Why the Buy Local Movement Makes Me Want to Purchase Quilts from India

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Last weekend I went to Louisville’s Buy Local First Fair, where I got to do my favorite thing and – no, not shop – snap photos of some very interesting locals. As I was doing so, I couldn’t help but notice the diversity of people and outfits, influences and trends, not to mention the miscellany of goods for sale! Antique hoop earrings and army knife necklaces hung in a booth beside a buzzing beehive and homegrown honey. Mason jars full of citrusy soap samples could be found not far from Foxhollow Farm’s bison meat and Bon Vivant’s macarons.

All of this local stuff made me think of Anchal. Yes, the Anchal artisans are threading textiles thousands of miles from my hometown. Yes, their quilts and pillows will be shipped across an ocean to reach their American markets in Louisville and San Francisco (home to co-founders Colleen and Devon, respectively). And yes, I do realize that there is nothing really “local” about Anchal.

Except that there is.

Anchal is grassroots. Make that Grass Roots with a big G and a big R. It’s the brainchild of two then Rhode Island School of Design students who shared the belief that design could change lives, not only in their own communities but in the greater global community. (Since when has the world been considered a “community,” by the way? You see, local is relative!)

As part of a seminar that explored design in the developing world, Colleen and Devon took a trip to Kolkata, India and spoke with Urmi Basu, who would become their partner at New Light. Brainstorming economic alternatives for women caught in the sex trade led to talk of kantha quilts, which are full of local significance and made from 100% recycled material.

Fueled by enthusiasm for the cause, Colleen and Devon raised just enough money selling notebooks and note cards to buy a sewing machine and pay for a bit of sewing instruction, materials, and a small stipend for the first artisans. The first shipment of quilts was sold out of trunks in San Francisco and Louisville, wherever the gals found an outlet.

But enough about the history. My point is that there is a lot of local effort that goes into small global non-profits like Anchal. The team here is made up of volunteers who have a vision for the future. Some of us have never met an Anchal artisan, but we’re doing what we can in our own little communities to spread the word about the issues and the handmade Anchal creations. It’s slow but steady. It’s one foot in front of the other.

It’s hard work.

I guess that’s what touched me most as I was perusing the booths at the Buy Local First Fair last weekend. In the heat of the day, local business owners were sweating it out, smiling like crazy, and passing out business cards like confetti. When all the shoppers retreated to their AC’s, they would break down their booths, pack away what was left of their inventory and head home, looking forward to the next chance they’d have to spread the word about their wares.

Artisans here. Artisans there. Local artisans. Global artisans. In the heat of the day, so much is the same.

Buy local, yes. But sometimes, buy global too.

-Emily

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