pulse called "Bengal Gram" (chickpeasचिक्क्पास ) for consumption. The cotton is a very old, indigenous variety that has been in this valley for a long time, but they are now experimenting with some new ones that boost production very carefully. The local NGOs are monitoring the progress... but for now this variety is what I am using for my market bags. It is spun into a 10-15 ply size which is not recommended for clothing or bedding but is still perfect for my needs. This year there are 177 farmers from 8 villages in the fair trade program, and growing!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Madurai fair trade cotton tour

taking a break with some of the weavers

Ms. S. Audaiammal, Ms. G. Saraswathi, Ms. G.Rajeswari, Ms. M. Devarani, and Ms. S. Victoria Mary

Mr. P. Nachiar
I just arrived back in Pondicherry from spending a week in Madurai, and what a whirlwind! Madurai is where my market bags are going to be made. I met with the CEO and staff of ETCIndia and what a great meeting. We got a lot of logistics sorted out, business plan and contracts discussed, and had an inspiring brainstorm on the future for all the farmers and laborers involved. I visited the shops and some homes of people that will be working, and visited the farms where the cotton will be grown and harvested. Right now in a village outside of Dindigul,which is a town north of Madurai, the farmers and laborers just finished a harvest and we are going take this production for our first round of fair trade bags! The pics above are just a few that I have just finished resizing for the web, and alot more are on the way. I am so excited because I got to meet everyone; the farmers,field laborers,spinners,weavers, and the family of stitchers. From exchanging questions and answers through my translator in the villages, I am acutely aware of how family-oriented each process will be. Most of the workers in each process (from picking cotton to stitching) are entirely related and dependent on this work, and through the success of my project, they will be able to live a better existence and their children will be able to reap the benefits. Its a family affair- which is really a soft spot for me because I hold my own family in my thoughts and prayers constantly. I will be posting alot more detailed information and pictures in the days to come about my trip.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


(Sorry for the "offcenteredness"....better view here)

I went to a local cemetary to see how South Indians bury their Christian dead. The cemetary that I visited however seemed to have more French graves than Tamil ones but it was interesting to see the contrast from the cemetaries back home.

Pondicherry Botanical Garden

(can't fix it yet...please be patient...for better viewing)

This picture browser includes some photos that I took at the Pondicherry Botanical Garden.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Madurai fair trade cotton tour

village Hindu festival North of Puducherry(Pondy)

Since I have been researching for my fair trade project, I came across a book that is not about fair trade, but the more I read it, the more I am becoming inspired to do something myself. In working on my project, I am finding Mr. Muhammad Yunus' book "Banker to the Poor" fascinating. He is a Bangladeshi who, along with the Grameen Bank which he started, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He is a visionary and a compassionate man that took baby steps in the beginning to help the poorest of the poor. I am posting an excerpt from his book below.

"When she finally receives that $15 loan, she is literally trembling, shaking. the money is burning her fingers. Tears roll down her eyes because she has never seen so much money in all her life. She never imagined it in her hand. She carries it as she would a delicate bird or a rabbit, until someone tells her to put it away in a safe place lest anyone steals it.

She cannot believe such a treasure has been put in her hands. This generally is the beginning for a Grameen borrower.

All her life she has been told she was no good, that, being a woman, she only brought misery to her family, because they now had to pay for her dowry, which they could not afford. She has heard her mother or her father tell her many times that they should have killed her at birth, aborted her, or starved her. In fact, she has never heard anything good about herself, or about her being in the world. To her family she has been nothing but a mouth to feed; another dowry to pay.

But today, for the first time in her life, an institution has trusted her with all this money. She is stunned. She promises herself she will never let down the institution which has trusted her so much. She will struggle to make sure every penny is paid back. And she does it."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Indian jewelry

I have found jewelry is very important in the Indian culture. Even the poorest women wear gold that the family may go in debt for when they get married. It is a long standing tradition that pre-dates the birth of Christ and is necessary for the ceremony. 22k gold necklaces are the most popular sign of marriage, along with anklets on both ankles, nose rings (sometimes in both nostrils) and the all important bangle. The bangles come in all colors and mediums, plain and ornate. Red usually means one is married, white if she is a widow. Gold and red are the most popular and bring good fortune. I have posted here some jewelry that I think is beautiful, and some I have added to my personal collection.
The glass bangles are some of the most popular and you can find them sold anywhere and everywhere, in sets ranging from 6 to 10 bangles. Every woman wears bangles.
This necklace is strung with sapphires,rubies, emeralds, and topaz. Then it is finished off with the ever popular red and gold string. More strands can be added later. My mom "just had to have one" when she came here to visit me and it is a beautiful example of the Indian aesthetic.
The ring is one I bought from a Kashmiri who would only tell me that it came from "The North". I had to have it sized to fit and have no idea how he did it, but I love the weaving and the aquamarine is my birthstone. Most of the Kashmiris I have met in South India own jewelry stores. I have seen some amazing things that have also been made in Pakistan and Afghanistan which are neighboring countries.

Friday, July 20, 2007

recent finds and yummy silk

use these to cool your masala casserole.

100% cotton for heat and humidity. I can't really wear anything else in South Georgia or South India. The pic on the left is for a blouse, the pic on the right are huge bags for using on my 50 cc grocery getter, kick start and go.

Mr. Handpainted Punjabi

silkscreen print....

