The backbone of Bija rests on our partnership with Saheli Women, a nonprofit ethical and sustainable clothing manufacturer in a rural village called Bhikamkor in Rajasthan, India.
Saheli Women was launched in 2015 as a social initiative of the Institute For Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development (IPHD), a women’s empowerment and rural community development nonprofit focusing on three programs in the areas of livelihood, health, and education. IPHD uplifts the lives of hundreds of rural families by providing a set of social impact services which include sponsoring girls' education, providing a female-only health clinic, and offering workshops on a range of topics including human rights, feminism, menstrual hygiene, health, and finances.
To revive dwindling rural and artisanal villages, Saheli Women connects Bija with their network of 25 rural women. Saheli Women are trained in product design and sewing, as well as craft skills that are indigenous to Rajasthan, including embroidery, weaving, and block printing.
Bija offers these blossoming women artisans employment in crafting the Bija collections. We take their handiwork of traditional patterns and designs and translate them into contemporary styles and silhouettes appreciated by the modern, global woman.
Saheli Women artisans are given fair trade living wages (3 times the minimum wage), health insurance, safe and comfortable working environments free from gender, religious and caste discrimination, healthy work hours, and secure and continuous employment throughout the year (no matter the season or demand). These holistic impact services are essential in ensuring the women's livelihoods and increases their overall quality of life. A portion of our profits from the products we sell is returned to Saheli Women to further invest in their their life-changing rural development efforts.
Bija is also dedicated to ecological practices and preserving a vibrant cultural heritage of Indian craft skills and textiles. We work with Saheli to source sustainable materials such as organic Indian cotton and handloom khadi as well as natural plant dyes for printing.
Bija aims to help radically transforming the fashion industry. By offering an alternative product for conscious consumers, we are doing our part in revolutionizing the global juggernaut that is degrading and exploitative to both humans and the planet.
Each piece is tagged with the name of the woman whose devoted touch handcrafted it, connecting the customer with the maker. You can meet the makers of each product by reading their profiles to learn more about their story weaved now with yours.
LETTER FROM FOUNDER
March 2019 Bija was conceived over two years ago in an instant burst of inspiration while visiting Maharashtra and seeing admirable rural development initiatives. Initially I genuinely thought it was a passing idea for others more experienced and knowledgeable in the relevant fields. But the vision lingered for almost a year and the fire kept burning to serve rural women, and help change the way fashion industry operates. After a serendipitous meeting with my now dear friend and brother, fashion consultant Ajay, on the sacred day of Janmasthami in 2017, Bija began to take its roots. All my life I would have never imagine myself doing anything like this. But I just kept taking the next step laid out for me. Somehow the path would always clear as we moved forward, all due to the gracious support of a few selfless supporters and well wishers.
Bija has became a project I felt beckoned from within—it is foreign territory on the surface, but stirs my heart's most profound longing to serve Mother Earth and Her most vulnerable people. From researching and sketching, envisioning and measuring, choosing the best fabrics and color combinations, vetting possible factories, learning a new language of the fashion world and how to start a business...we somehow finally find ourselves here launching Bija Artisans: a clothing brand brought to life in order to serve the women's empowerment initiatives in India. I pray that Bija always remains in service to flourishing these critical efforts that holistically uplift the lives of rural women.
As a geographer by education, I am often haunted with doubts and, at times, internal rebuke for entering into the fashion industry that has been so degrading to both people and the planet. But it is for these same reasons that we must endeavor for an alternative path to do our small part in revolutionizing a global juggernaut that is polluting our land, water, and air and robbing millions of garment workers of their dignity to a decent life.
We certainly aren't perfect, and it’s important for us to be honest with where we are at. We recognize it will take some time to reach our highest ideals, but we are committed to becoming more and more responsible and sustainable in our design, sourcing, and production. We promise to always be transparent in our progress and compromises, always striving to close the gap between our actions and higher ideals as best we can to inch closer and closer to a purity of work and service.
For our spring and summer 2019 collections, we sourced our fabric at fairtrade prices from artisans in a village called Bagru just outside Jaipur, Rajasthan. The fabric is all organic cotton and the prints are made from hand carved wood blocks and seasonal vegetable dyes. The fabric is made in small batches, sundried, and hand washed to conserve energy and water. We also limited our production volume to a small number of units to ensure that we sell out and there is no left over inventory. The garments are then made by a small-scale factory in Delhi, owned by a husband and wife, who comply with SEDEX standards.
With that said, there are several issues we still grapple with: our buttons, zippers and elastic material sourcing is unaccounted for; organic cotton takes a huge amount of water to grow; do we even need tags?; what about the volumes of disposed clothing and production scraps left to waste?; and perhaps most glaring, we ship our collection halfway across the world.
We want you to know that we are thinking of these issues and we are committed to doing better. Some concerns we have plans to address that we are excited to share, such as indigenous Indian cotton varieties that need substantially less water, or even better, upcycling old sarees for future signature products. Other areas we don't at the moment have clear answers to, such as being inextricably bound to the global energy system. But we believe that in order to set out to make the necessary changes in the world, to make a global impact, we must take courage in our sincerity, patience on the path, and faith that divine grace will take care of the how.
Living a life of integrity that is aligned with our values while immersed in a world that’s built off exploiting the very things we hold most sacred is challenging and humbling. Coming to grips with my own limitations in this battle, while still trying my best, will be a constant evolvement for me as a person and Bija as a growing organization. When I find myself disheartened by any shortcomings, I often find solace in the wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita 18.48:
"Every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work which is born of her nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault."
I hope you find Bija clothing a righteous alternative that you can feel confident in partroning--that our brand image and ethos is one in the same, and our commitment to action and change is guided by our service to both people and the planet.
with well wishes,