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Handmade Opportunities

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Creating Jobs
In 2010, when we sold all our stuff and moved to India, my goal was simple - create as many jobs as possible. I was not a business owner, an economist, a miracle worker.  But I was determined to risk it all in order to employ people. After countless privileged trips to "see the world", the most staggering finding to me, was that people didn't have jobs.
How could this be? Can't people work? Can't they just "do something"?


Photo Credit: Jordan Laessig

Opportunities and Growth

When I was young, I remember my friend coming to school one morning with the news that her father had "lost his job!"  Some of my classmates cried.  We all hugged our friend and told her we'd pray for them. Back then, the news was almost as staggering as one being diagnosed with a chronic disease or the loss of a family member. Everyone had jobs where I grew up. The most common question in America continues to be, "What do you do?"
I've had "jobs" since I was 5.
I picked my mom's veggie garden and sold baggies of fresh beans, tomatoes and spinach to my neighbors (I remember making $40 one day...a big deal to an elementary kid).

I mowed lawn after lawn with my brother.
I put on well-thought-through "drama's" and "performances" that required ticket purchases.
I worked hard on our annual garage sale and sold my old belongings for dimes and nickels.
I shoveled neighbors' driveways.
I washed dishes at a local restaurant.
I babysat.
I lifeguarded.
I was a restaurant hostess.
I taught piano lessons.
I was a camp counselor.
I cleaned houses.
I waitressed.
I refereed.
I made bagels at the local bagel shop.
I was a coffee barista.
I did admin work for a local architect. 

All of this before the age of 18. Now, if this doesn't scream "opportunity", I don't know what does.I revere and honor my parents for instilling in me a value for hard work.  I don't really remember not working. Ever. 
It wasn't until my 30's that I realized living a life in middle class, midwest America, with parents that were "just making it", is the definition of PRIVILEGE.
In today's world, where millions live on less than $2 a day, WORK is privilege. I don't care if you work at McDonalds or for Mac, WORK IS PRIVILEGE.

 
Photo credit: Kayla Beth Anderson

More hands = more jobs
As I set out to determine how I would create jobs in India, I had a growing curiosity with textiles.  India's history with textiles and textile trade is older than any nation. Other than agriculture, the textile industry is the only industry that has created significant jobs to both skilled and unskilled laborers in India.  It is the 2nd largest employment generating sector in India.  I began to read the history of textiles in India - mainly, Gandhi's claims about spinning cotton.  Gandhi believed that spinning thread by hand, in the traditional manner, created a basis for economic independence and the possibility of survival for India's millions of poor.   Returning to "spinning" didn't mean that Gandhi rejected modern technology and advancement, rather that he valued the artist, the hand, the person.  In the late 1800's textile manufacturing, like most industries, began to become exploitive and controlling. The industry became entangled with politics, power and injustice. Machines could make more and make it faster, meaning more profits, more power.  People were replaced with machines.  In India, this was a BIG problem!

Looking at the Grassroot 
I believe there is a place for machines, efficiencies, factories and big business in eradicating poverty.
However, I believe there is also a place for small business development, empowering rural artisans, putting work back into hands, and turning off the machines.
The United Nations has deemed Small Business Development as one of the most sustainable ways to empower people and eradicate poverty in our century.
At JOYN, we truly believe that the more hands it takes to make a product, the more jobs we can create.  We have a model of "purposeful inefficiency", where we place value and dignity back into the "handmade".

 
Photo Credit: Jordan Laessig

The Making of a JOYN bag
Spinning raw cotton by hand takes approximately 4 full days in order to make enough fabric for one of our hippy bags.
The weaving then takes another few days.
The block printing another.
The stitching another.
No machines.
No electricity.
Just hands. 
We honor the work of our artisans and value the work of their hands.  We believe that everyone should have the right to work. This is why we work with hands.


Photo Credit: Ashley Seitz

5 comments

  • Angela Story: January 06, 2015

    Thank you for inspiring small business, giving hope to the needy, motivating many and giving purpose to work. I love your products, your passion, your courage and your drive. I pray God would continue to grow JOYN and infuse hope to all it touches.

    Much Love
    Angela

  • Judy Reusch: January 05, 2015

    Love this article Mel,thank you. I have scarfs, purse, bag, clutch bag, when I use one of them, I am reminded to pray for this ministry all the more. God bless. Judy

  • Cathy Campbell: October 06, 2014

    Hello dear friend. Love your site. Your sweater was worn all the way home. Thank you for it. Love my bag. Got lots of compliments, especially from my granddaughters! Enjoying sweet memories of our brief time together! In our prayers. Love to you both, Cathy

  • betsy olson: September 06, 2014

    this makes me smile a happy peaceful smile. So meaningful.

  • Amy U: September 06, 2014

    A beautiful story and it makes me LOVE my JOYN bag even more. I love to think of all of the hands that created by bag. It makes me stop and think about them and their lives. Thanks for all you do!

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