anchal project: Colleen Clines & Maggie Clines

Anchal is a Hindi word referring to the edge of the sari; women will wrap their children around in it, providing warmth and protection. It also literally means ‘shelter’. So developed the name of their organization. Colleen Clines (CEO / Co-Founder) and Maggie Clines (Creative Director), sisters whom spearhead Anchal Project, utilize their backgrounds in design to be a force in social entrepreneurship and global (as well as local) social change. 

Anchal Project is a non profit social enterprise: they work with women in India whom have been caught up in the sex trade industry, providing a holistic program that provides jobs in textiles as an alternative livelihood option. In 2010 they officially received their 501 (c)3 status. At this point they are working with one hundred and thirty artisans. 

Anchal’s co-founders met at the Rhode Island School of Design during a graduate seminar that explored design in the developing world. Inspired by the shared belief that design can be a catalyst for social and environmental innovation, the four women traveled to India and met with local leader, Urmi Basu of the New Light Foundation. It was here in the narrow alleyways of the Kalighat red light district that Urmi shared the extreme oppression women faced and the tangible void in economic alternatives available to this marginalized community. 

Five-Dots: How long have you been in this space?

Maggie Clines: Since January of 2017. For the past four years we were in a donated space out of an older office building that wasn't our dream location, but it worked. We were grateful but kept thinking of our next space. 

Colleen Clines: The lighting wasn't great and it just wasn't a very creative [atmosphere]. We now love inviting people to bright sunny new space!  

Maggie: We are definitely proud of this location. 

F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?

Maggie: In our last office we were separated and there wasn’t much flow. We moved in here and we knew that we needed the stock room and the office / showroom separate. We knew that we would need enough space for our own individual areas, but then also have space for an open collaborative area as well.

Colleen: We didn’t have an exact floor plan laid out, but we knew that we wanted a communal space as well as enough [private] space for everyone.

F-D: Has the location of the office influenced your work in any way? Has being in Portland been an influence at all?

Maggie: Yea, we have dyeScape down on 17th and Portland Avenue and we had been in the neighborhood for two years before moving our offices here. We had won a grant in 2014 for that space, so we had the great opportunity to be able to be a part of the community; by attending meetings and being a part of art fairs and things of that sort before even moving our offices here.

Colleen: The studio is beautiful, it’s really wonderful having all of this natural light and airy-ness. Obviously it’s been really great having all of the other people that are in this building, it’s a great vibe to have in your workspace. [Anchal Project’s office is located in the Dolfinger Building, a location leased out to regional non-profits and artists]. Having being so close to our garden and being able to cultivate that has been lovely as well. Now that we are physically closer we can dedicate more time to developing the project.

F-D: How has working in India affected the business?

Maggie: Yes, I mean it’s everything.Even if you look beyond our brand and our textiles, the product, the mission, and the cause; it affects everything [we do] in that we’ve learned so much about being global citizens and being a part of a bigger conversation and seeing how as a consumer you really do have the power to make a difference with every single purchase that you make. I don’t think that people really understand that; but with every piece that Anchal sells, it gets back to that artisan that made that piece. For us, challenging consumers and working with other social enterprises and being a part of this huge network of people who are really, honestly, trying to do something different within the global marketplace is pretty cool. It’s a nice perspective to have when your working in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Colleen: Not to mention all of the richness of the culture that we have been able to be a part of and learn beautiful techniques of making and then applying that to something in a contemporary palette so that we can make it more competitive for them. It’s been awesome. 

Maggie: For us, challenging consumers and working with other social enterprises and being a part of this huge network of people who are really, honestly, trying to do something different within the global marketplace is pretty cool. It’s a nice perspective to have when your working in Louisville, Kentucky. 

F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself in the office?

Maggie: Well, we’re all here from nine until five thirty, Monday through Friday! We all get here in the morning and dive into work. We all have different jobs and projects on our own that we work on independently, and we always have our Friday afternoon staff meetings were we run down how everything is going in the week.

Colleen: We always have our independent things going on through out, but our collective schedule varies a lot based off of what we have going on that week. Right now we are in a little bit more of a creative mode, which is fun.

F-D: So how does that work? Running the non-profit. . .  and the being the designer?

Maggie: It’s a lot of hats. I mean, our background is in design. That’s where our original strengths are; but I’ve learned parts of sales and management that none of us knew how to do before. We are doing a lot of learning on the fly, and I think that’s what intrigues Colleen and I the most: we’re always learning something new and no matter what our problem or conflict is, we use creative problem solving to fix it. 

Colleen: Of course there are other groups that say, “Oh, we’ll just hire someone to do that” and due to budget constraints we can’t really do that. But because we have that background in knowing about the creative process we have the ability to come up with a solution or at least always figure things out and be competitive.

Maggie: I think it’s being creative, but I also think that it’s being a non profit because our budget is always at $0. We do have a large supportive network of volunteers that we utilize, but everyone that works here is willing to always figure it out, we work well as a team. 

F-D: How would you describe your aesthetic?

