Artisan Scarves Empower Bangladeshi Women by Sasha Cohen, September 10 2014, 2 Comments

When a thing of beauty furthers humanitarian goals and creates better, healthier lives, it gives me pause. I feel compelled to learn more about the company and its founder. sourceFK manufactures beautiful silk scarves and other textile products, celebrating and promoting Bangladeshi craftsmanship in the global marketplace. The company does this by using fair labor practices, providing a safe, clean working environment, paying a liveable wage, and being "zero-waste".

sourceFK works with highly skilled artisans in some of the oldest craft communities in Bangladesh to create scarves, tunics, pants and homegoods. Time-honored silk and cotton textiles are reimagined with centuries-old skills to create unique, geometric patterned pieces imbued with artistry and craftsmanship. Depending on the complexity of the design, one weaver can take almost three months to create a piece of fabric. Entire patterns are woven from memory alone. Sitting side by side at the loom, artisans learn the craft over 20, sometimes 30 years.

Hand-looms are used (as opposed to mechanized looms), requiring only the physical energy and creativity of the weaver. No electricity is used, no waste by-product is produced; there are no fumes or emissions. An almost negligible carbon footprint means artisan cooperatives are creating a green supply chain. sourceFK is changing the standard in an industry traditionally not known for sustainable practices. Better environmental health of the community leads to better individual health of the artisans.

Faizun Kamal, founder of sourceFK, is motivated by her policy background and her previous work with the World Bank, where she saw the effect of lack of education and work opportunities for women. She joins this with a passion for fashion, design and an acute awareness of the power of social media.

“Fashion and development are no longer separate,” said Kamal.

sourceFK focuses on the three key Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of poverty alleviation, empowerment of women and environmental sustainability. Born in Bangladesh, “my parents thought it important to invest in the education of their daughters,” said Kamal. She wants to prove that employment with a fair wage and value-added services can be profitable. This carries through to the fundamentals of her business.
“On-the-fringe, sustainable ethics, [and] planning has become much more mainstream in recent years, [it] has caught on," said Kamal. "Many companies understand why they need to pay workers fairly, not pollute the environment in which they work.”

sourceFK is meant to empower women in Bangladesh, since opportunities for women there are few and far between. sourceFK creates customized training programs for artisans.
"We distil goals, make a plan. [sourceFK provides] guidance, [we] open a savings account for every woman who walks through door of the company,” said Kamal.
Top Bangladeshi business school students run these classes, providing information that helps employees enhance the quality of their lives—financial, social, family. When forming her company in December 2011, getting a skilled labor force was “no joke”, reflects Kamal.
“It’s very difficult working in uncertain circumstances [in Bangladesh]; strikes & no transport, unplanned disruption to your work.“ She finds, though, that the loyalty fostered by her humane and fair business practices helps counter these externalities.

The core value of loyalty is enormous and is communicated by word of mouth; it is basic to recruiting employees and fostering community. For example, during a violent, politically-motivated strike, employees self-organized to find routes to work, ensuring one another’s safety. Both pride in their work and their loyalty to sourceFK fostered this effort.

Kamal has used the social power of her company model to participate in sustainable fashion panels on Huffington Post, with Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in NYC and join social entrepreneur ventures like The OM Project/Employ ONE MORE Campaign and Fashion 4 Development (“Giving back is the new luxury”). Working with Tory Burch for over two years, sourceFK has been featured in the Tory Burch holiday bag, as well as having received funding from the Tory Burch Foundation. sourceFK products can be found in various boutiques, on the company's Web site and at trunkshows throughout the year..

There is true power in voting with your dollars: Munni, lead artisan with sourceFK, has a poster of a fruit basket in her apartment which symbolizes what working at sourceFK has facilitated. In three years, she saved enough money to buy an apartment and move her family out of the slum.
“I can now buy more varieties of fruit for my children than I ever thought possible," said Munni.

See two of sourceFK's beautiful fair trade scarves for sale at EcoPlum!

Sasha Cohen is a business development professional with particular interest in sustainable businessoperations, sourcing and policy. Her work includes event management (NY Green Festival; SustainabilityWeekNYC; Columbia University Business School Alumni Sustainable Business Committee), grant funding for a renewable energy partnership between Europe and the United States (biomass), as well as participation in domestic and international sustainability conferences.