I am learning to understand my purpose, and I think that’s just it...that you remain always learning, moving forward, walking, trying. That pretty much sums up my story to now. My inner voice is like an old tape player playing over and over “keep walking, keep walking, keep walking.” Somehow in every moment those two words seem the ultimate advice.
One early morning in February of this year it was no different. I remember waking up and telling Landon, “there’s something about today, I could feel it.” With the world the way it is, I had been watching the world travel sites for weeks, not really planning, just waiting. I knew a door would open to meet my India team, when, was the question. I chat in the early mornings and late evenings with team KB in India because of the 11.5 hour time difference and that day we were planning calendars and ship dates and I felt that nudge. It’s a nudge so familiar now, I know what it feels like, sounds like, it’s rewards when I listen and consequences when I don’t. It’s other worldly, a knowing, a gift, It’s guidance and direction..and it’s ALWAYS right.
“Look up the embassy,” a small voice, an instinct. I stopped right there on the Facetime call and opened my safari to the US Embassy India to find they had opened the borders to India on select flights for business visas. It was a “for such a time as this” moment. I wrapped up my call with my very excited India family and called Landon. I knew, I just knew it was time. It was a small window I knew if I didn’t respond I would miss it. Landon and I agreed I needed to make this trip alone and soon. Three weeks later after miraculous conversations with the US Embassy and amazing visa turnaround times, I stepped onto Indian soil and wrapped my arms around the woman who is now my Indian sister and cried with joy to see her and my Indian family. I felt like I was “home.”
Almost 6 years ago now, the nudge. I was learning to recognize it and it wasn’t as familiar to me as it is now. I was sitting at my kitchen table with a piece of kantha in my hands and my computer open. I remember closing my eyes and opening my hands. I prayed, “I feel like I’m supposed to be right here, walking here, moving forward here...but I don’t know what I am doing. Order my steps, send the people to help me and give me a story to tell. I want to see people, not just buy fabric. I want lives to have hope and purpose, not just grow a bank account. If you put it in my hands, I will be a vessel for you to move through me.” It was only weeks later I found Basha in Bangladesh and my little dream of sewing with beautiful fabric and seeing people started to grow into something real. 2 years passed and my shop began to morph from a mom and baby brand to a fashion brand. I sent a cry out into the universe for a team, a partnership in India. I was hoping to work with a village of people that needed me as much as I needed them. My days of sewing and photographing and packaging every piece were numbered. I couldn’t do it alone anymore. Then I met her. Thank you cyberverse/ universe!
I won’t share her name her for the protection of our families in India, but I will call her Asha. Asha means hope and it seems appropriate to call her this name in this space.
Asha and I began working together after a year of conversing back and forth. We are both dreamers and visionaries and hard workers. We are passionate about people and want to make a tangible impact in real lives every single day. When I stepped off that plane and walked into her arms and hugged her for the first time, I knew after this trip to India, my life would never be the same.
We hit the ground running the moment I arrived. After a 6 hour journey through the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen in the middle of the night, we arrived in her village. Her mama stayed awake waiting for me, a precious soul. My physical body was more than exhausted but my heart was full as I fell asleep that night. I woke up only hours later to the sound of the priest at the mosque next door singing into a megaphone that projected worship throughout the entire village. By the end of my trip, I could sleep through the night and it didn’t wake me. But that first night, whew! I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Each morning I awoke to the most amazing chai tea and vegetarian Indian food. I was thankful Asha was like me, a night owl. So we worked late and mornings were slow! Hallelujah! I spent each day understanding the long and arduous journey of each piece of fabric as it’s vintage nature takes on a new life and becomes the designs we all know and love in the Kantha Bae shop. There are 8 ladies who check and cut each pattern. Every sari has to be checked for stains, holes and imperfections before it can be cut. In this process there are a lot of scraps, but everything is used. Pieces that can’t become pockets or scrunchy scarves or fabric patches become pillow and bed stuffing in each families’ home. These ladies come in early in the morning and remove their shoes as to not bring any negative energy into the home of their employers. They work slow and intentionally. This moved me the most. Everything single cut is made with the most integrity and care. These ladies work downstairs in a fabric dreamland with huge fabric scissors and long tables, all day long, preparing each design for sewing.