Colleen: Maggie and I have a different aesthetic, but they compliment one another. They’re different but then they come together, hybridize, and become more palatable for our audience. Our goal is always to give them [the artisans] the tools to make things--They used to naturally just put beautiful things together without being aware that they had that capability. They have gotten to the point where they are able to contribute their voice to the design-- and they will progress the brand even further with their own voice.

Maggie: To add, we always encourage our artisans to move beyond us. We are their first legal job, not their last. One of them just opened their own dress shop. Another just decided to go work in a mall. Others may have a more difficult home life and this is their only option, and we are here for them until they are ready to leave. 

Colleen: Back to aesthetics: it is a contemporary craft. Our personal aesthetics influence what we are doing, but it’s also being fed from the women themselves. 

F-D: What mediums do you utilize?

Colleen: Fabric! Lots of cotton. Just layers of cotton and thread. . . and dyes.

F-D: Can you tell us about your business model and how it has evolved?

Colleen: Hmm. . . I mean, at 24 years old I was like, “Let’s start a non-profit!” So. . . it’s evolved quite a bit. But at it’s core it’s still about giving skills and opportunity to women whom don’t have that [support structure]. We’ve learned a ton. Like. . . What is a keystone? What is wholesale? What is a business plan? What is a strategic plan? What’s a budget? I had no idea what we were doing. It literally started with, “Ok, I can make stuff and sell it to friends and family”. It started really small: it started with us just selling notebooks and things that we had made for seed money.

Maggie: Yea, [then we moved to] just selling quilts, sending that money back to our artisans, and developing our artisans in the meantime. Now our business model and goal is to be solely self sufficient off of product sales alone. That is a ways out seeing as how we are still growing; but the need is definitely there, you know, we have 130 ladies working for us now and there are many, many more in that city alone that could use our help. So right now we are developing relationships with retailers for wholesale, as well as direct sales, some pop-ups and trade-shows. Then lastly there is our donations and campaigns and things of that sort.

Colleen: But we just started doing wholesale within the last year.

Maggie: Yes, we went from 5 accounts to about 35 in a year. But even with our successes, it’s still . . . just . . . everyday. . . learning about something new and developing it. 

Amelia Harris, Programs and Operations Coordinator in anchal project's stock room

Amelia Harris, Programs and Operations Coordinator in anchal project's stock room

F-D: Can you elaborate how you developed and established your connections in India? 

Colleen: So, initially I was introduced to the first non-profit we collaborated with through a professor whose class I was taking at the time. Our other co-founder is Indian, and she is from the town that we are based out of, so she had some connections there. So she put out a call for different non-profits to apply for the program. But really we were just wanting to get in there and introduce an alternative economic opportunity to the area’s women. Otherwise, I don’t even know how I would have gone about selecting a location to get started. How would you even do that? I don’t even know?. . . 

F-D: What is your biggest challenge as a business owner and the source of creation for your product?

Maggie: I mean, even though we aren’t directly in charge of creating our product, we still face the same challenges that every designer and maker faces. We’re trying to go to all of the markets, all of the networking events, meet as many people as we can. . .  

Colleen: Yea, I mean, we aren’t manufacturing our product. But we’re still doing all of the fundraising and designing. We’re juggling everything that is involved in leading a program, but that is also involved in a lot of other stuff. Yes, we have products, but we are also providing educational workshops, additional training, and healthcare. So it’s maintaining all of those things but also, communicating with the team in India every few weeks via Skype and making sure that we are maintaining all of our reporting that we need to have in order to be a non profit. 

Maggie: And it’s hard when you have so many ideas, and you need to run a business. It’s a never ending problem for all creatives. 

F-D: Do you consider your business to be autobiographical at all?

Colleen: I think it has to be. . . With us being a sister duo; the project is so influenced by events or details from our lives. From being very design driven to having an interest and a passion for trying to do something positive.

Maggie: Something that I think is interesting is how both of us experienced [the need to] ‘socially impact’ others in different ways. 

Colleen: I don’t know, you just use the tools that you have around you and you make the best of it. I don’t think either of us ever thought we’d be running a non-profit when we decided to go to school for architecture. 

F-D: What influences outside (or inside, considering your unique position) the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work? 

Maggie: As far as I’m concerned. . . I’m a sucker for film and documentaries. In addition, architecture is, obviously, a huge influence for both of us. I personally really would like to hone my skills and find new things [to work on]. I really enjoy new projects but I never really become a master in any of them. Whether it’s video, photography, graphic design, whatever it is; I’m always trying to learn new things. 

Colleen: Which is not me. . . 

Maggie: Not, it’s not Colleen. Colleen really loves. . .  plants. Her house is a jungle (Maggie says jokingly). 

Colleen: I’m into urban systems and how they all operate together, which is not directly involved with what I am doing at this moment. But it plays into dyeScape and my opinion and understanding of the textile industry, and how we can bring those sorts of concepts into a visual plane. I also really enjoy storytelling and I think that comes through more directly in some of the pieces more than others. . . And um. . . Plants are really inspiring to me. . .

F-D: What does having a physical space to make your designs in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

Maggie: It changes everything! I mean. . .  being in a room that’s bright, sunny, and positive makes a difference. We have grown incrementally with each new studio that we are in. So, yes, it means a lot. 

