Beautiful, Ethical Fashion from Indian Slums

 - Apr 3, 2012
References: bachhara
Amanda Fisher is the designer behind Bachhara, an ethical fashion line created by women working at the sewing center at the Jaago Foundation in the Dhaka slums in Bangladesh.

In the following interview, Amanda dives deeper into her social business model, discussing how Bachara is "doing charity but not in the traditional way," and shares more about the things that keep her creative, like dance meditation.

4 Questions with Amanda Fisher, Designer at Bachhara

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
The idea for Bachhara was born in the slums of Bangladesh when I was helping run the Jaago Foundation, a free school for underprivileged children. The school was always short of money (like most grassroots organizations) and we were constantly relying on handouts or money from me and the founders to survive every month.

After working on such a grassroots level I soon discovered that charity is not the answer to helping the world. It's not sustainable and only breeds a victim and handout-dependent mentality. I also found that most of the time the children who came to the school were from families that relied solely on the mother for their survival. With women having such low wages and unfair working conditions, our students were forced to contribute to their families' income by begging or collecting rubbish. Not only did this take away their right to be children, it also took away the opportunity for them to make the most of their education.

This is when Jaago's founder Korvi Rakshand and I came up with the idea of a sewing center social business for the school. I dove deep into this project, finding the seed money for start up and sourcing the women and staff. Once we bought our first sewing machines, we needed something to make.

I wanted to make sure we didn't create products that aren't desirable in the market -- a mistake many grassroots organizations make -- so I put my creative skills to use and started designing. This is when Bachhara was born.

2. Can you share more about your social business model?
Originally I was designing for the Bangladeshi market as I was living in Bangladesh full time, but I ran into visa issues and was forced to move back to Australia. It turns out that is exactly where I need to be, and I started turning my attention to the Australian market, returning back to Bangladesh every three months for one month at a time.

Upon returning to Australia I met many women who wanted to get involved in a project the way I did, but couldn't or did not want to do it in the same capacity I had.

I see Bachhara as a beautiful vessel for social change. We are doing charity but not in the traditional way. You get something for your money and you can celebrate what it means to truly be beautiful and a woman at the same time.

One thing I want to guarantee is that what we do is never about guilt, anger or sadness, but about appreciating the beauty of human beings and our capacity to do so many amazing things. I want to bridge the gap between the west and the nations affected by the way we choose to live our lives here. I think many of our problems stem from the notion that many of us have no idea how connected we really are.

With the rise of the Internet and new knowledge I think we will all became global citizens, not just citizens of singular nations. If our planet and world grumble we all grumble the same way, whether you live in Australia or Bangladesh. There are so many ways we can prevent this from happening, but we need to want to do it first. There are so many of us that do, and this inspires me every day.

Bachhara's main areas of focus fall under 4 sectors.
1. Grassroots project partners: We help grassroots projects create a product and adhere to a certain set of standards when it comes to what we call fair and ethical labour. (Currently only in Bangladesh, but we're looking in Bali and Mexico)
2. Environmental responsibility: This area of our work involves us learning our own traditional methods of natural dyeing and celebrating all that is handmade and recycled. We hope to one day have collections entirely made of environmentally-conscious products.
3. Creativity and design: We believe we live in a creative world and strive to bring out the artist and creative side in everyone we work with. At Jaago the money made in sewing center and donated by Bachhara goes towards creative workshops and projects within the school.
4. Social business and education: We want to truly blend the lines of business and charity by proving we can create a successful, socially-forward business and still make a profit every year. Knowledge is a powerful thing and we really try to bring knowledge from both Bangladesh and Australia to all the people we work with and our customers.

3. How do you get your inspiration?
I'm big on colours and textures. My collections appear in front of my eyes like a movie. Life inspires me and most of all nature inspires me. A single flower can hold so much beauty and so many dreams. If you stop to watch and listen, nature provides an endless supply of inspiration. I love spending time driving up and down the coast of Australia in search of waves with my husband (who is a surfer); I discover so much untouched beauty that keeps me connected to our beautifully creative world.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Being in nature without a phone or any sort of technology definitely does it for me. Diving under a wave in the ocean, or standing on the soil with bare feet always brings me back after a long day on the computer. I dream of one day having a property where I can lay on the earth naked to bring me back (without scaring the neighbours, of course).

Morning affirmations and dance meditation also really help me bring myself back to what is truly important.