"What is your name and how are your feelings?"

"My name is Meenakshi, and leave me alone."
(courtesy of Nirvana in Pondicherry)

black silk and white cotton


my new golden design!

chocolate silk with strawberry filling

toffee and buttercream

Fairtrade is not a marketing "green" scheme.

These are different images and logos you can look for when wanting to buy fairtrade, which I know you all do!
Why buy Fairtrade?
Millions of small farmers around the world cannot get enough money to feed their families, send their children to school or invest just a few dollars into their farm. This is because people want to buy the cheapest goods possible and don’t think about the people working in poor conditions, cheap labour, and often receive less than $2.00 per day in wages.
Buying products that display the Fairtrade logo ensures that the producers of products, i.e. tea, coffee, cotton and chocolate receive a decent income. Rather than being hit by the ever-changing price of their product on the global market, or being schemed by a middleman who takes a big share of the profits, producers in a Fairtrade agreement are guaranteed a decent, stable price for their produce.
By buying Fairtrade products that buy direct from farmers at better prices, consumers are improving the lives of producers all over the world. This extra money enables the farmers to educate their children and to break the cycle of poverty.
Many people struggle to find a reason not to support Fairtrade. Fairtrade is about fair terms, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and dignity for farmers. Fair trade is not about charity, it is about settling the imbalance which exists.
stats and info credited to

Saturday, July 7, 2007


This is one of the performers at the celebration. She is wearing the traditional South Indian dress, more specifically in the fashion of the state, Tamil Nadu.
coolest lady at the party.

I wanted to post these pics because they are a couple my favorites from a womens' day celebration I went to in March. There were over 100 hundred villages represented and about 800-900 lovely ladies that attended, along with their kids. The celebration was to honor different womens' clubs that are formed in the villages to supplement their husbands' income. A group of women come together and decide what business or trade they would like to do. Then a local NGO that specializes in microfinancing and management helps the club in securing a loan, paying it back, saving their money, and then loaning it out to other clubs for a very small rate. It was so awesome to see these ladies in action.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

logo design background

These are possible print designs for my project.I want to use the Banyan tree because it is beautiful, recognizable, and represents life to these Tamil people.

This is Tamil for the "Banyan Tree".(pronounced "allah-madame") It is a sacred tree in Asia, and it seems to be very sacred in South India. The Banyan tree not only represents the family but it also represents eternal life. The tree supports its wide canopy by growing "prop roots" from its branches. These roots hang down in a widening circle outwards. The Sanskrit name for the Banyan is bahupada which means 'one with many feet'. Chandrah told me that the trunk always represents the elders, and the prop roots represent the ever expanding family members, all connected from above.

I took this of a great Banyan trunk I found. It's so intricate.
I really fell in love with these trees and there are many great examples on the outskirts of Pondicherry and in Auroville. There were two in particular that I liked to see when living in Auroville. One was near a natural water drainage so alot of the soil was washed away. Not only did it have tons of prop roots hanging from the branches, but almost the entire root system underground was exposed. It looked as if it could fall over any minute, but that didn't stop all the old men from smoking beedis and squating to talk all day everyday in the shade. I am sure they have all the world's problems solved by now, but Tamil is a hard language to understand and comprehend so I didn't stop and ask. The other tree that always caught my attention just sat in the foreground of a picturesque landscape; complete with a pond full of lotus and a tiny bright blue temple with fuschia trim.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

informal project introduction

Today is July 4th, I almost forgot. In the mornings, I check the news back home to see what is happening. Although I probably will not see any fireworks today, or eat any grilled hamburgers and potatoe salad...go swimming and eat red velvet cake with too much cream cheese icing that I LOVE....baked beans. There are fireworks here,ALOT, usually on the weekends for some religious festival or temple celebration.

I have been waiting anxiously to go to Madurai. It is a city kind of central South India. I have been corresponding with a local director for fair trade cotton. The organization he works with is called Educational Training Consultants. Here is the link,, they have many projects in the works but the one I am currently interested in is the organic cotton producers. This includes local farmers who are producing fair trade cotton. I will be going into the field and visiting their offices at the end of July. I want to use this fair trade cotton to produce market bags that benefit these farmers, help eliminate the question "plastic or paper?", and selfishly, allow me to return to India to do more things here. I love it here, but seeing all this poverty and cheap, cheap labor breaks my heart sometimes. I will be posting some random things until I go to Madurai, and then I will come back with some fabulous photos to show how the process will work in making my bags! I already have three designs that I have been working on, and hopefully I will have some samples soon.
I took some family portraits of Chandrah, Praveen and Chandrah's husband ( I don't remember her husband's name because I rarely ever see him and she doesn't ever mention him by name, just "husband"). Chandrah helps us out around the house and we pay her to cook because that is definitly one of her many talents. She and her husband are both tailors, and they are adding a small store front on to the side of their house today, along with a new roof.

I took this pic from the street corner. The woven coconut leaf panels on the ground are the new roof. They will keep the house nice and dry when the monsoon season arrives in October. These panels cost about 300 rupees each which is about $7.50 cents. Praveen and Chandrah have been living with us for a while because their roof has deteriorated completely. We walked down this morning to the house about 7:00 a.m. to meet the installers, but I left at 8:00 and they still had not arrived. Where I am from, time seems to run a little behind schedule and in South India I think it's about the same way.