Colleen: Hopefully in the future we will be in a place where we can also talk to you about actually ‘making’, in terms of dying and textile work— most of that is done off-site for obvious reasons. It’s bright and creates a creative and open environment for us to work in.

F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

Maggie: Yea! We are in the throws of designing our fall collection, and we just released our spring collection in [March]. We’ll be expanding some of our tea towels and other items that have been big sellers for us. . . And we are working on designing some travel bags and accessories. Some new colors are also going to be coming in. 

Collen: We have been working with some more [traditionally Indian color palettes] but as we release the Narrative Collection we are attempting to be more muted, neutral, and compatible with a wider range of people. And we will also have at least one quilt that is directly inspired from our artisans’ designs. 

Maggie: Which is a lot of fun; you know, taking images back to them and showing them what they made. . . they are so, so, so proud of it, and we want to share with them and others how far their work is going. 

F-D: What is one of your largest challenges?

Colleen: One of our first and biggest challenges was finding a way to illustrate our designs and communicate intent while dealing literacy issues. Everything in our design books that we send to our artisans have to be broken down into design and number sections, that way we can [circumvent] any reading requirement. When we started [Anchal Project], that was actually a challenge that I got really excited about tackling, you know, how can I create a book that communicates purely with graphs and visuals, something that can completely bypass language? So basically, they print out the designs, tack the fabric swatches to the design, and then begin cutting and sewing themselves. We had had hired a tailor to teach them how to sew. But most of them are now at a point where they do this completely on their own.

Maggie: And Colleen and I create all of these graphic designs for each piece that gets made. So every quilt that gets a twin, double, queen, king sizing, and all of the accessories that go with them: pillowcases, shams, etc. Any and all pieces that we sell, gets that sort of designed treatment. . . all of it. .  . 

F-D: What does your business look like in five years?

Colleen: Well, by 2020 we are hoping to employ three hundred artisans in India and ten [artisans] here in Louisville [Kentucky]. So. . . big goals. We want to be a leader in the textile / social enterprise movement. We want to be one of the go-to’s for buying something with a purpose. 

F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other designers might your work be in conversation with? 

Maggie: Our trajectory and goals are correlated to working with bigger companies. Working with Urban Outfitters was great, but we want more of that, and bigger. We want our consumers money to be spent ethically, we want to create more employment opportunities for these women, and we want to be involved in more projects. And the cool thing is, a lot of these larger and big box brands are starting to wake up and realize that they need to do something about their production practices, and so they are looking at manufacturers. . . And so there are new relationships that can always be in the works. 

Colleen: Back to what Maggie was saying about cultural awareness: just a few years ago if you said the words ‘human trafficking’ people would look at you like, “Now, what is that again?” and it’s a bigger part of the conversation, now. So, the process is slow, but things are beginning to change. 

F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as a business you live by?

Colleen and Maggie: Designing change. . . yep. That’s it.

F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?

Colleen: It depends.

Maggie: It depends on the audience; but  [I think we both can attest to] sharing that we operate a non profit that grants work opportunities to disenfranchised women out of India. Then the work comes out in textiles, home goods, and accessories. Then we market and sell those products. 

F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?

Maggie: Sometimes [it feels] like everything and nothing at the same time. Usually it’s Colleen that is saying, “let’s do it! Let’s do it! Let’s do it all!” while I’m not so sure. I usually have to be the party pooper. But that’s why we work so well as a team. We balance each other’s insights. 

There’s also dyeScape, which was a big risk; we own property now. And it was and is going to be a big donated risk. We’ve also done some designs that were a risk and ended up not selling as well. We had a tote bag that we designed and thought, “man, everyone is going to love these. . . they are gonna sell so well!”

FD: Why do you think they didn't succeed as planned?

Colleen: Our overhead was too high and thus the cost was too high [for the market]. We had partnered with a wonderful local non-profit, Beaded Treasures, on the project. Though they did an amazing job, I think it was too ambitious of a project for us at the time. In addition, taking the step to start the organization was a risk at the time, but because I had no idea what I was doing  it didn’t seem like a risk. I think from the outside it’s easy to see our risks as naiveté; but it’s because of our naiveté that we are able to make so many risks— they don’t seem as big to us right now.

Maggie: And employing so many other women is a huge risk. I mean, we are their employer. We provide them with income, and that’s one hundred and thirty women. That’s a huge risk for us as well as them. 

F-D: Words of wisdom?... a motto, favorite quote?

Colleen: Hmm. . . Most designers won’t put this out there because of the importance to be perceived as perfect. But design is all about failure, and it’s really important to keep that in mind because it is good to make mistakes and grow from them. It’s part of the process and it’s important to not hold yourself up to an impossible standard. 

F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when? 

On July 8th we will be at the Made Market Summer Market in Louisville, at The Pointe. Then on July 12th will will be at the  Festival Fashion for Good at Revelry Boutique, also in Louisville. Then we'll be hopping around for a bit. On July 15th - 16th, we will be over in San Francisco at the Renegade Craft Fair. Then finally in August (17 - 23) we will be at NY NOW, in New York City.