Work + Shelter: How Your Tote Bag Is Empowering Women

At Olive & Heart, we are curating a selection of fair trade goods that come from organic farmers in Palestine and social enterprises that focus on an ethical supply chain. In addition to connecting customers, readers and followers to artisans and staples from Palestine, we look forward to opportunities that allow us to feature social enterprises from around the globe as we grow. WORK + SHELTER is one such company to which we’ve had the pleasure of being introduced. In fact, it was through the women-run Sitti Soap, whose handmade we offer, that we learned about WORK + SHELTER.

WORK + SHELTER’s founder, Theresa VanderMeer, is a force for good. When VanderMeer visited India for the first time, she went as a university student under a grant that allowed her to study the effects of economic empowerment on women in India. She interned with a local NGO that supported traditional Indian crafts and artisans as a means of economic support. Throughout her various, invaluable experiences there seemed to be a missing component in the solutions offered to women facing intense hardship. Theresa observed a need for a measure beyond economic support to pull women out of systemic poverty. She wanted to guarantee shelter to the women providing the crafts. From there, WORK + SHELTER was born.

Among the unique qualities of the entity, women are not required to have knowledge of the garment industry to join WORK + SHELTER. The nonprofit arm of WORK + SHELTER provides trainings to cultivate the skills needed to become paid artisans. What is more, the women are compensated for the trainings. Some women have even moved on to become full-time WORK + SHELTER employees. Other support to the women includes being set up with bank accounts, education in money management so they can support their families and health services.

Rare as it is to come upon a women-owned, women-run manufacturing company, VanderMeer has kept her eye on the small steps needed to make a big impact. That is clear when she talks about her love of “teaching a woman who has never used a computer to double click for the first time, or getting little girls who can’t read into school. As an entrepreneur working for change, every single thing I do matters. The progress is real, and addictive. I love it!"

Though this enterprise is focused on uplifting women out of the most dire of circumstances, VanderMeer and the growing WORK + SHELTER team continue to seek ways to improve upon ethical and sustainable supply chain methods.  The materials used in the WORK + SHELTER factory are primarily organic or upcycled, which is to creatively repurpose materials that would have been discarded.

We love it when we come full circle and forge a truly supportive community that crosses borders, and are proud to have WORK + SHELTER’s tote bags serve as the canvas for Ayed Arafah’s art work.

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