Spotlight on Anchal Project: a modern take on kantha quilting with women artisans in Ajmer, India

“Didi” means sister in Hindi and around the Anchal office it reads “love your didi.” Sisters, Colleen and Maggie Clines, live this mantra as they co-lead Anchal Project, a non-profit committed to empowering marginalized Indian women through the creation of sustainable textile products. Focused on employment and education for women sex workers, Anchal Project offers alternative opportunity through the creation of textiles in the Indian and Bengali tradition of kantha quilting.

Over five hundred years ago the art of kantha began being passed down from mother to daughter in West Bengal. By piling and stitching two to four layers of old saris together, kantha is an art that has been sustainable since its beginning. The stitching is done using colorful embroidery filled with motifs that tell personal stories of the artisan’s love, pain, and everything that happens in between.

Anchal Project artisan kantha quilting in Ajmer, India

Since 2010, Anchal has trained over 150 women sex workers in Ajmer, India offering careers in textiles including kantha quilting, machine tailoring, and hand dyeing. By layering vintage saris and joining them with a simple running stitch these handmade textiles are sustainable, minimalistic, and individual as each tag has a hand-stitched signature by its artisan. For many women in Ajmer this is their first legal job but Anchal is committed to supporting their artisans through entrepreneurial workshops so that it is not their last.

Anchal Project artisans in Ajmer, India

Anchal’s story began when co-leader and founder Colleen Clines visited India during graduate school and learned about void of options that women sex workers as well as the economic opportunity that the region’s textiles offered. This realization spurred Colleen and her classmates to take action and create Anchal. Anchal began with a humble fundraiser of $400 affording them a sewing machine, sewing instructions, and a stipend for artisans. Now, Anchal employs 77 artisans with 70% serving as the breadwinner of their family 90% now able to afford health insurance. 

Colleen and Maggie Clines of Anchal Project

“We felt compelled to take the project beyond the classroom with the conviction that our design training in collaboration with local leadership could address seemingly intractable social and environmental systems. The women we met became our sisters, sisters we had to fight for.” - Colleen Clines, Co-Founder & CEO

Anchal Project artisan kantha quilting in Ajmer, India

Anchal has created opportunities in the United States as well with their dyeScape project in Louisville, Kentucky. An unprecedented idea dyeScape offers an eco-friendly job opportunity in the textile industry. By training and hiring exploited woman to grow, harvest, and dye their fabrics Anchal is directly fighting the statistics that fast fashion has created. The textile/fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry and one of the most exploitative. Through both local and global initiatives we are proud to carry a company that has such strong ideals as Anchal, not even mentioning their incredible quality and design!

Shop Anchal Project bedding, pillows and more on Made Trade

In Hindi “anchal” means the decorative edge of a sari used to provide comfort and protection to loved ones. It also means shelter. Simple and straightforward Anchal is changing lives, sustaining tradition, and creating high quality textiles that benefit not only you but the planet too.

Kantha scarf from Anchal Project on Made Trade

Shop sustainably made pillows, bedding, quilts, scarves, and more from Anchal Project on Made Trade.

Shop sustainably made pillows, throws, and more from Anchal Project on Made Trade