From Quilt to Box

December 11, 2017

Winter CAUSEBOX was designed by two architects. And its color palette was inspired by an artisan in Kolkata. Join us as we follow along with Maggie and Colleen Clines from classrooms at Rhode Island School of Design to artisan workshops in Kolkata, India to designing the amazing Winter Box.

———

Anchal Project began as a collaboration between two Rhode Island School of Design graduates who thought they were going to change the world through design. Colleen remembers, “Everything changed when I took a seminar class called ‘Design for Development.’ It challenged us to come up with innovative solutions in communities to larger, systemic issues.” She traveled to Kolkata and met a local NGO leader, which helped her further realize the ways that design and creativity can be applied to a world in need and ultimately change lives.

Meanwhile, Maggie was working on socially conscious architecture projects, including a study of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Her class was working on creative ways to reuse a retired uranium facility, and that daunting endeavor prepared her for the even more challenging road ahead. Colleen was scheming ways to work with the amazing women she’d met in Kolkata and Maggie was two years behind her in the rigorous coursework at RISD. Maggie says, “Both of us had linear projections for our careers. Then we saw that we could have more impact than I ever anticipated as a young woman. So I jumped onboard and we decided to make a go of it as Anchal Project!”

Talking to the two of them together is a formidable whirlwind of intelligence and inspiration. The two of them could design the world’s next iconic building or landscape installation, or they could change the world on a human level by identifying ways to meet needs and demand with creative approaches. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how the two of them transitioned from the massive scale of buildings to designing textiles and all of the logistics associated with the creation, production, and delivery of handmade home goods.

Colleen answers, “We were both used to designing solutions for systems—whether it’s an urban plan or a large building. And that helped us create a model and figure out the scope of the systems that we integrate into.” Maggie feeds off of her answer organically, “We had both worked on different design projects. I worked at a scalable furniture brand and witnessed how design could have an impact on the world, whether it’s groundwater issues, delivering furniture around the world or figuring out textiles.”

As for the actual design and production of textiles, Colleen concludes, “That was a definite shift.”

We are always curious about the trajectories that lead our partner brands from amazing ideas to well-executed realities. Maggie tells the story of Anchal’s first years: “We had a few immediate successes. Our NGO partner was featured in a documentary called Half the Sky that really put it on the map. America Ferriera visited the workshop and fell in love with the project, and she ultimately became an ambassador for the infinity scarf. Soon after, we had a collaboration opportunity with Urban Outfitters and received a well-timed grant from an organization called ‘Dining for Women,’ which allowed us to scale from 15 artisans to 60 and complete the Urban Outfitters order. We are always striving to sustainably grow at a pace that our artisans are comfortable with.”

The next milestone in Anchal Project’s history was a masterful pivot, when Colleen and Maggie challenged the artisans to create a more contemporary line of products that could compete on the marketplace beyond the realm of socially-conscious or one-off pieces. The artisans responded enthusiastically to the organic fabrics, contemporary designs, and new stitching patterns. “For a long time, cause was first and product came second. But, we’re moving into a phase where product is first and the story naturally follows it.” This is a reality that CAUSEBOX and its partners grapple with daily, and we are always amazed by the ways different brands manage to honor artisans and continue to roll out successful and competitive products that help their brands grow.

That brings us to the melding of traditional and contemporary on the Winter CAUSEBOX. We wanted Anchal Project to bring its amazing and complex story to life while invoking a cozy wintertime feel on the box’s exterior. Colleen mentioned scanning the textile to get the most realistic vibe and texture of the quilt, and that marked the beginning of the design process. “It was super collaborative and really fun to bounce back and forth. We started manipulating the colors and the pattern so that it’s based on the quilt but more complex and special for the box.”

They continue, “What’s interesting about scanning in the textile is that it translates the intricacy of the artists’ work. Each stitch is representative of the journey that an artisan is making to transform her life and move towards self-empowerment. Each quilt can take two or three weeks to make.”

Anchal Project’s first tagline was designing change stitch-by-stitch, and the hyper-realistic translation of the naari quilt to the box design is a manifestation of the way an individual product can have many lives and transform many lives, too. Maggie jumps in, “There’s another element—the design of the naari quilt was based on a photograph of one of our artisans. Colleen and I design each of our pieces based on a photo of one of our artisans, or the architecture of one of their workspaces.” And, for spring 2018, the designs will be made by artisans.

The Anchal Project product lines are based on its quilts, which are designed from a photo of an artisan or workspace. The Winter CAUSEBOX is an extension of a quilt designed to honor the women who make Anchal what it is. “It’s not about us or our design abilities. We always try to return to the artisan’s hard work, determination, courage, and talents. We sincerely credit all of our success to them.” This box is not only full of amazing goods made by thoughtful world-changers, the box itself is a testament to the creativity, talents, and determination of women the world over.

👉 Learn more about Anchal Project at anchalproject.org — and explore all of their beautiful products!

John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.