Sheenagh Day is a bloody sensible girl. The skilled geneticist – with a BSc in Genetics from Leeds College and a Masters in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence School in New York – moved to Bangladesh (from the UK) in 2000. In Dhaka, she was working for Companions in Inhabitants and Growth, an intergovernmental initiative created to enhance collaboration within the fields of household planning and reproductive well being; when an invite to go to a area people of ladies making baskets (95% of the world’s jute comes from Bangladesh), was an eye-opening, nine-hour journey that utterly modified her life.
Historically in Bangladesh, ladies solely stay in schooling for a few years, as a substitute they’re married younger and anticipated to have kids. ‘These fantastic ladies requested me to assist them to promote their product,’ says Sheenagh, ‘ They informed me, ” We’re very poor, with little schooling and we wish our daughters to have a greater life than we now have.”‘
Describing her profession as ‘curly wurly like a double helix,’ in 2004 Sheenagh determined to return to London to arrange a Honest Commerce firm, Maison Bengal, to assist the ladies promote their merchandise to the western market. Self-funding the enterprise, she began out with market stalls at Spitalfields, and Greenwich. Promoting stylish and easy baggage and baskets, designed by an artist good friend Jane Morter, who works on a contract foundation for the corporate. Individuals favored the product. Inside 5 years Maison Bengal acquired a few large orders from The White Firm – and now sells in 37 nations around the globe.
Maison Bengal pops up at Ally Capellino
Listening to Sheenagh inform her unimaginable story, at an Ally Capellino occasion, just lately (recorded on Ally’s Instagram feed HERE) the delivery of Maison Bengal appeared like a really easy course of. So, I requested her if this was actually the case, ‘ It was fairly simple, nevertheless it took a very long time – as neither I or my suppliers had labored with the business sector earlier than,’ explains Sheenagh. ‘It’s been an natural progress, one step at a time as and when reasonably priced. I by no means requested for outdoor monetary assist to hurry issues up. I had little or no thought of the way you grew a enterprise, aside from to easily carry on attempting to promote the products, and see what occurs,’
This success has meant an enormous change for the villagers. ‘Our suppliers may in all probability not have coped with a fast progress, so it’s a good factor the enterprise advanced because it did,’ continues Sheenagh, ‘The largest challenges, as soon as the enterprise received to a sure measurement, have been actually to do with storage of the merchandise and discovering the suitable individuals to assist pack and despatch the merchandise.’ Working with an NGO, Maison Bengal ‘skilled the neediest individuals’ – and supplied them with these new expertise.
Who makes your baggage?
‘For ladies who by no means go away their village, this can be a large deal. They’ve way more financial empowerment than they’ve ever had. They’ll purchase cows, construct a home, purchase an electrical rickshaw for his or her husbands – however an important factor is to coach their kids, notably their daughters.’
Realising the advantages of standard pay – in comparison with fishing and farming – the husbands at the moment are concerned in basket-making, too. Given the patriarchal nature of the society, this took surprisingly little encouragement, in line with Sheenagh, ‘As soon as they realised their wives have been getting a daily revenue, and the way a lot their household benefited from this important addition to the household funds; it wasn’t a problem.’
Additional Giant Jute Bag by Maison Bengal
Now 60, Sheenagh is altering ladies’s lives in a totally completely different approach. Growing this enterprise mannequin has allowed her to have extra of an affect on ladies’s well being. With the backing of Maison Bengal, the village has gone from no well being care in any respect to having a small mom and youngster clinic with a physician who comes each Friday (historically a Muslim day without work). ‘ The explanation I left genetic counselling was often because I felt I couldn’t change issues. I may probably assist individuals make the very best, educated choices for themselves, however I couldn’t take the issue away,’ Sheenagh explains, ‘ With Maison Bengal we goal to attain sustained transformative change in individuals’s lives. To assist their kids fly and make their lives higher. And I’ve definitely achieved extra when it comes to what makes me tick as an individual.’
At the moment serving to 5000 ladies in marginalised communities all through Bangladesh, Sheenagh is happy with the progress Maison Bengal and its suppliers have made, however by no means complacent. ‘Many individuals now depend on us, so it’s important to maintain drumming up demand for the merchandise, designing new issues, and coping with the numerous challenges we now have to face (Covid, Brexit, fluctuations in foreign money change charges, the consequences of local weather change to call only a few).’
Having labored with the unique Bangladeshi group for over 20 years, she has watched the youngsters grow-up. As we speak, two of the daughters are learning medication and regulation, in Dhaka. The primary ladies from the village to go to college.
Maison Bengal maker
Sheenagh Day’s recommendation on making a distinction:
What would you say are the talents required to attain all this?
I might say persistence and dedication to see Maison Bengal reach offering incomes to households. You could possibly not count on instant success, it was at all times going to take time to construct belief, understanding and a marketplace for the merchandise. I used to be introduced up in France, we moved there after I was six years previous, so attempting to speak if you don’t have a lot shared language is in my DNA. I’ve additionally at all times wished to assist different individuals indirectly I suppose, and to really feel I used to be making a constructive change.
And what have you ever realized alongside the way in which?
That authenticity and enthusiasm are important, all through the entire provide chain, with artisan producers, suppliers, patrons and colleagues. That in the event you imagine in one thing sufficient, and work at it lengthy sufficient, bringing individuals with you all alongside the journey, one thing good will come out of it.
Any recommendation on making a distinction, serving to to alter the lives of others – and even your personal?
I’d say in the event you’re considering of fixing paths in midlife, don’t be postpone by different individuals attempting to dissuade you; by telling you the thought is a step backwards in your profession trajectory, or that you’ll lose face, standing or credibility. When you imagine in your thought, and assume you can also make it work, then go for it!
Maintain issues easy, and at all times be genuine.
Store Maison Bengal HERE. The Maison Bengal pop-up is at Ally Capellino (9 Calvert Avenue, London E2) till 13 August 2023
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