I don’t like wearing brand logos.

Whenever I walk down the street, I think of clothing factories all over the third world owned by multi-nationals... factories in which the t-shirts worn by people I see on the bus, in the supermarket, in the queue at the movies, are made. People tell me that they wear logo T-shirts for the image, but myself, I can’t imagine why you’d want to advertise the fact that you paid $60 for a Mooks or Rhinestone t-shirt that was made by someone earning about that amount per fortnight.

That’s why all of us here at Beautiful Silks - the main business entity behind Elephant Concepts - are so proud of our work with Vikasana Institute (www.vikasana.net). - because the clothes we wear empower the makers, members of rural self-help-groups. Vikasana organises rural poor in a way which improve the lives of collective members, usually very poor women. In October 2008, we took a group of 15 students, one businessman, and two tutors - Nalda Searles and India Flint - to Mandya, in Karnakata state, South India. There we were privileged to be able to work with over 120 poor women in increasing their skills and productive capacity. We aim within two years to increase their income from $2.50 - $3.50 a day to $7.50- $9.50 a day.

Multinationals want to drive down costs by moving to places where the labour is cheapest. We at Beautiful Silks want to play our part in ending poverty. Vikasana’s artisans enjoy:
• increased wages
• better housing through the Housing Co-operative
• no slave labour
• no child labour
• nutritious meals served free on site as part of salary package
• better working conditions
The next building project incorporates an on-site school for artisans’ children where they can be cared for whilst their mothers are learning or working. Children also will receive free nutritious meals.

Vikasana members produce ornamental dolls, silk string and environmentally-friendly shopping bags - all these from recycled silk, as well as sandals and shoes; they operate a Grameen-style bank, an orphanage, and a school for children. All products are made using traditional Indian handicraft techniques. For the shopping bags, highly durable silk fibres arebe turned into string then woven before being dyed with ecologically sustainable plant inks. The shopping bags are an alternative to plastic. As the average Australian uses at least 300 plastic bags a year, one silk bag is expected to save up to 3,000 plastic bags. Based on that comparison, each bag will save half a tonne of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Grameen style banks to date has operated only “savings and loan” type investments which do not expand outside the communities of the participants. It operates from the ground up, often in a “self-help” group situation, wherein borrowers identify the need for a business to serve their community, borrow micro-amounts with only their responsiveness to community sanction as collateral, and operate micro-businesses inside their local community. This generally means that they are limited to the imaginations of the participants. Trouble is, if you’ve always been too poor to travel outside your own village, you’d have a pretty limited imagination.

Marion and I spent two weeks interfacing a village-level program with an international supply chain. We arrange the raw materials and transport in as well as the shipment out. We drafted the website, the sales contracts, the standards documentation. We helped them introduce a professional structure to their Grameen-style bank. It’s now the first Grameen-style bank on the planet to have an international supply chain grafted onto it.

I taught 5 small business classes and worked with local artisans in preparing business and marketing plans. these artisans are part of a 600-member Indian women’s collective based in a rural village about 30 kilometres from Mysore in the south. As a result of our co-operation, Vikasana supplies a world-wide fair trade market with items required by western consumers. It’s a good social partnership between our business at Beautiful Silks, and theirs. We are the sole distributor of Vikasana products on the planet, outside India, and many of the products aren’t made outside Vikasana because of the difficulties in sourcing the raw materials, usually different types of recycled or reprocessed silks.

Vikasana also accepts investments from individuals and self-managed superannuation funds for its development programs and offers AUD denominated 5 year bonds at a healthy 9.095% - 500 basis points above the current yield on Australian Treasury bonds expiring at the same time. (Product disclosure statement is on their website).

When you wear a Vikasana garment, display a Vikasana doll in your home or office, or incorporate Vikasana products into your designs, you show the world that you value the artisan who made them, not the multinational which paid them slave wages to produce them.