Dispatches from India: Notre Dame alum Mary McKenna talks about her work with Piece & Co.

The following blog post is taken from Piece & Co, an organization that sources “custom, artisan-made products and textiles for some of the world’s top fashion and retail brands,” including Rachel Roy, Reef, Madewell, Tom’s and Crate&Barrell, to name just a few. “These collaborations provide sustainable employment to female artisans across the globe, empowering women, piece by piece.” (Piece & Co website)  Notre Dame alum Mary McKenna works with the Piece & Co. operations team, which employs more than 4,700 women in 25 different countries. Mary is currently in India where a number of these artisan co-ops are located and gearing up for a busy production season. As the gift-buying season approaches, please consider brands that incorporate these artisans into their product lines.India

The end goal of Piece & Co. – to end global poverty – may at first seem abstract on its own. But a recent visit to some of our co-ops was a refreshing reminder of the power of “employing one, impacting many,” and we couldn’t wait to share it.

Mary McKenna from Piece & Co.’s operations team spent most of June on the ground in India—our largest co-op market. The biggest takeaway from her trip? Seeing firsthand the Piece & Co. model at work.

“It’s clear that our impact is no longer about bringing work to artisan groups,” Mary said. “These jobs are as much about hope and empowerment as they are about the paycheck.”

Bringing enough work to artisan groups is only part of it. Piece & Co. works with each co-op to help build and sustain a business they can run on their own. The trip enabled an in-person dialogue on everything from handling a large order, to communicating with workers, to creating a business plan.

“We want to help our groups understand their business better,” Mary said. “We see that as a big part of our mission: to help the artisan groups build better small businesses.”

Mary saw a common thread among the various co-ops: What begins with an order from one of our partners trickles down into an entire community across the globe.

A successful story often goes like this: In the beginning, an artisan group might have 60 people working with them, but they more than likely don’t have enough year-round work. Piece & Co. aims to bring them more (and hopefully larger) orders, allowing the artisans to work more. That eventually creates enough employment opportunities to last the entire year. And even more work leads to hiring additional people to take it all on.

“Now they’re creating jobs within their community,” she said. “It’s really the first time for a lot of these villages that there’s a sustainable business that’s growing and producing. They can see and feel the program working.”

Mary also visited co-ops in Nepal after her trip to India. Here, she's seen chatting with Nepalese artisans.

Mary also visited co-ops in Nepal after her trip to India. Here, she’s seen chatting with Nepalese artisans.

Visiting the numerous co-ops showed how much each group differed in techniques, structure, and style. But the one thing they all have in common is enthusiasm for this partnership.

“Even when we’re saying, these are the things we need to work on, they are bright-eyed, taking notes, receptive, and excited. They are always positive conversations.”

Meeting with each group often starts with showing where they are in the process of developing their business. The Piece & Co. team helps each co-op identify areas that need work and address them accordingly through conversations and informal tasks that take them to the next step: more units, more work, more people, and more hope and opportunity.

The opportunity, in turn, enables them to pay for healthcare, education, and support their families. Women in India invest 90 percent of their income back into their family (compared to 30 to 40 percent of men), so working with artisan women in particular is where the impact can truly be felt.

Piece&Co India“When you employ a mother, there’s a lot that means for the community,” Mary said. We’re thrilled to have witnessed it action and can’t wait to see it on future trips.

Photos from Piece & Co. website/blog.

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