What is your role in the Fabric Social team?
As with everyone in our team, I take on multiple roles. The majority of my time goes towards managing sales and logistics within Australia. I also work on creative aspects such as the photo shoots, and on the monitoring and evaluation and corporate social responsibility side of things – which is an ongoing piece of work.
What drew you to the project, and how did you first get involved?
I’ve always loved fashion and worked with not-for-profits and NGOs, so I always knew that what I really wanted to do was combine the two. I just wasn’t sure how to do it in a positive way. When I was living in Tanzania I had started thinking a lot about consumption of goods – especially after seeing all of the locally handmade products being exported through the hands of visitors and second-hand products being imported in their place. I started to think a lot about consumption and the fact that while we can inform people about the impacts of over-consumption, the truth is it will never completely stop. People want things. We’re seeing this throughout the world, especially in middle-income countries.
I thought: How can we create a link between consumption and economic development that’s embedded with ethics and human rights and that can build livelihoods? Basically, everything the garment industry wasn’t doing at the time.
I visited a few Tanzanian NGOs and went back to my home in the US with so many new ideas. Then I ended up finding an organisation that did these things right in my own neighbourhood of Indianapolis and went to work for them, helping with a project in India. Not long after that, I moved to Australia to do my Masters. That was when I connected with Fi and Sharna and The Fabric Social, which was just a budding idea at the time. So what drew me to the project in the beginning was continuing to use this idea of product development as a means for livelihood development. I had seen how it works and Fi and Sharna had already identified where we should go. I knew nothing about the Northeast of India, but I understood the connection between conflict and poverty – and I knew I wanted to be a part of the change. The change, even though it might be slow, is what keeps me here.
What is your professional background and what are some of the skills you bring to the project?
Right now I’m working on The Fabric Social but I also have a job in education in Melbourne. I recently finished my Masters of International Development, and previous to that I did an undergraduate degree in International Studies. I’ve worked and interned for various NGOs and not-for-profits, including the United Nations Foundation, The Village Experience, Fairtrade Australia New Zealand and the US Government, and I’ve travelled/lived for at least six months on almost every continent. The skills I bring to The Fabric Social are a mix of understanding of the business processes on almost all levels, knowledge gained through education, and and a well-rounded view of the world from all the travelling I’ve been lucky enough do (thanks for the push, mom). I originally brought my production skills in Excel, which I think Sharna now beats me at!
Monitoring and evaluation is definitely where my heart is though, and I spent a lot of my time at university studying it. I am excited to jump into it again and start seeing the impact our projects have had.
Describe in your own words what The Fabric Social does…
That’s actually quite hard, as we really do so much. If I had to explain The Fabric Social in a few words, I would say that we help to bring stability to conflict-affected areas through our support of women’s small businesses while maintaining local tradition by spreading it through international markets. In countries like India, you have so many women with the skill sets to create beautiful handmade items. However, the issue is that there are so many women who create the same products. By opening international markets, teaching a bit about quality control and mixing the products with a Western flair, you can drive business and thus bring a bit of economic stability – if only for that one woman. We didn’t re-invent anything; we only supported what’s already there through the opening of markets, a bit of business education and some new design ideas.
What was it about Northeast India that first caught your attention and made you want to work with the community there?
The connection with Northeast India is something Fi and Sharna had. I knew nothing about the Northeast – I was just excited to check out something new and use my skills. Fi and Sharna did a great job of explaining the situation to me before I went there myself, and it just made me all the more interested in making an impact there. Having done an internship researching UN Peacekeeping Missions, I was really interested to see some of the impacts of conflict firsthand. It was my first experience working in a society that has been oppressed by military occupation.
What motivates you to keep going through the hard times?
The fact that what I’m doing has a positive impact. Also, knowing that one day The Fabric Social can be my full-time job.
What has been your biggest project-related achievement to date?
We’ve recently expanded with two more projects – and we’re continuing to grow! We now have our project in Assam, and new projects in Mizoram and Yangon. The project in Yangon – while not the most important – is the most significant in that it’s funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in conjunction with Action Aid Australia. I wish I could say I’ve had a huge hand in this but it’s really been Sharna and Fi. They’re killing it. The fact that The Fabric Social team operates on four continents and are still functioning is an achievement in itself!
Megan Schipp is a Director of The Fabric Social, a social enterprise working exclusively with women affected by armed conflict, displacement and other insecurity. The Fabric Social work to transform one of the greatest causes of poverty: armed conflict. You can shop, donate, or get involved here.