BY REBECA SCHILLE
A brand that serves a cause
Founded in 2009 and based in Wayland, MA, by Priya Samant, Earthfrendz’s mission is both lofty and altrustic: to provide a global platform for underprivileged people so that they can display their handcraft and design talents, but also create a green living and fulfilling community.
Social values are important to Earthfrendz wherein the focus is working with the urban poor in India. Most notably the organization works with women in Mumbai and New Delhi. The women sew and embroider chic and durable eco-friendly products. The products range from a wide assortment bags to jewelery. These are made primarily with burlap and recycled fabric scraps, as well recycled home furnishing textiles. The jewelry line is made with upcycled fabric fragments, paper and metal beads.
The company is a big believer of collaboration and teamwork. Since opening its doors, both Earthfrendz and the artisans work hand-in-hand developing designs as well as product development. The two organizations that team with Earthfrendz include Sakhi Nav Nirman Kendra. The group has worked with Earthfrendz since the company’s inception and it is the center of operations where the products are made by women artisans who live in the slums of Malad—a suburb outside Mumbai. For many of the women it’s impossible to find work because of economic and clutural factor, but with the combined forces between Earthfrendz and Sakhi Nav Nirman Kendra, the women are taught tailoring techniques to make recycled bags, but also provides them with classes that teaches the women to read and write. The second group, Kam Kaj a “self-help” group created by Ratan Singh—an illiterate, self-taught artist who works with natural fibers—Singh along with his wife have taught beggars—most of whom are alcoholics—as well as poor women in New Delhi to sew. Between these two associations, about 30 artisans—both men and women— work full-time, with an additional 20 more workers on a seasonal basis.
For the most part, many of the women have the advantage to work at home and still be able to take care of their families, but recently Earthfrendz had the good fortune to find a larger space. Samant says, “There was a helmet factory that went out of business. The artisans acquired this huge unoccupied space for a reasonable rent, and are now in process of expanding the operations and adding more artist to the team. For most of the females, making the products from the comfort of their homes while managing their family responsibilities is encouraging them and empowering them to be independent.”
The life cycle of the product making cycle is fairly simple. Samant attends various markets in India to look for interesting and colorful fabric remnants. Once she has collected these the usable pieces are set aside. Patterns are created and the fabrics scraps are are lined with a burlap and then stitched together and assembled.
Although Earthfrendz products are found in Whole Foods stores in the New England ares, Samant notes the main obstacle she’s run into is that as a start up, Earthfrendz’s biggest challenges are getting their products in front of a variety of retail buyers and raising capital to scale the business. And it’s the primary reasons why Samant is attending Artisan Resource™ where Samant will be exhibiting a number of new designs from her handbag collection as well as a new jewlery line, and will have the opportunity to meet new retailers.
Artisan Resource opens its doors on August 18-20, and is part of the NY Now® (formerly the New York International Gift Fair ®) at the Jacob Javits Center and Pier 94. Artisan Resource centers on artisan enterprises worldwide as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for unique items, as well as partnerships to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage thriving. The section will also offer programming on such topics as importing basics and customs. This year, Earthfrendz will be displaying a series of new designs in their bag collection as well as introducing a new jewelry line.
For more information about Earthfrendz, please visit www.earthfrendz.com