Once cutting for a design is finished, the fabric is loaded in fabric bags tied with a knot and driven down the road to another part of the village where 38 men sew in a pink painted room on huge industrial sewing machines. As I walked through the sewing room, some men had tears in their eyes and Asha shared with me that they had never had consistent work for their families until now. Some of them had been traveling hours each day to work and the opportunity to work in their own village allowed them to spend more time with their families and receive higher pay than they had ever received. I have never been more humbled in my life. I looked in their eyes, saw their joy, saw some pain too. I was completely wrecked. I couldn’t speak to them but I tried to communicate as best I could how grateful I was for each one of them. I walked through and watched them sewing each piece. Some were young men and some older. They were working with great attention to detail and commitment. I could feel the energy. I had never seen anyone work with dedication like these men.
I walked through the rest of the building and saw rooms and rooms of fabric. So much fabric waiting for it’s second chance. It was amazing!
After sewing, each design is brought back to Asha’s home for checking. This is the longest process as 6 ladies sit on the terrace and look at every part of the fabric and seams of each design checking for stains, holes, or imperfections. If there is a thin part of the fabric they find matching thread and hand sew beautiful stitching to strengthen the garments’ weak places. One of the ladies’ I called Sunny because each morning I walked out of my room to see her sitting in the sun and she would just beam at me the most beautiful smile full of light and joy.
There are 6 young men in their late teens who get to work the next stage of the fabrics’ journey. They are the photographers. They carry piles of fabric outside to the beautifully aged stucco wall when the sun is at it’s best for lighting before noon. They have the very difficult job of keeping each piece in the order it was photographed and giving it a name sticker. If one piece gets out of order, you can imagine the domino effect that would have on which piece you end up receiving in the mail. These men are also the muscle that box and package everything for its journey stateside. They package each piece in number order while checking it against the photos to make sure the skus match up. It’s very very tedious, each step. I watched them each day executing each of these steps I had taught them from hours and hours of Facetime calls and messages. What we were all accomplishing together was unfathomable. I was so proud to be standing with them, getting to know them, see their patterns and help them perfect them.
The process I just described to you happens over and over each day with each design you love and wear. It’s truly no wonder each piece feels alive with joy and light. It’s so loved and created with such intention and care. It holds the energy of hope and gratitude as it moves through each set of hands in the entire process of it’s rebirth.
Asha and I spent days walking through the village and meeting families with different handmaking gifts. Rug makers, jewelry makers, textile bead makers, basket weavers and clay makers. Some of these we are working with to bring new handmade designs to life for the shop and also provide consistent work to these families. Stay tuned for more of these stories.
We also spent several days working with Master Ji, our pattern maker. We made about 30 new patterns together working with our vintage fabrics and also exploring new ones. We sat together and dreamed. Asha has dreams of a piece of land and a building more central in their part of India that will allow them to provide work to more villages around them. She longs to have a home for orphaned children to come to and be cared for and loved and have a home and a future. This is what the O.H. line will help create as a portion of proceeds will go to buy this land and see this dream become real for our India family.
My time with Asha and her family allowed me to see the heart and soul of my company in real life. I got to put faces to names. See systems and flows of organizing and sewing thousands of one of kind designs. I got to hear their dreams which planted seeds in my visionary heart that I am thrilled to grow with them and see become fruitful. “My cup runneth over” is the only phrase that seemed to describe how I felt. I truly didn’t want to leave them. These families are my family. We are growing and walking together seeing hope restored and love and light grow something beyond what we could ever imagine.
As I keep walking, I believe the right path will light before me. I know it will not always be easy and struggle and hurt is part of that journey. But, I am determined to keep walking with open hands seeing and loving people. Thank you for walking with me, for taking a moment to read about the hearts and faces behind my brand. You are a part of something bigger and looking outside yourself to see others brings a freedom and light so overflowing that it spreads. Let’s keep spreading light and love together. It’s how we can change the world.