What is happening with dignify?
How are the women in Bangladesh doing?
What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on what you're doing?
These are all questions I have received over the last two months, so here are some updates.
Bangladesh was shut down on March 26 — transportation was ceased, factories closed, religious gatherings limited etc. The country is slowly beginning to re-open now (mid-May), with mosques opening for Ramadan prayers, factories getting back to work, and shopping opening up.
COVID-19 poses a great number of humanitarian concerns for a "least developed country" like Bangladesh — both directly from the public health aspect (limited ICU beds, limited ventilators, limited PPE, precarious medical system), and from the ramifications of stay-at-home safety measures.
Desperation increases theft & crime. Stress increases domestic abuse. Financial strain presses families to arrange marriages for young daughters. Many risks for vulnerable women continue in Bangladesh.
At Basha's 5 production centres, artisans and most staff have been able to work from home. There has been no disruption to employment or income to artisans: incredible! Basha — who also supplies other retailers internationally — has not had any cancelled orders. This is extraordinary, when billions of dollars (literally) of garment factory orders have been canceled.
The stay-at-home order poses a different impact for many Basha artisans and other vulnerable or poor populations in Bangladesh (different than the impact here): home is often more crowded, and less safe, than work.
Like Basha always does, they are providing support, wisdom, & care (to the best of their abilities) to all the artisans & staff, amidst overwhelming circumstances.
Friends of Basha is distributing food to marginalized people who have otherwise little or no support for survival: 450+ prostituted women and their children in closed brothels (in three cities where there are Basha offices, including Jashore, where I visited in January); ~70 floating workers in the sex trade; and ~100 transgender people (very ostracized & discriminated against) who live next to the brothel and receive zero aid.
Friends of Basha is caring for the vulnerable people who are simply not being cared for otherwise.
What an opportunity for representatives of Basha to express in a tangible way that every woman is worthy of value and dignity! One woman in a brothel expressed, with tears rolling down her cheeks:
"We are feeling happy for this food. Thank you for thinking of us. May God bless you and we all pray for your safety. We were struggling for food. Our situation is so hard. No one came to us and asked us exactly what we needed. Nobody values us. They treat us as products. But you treat us as human beings."
One challenge upcoming may be the supply of materials. Because of limited transport within the country, we're not sure what the availability of recycled sari cloth will be in the coming months. This is the key material for almost all of dignify's kantha blankets!
[You can read more about my trip to Bangladesh here. Specifically to see how we buy the material that goes into making our colorful kantha products, watch my 1st Instagram highlight of Bangladesh and skip to about halfway through.]
Already we have some challenges in procuring the volume of saris we need (and in the right style)... so, this may impact the products that Basha is able to produce for a time.
Basha is actually hopeful to grow: to continue to add new trainees and new employees, as they build relationships with women who are receiving glimpses of hope for life beyond the brothel.
The world, our finances, and how people shop have changed dramatically in a short time.
Within this reality: dignify is doing really well! Sales are steady & growing.
Partly, we are very lucky as a business. Our office is already in our house. We don't regularly employ anyone beyond me & my husband. Everything that interacts with others is done remotely.
But, also, we are benefitting from the past 7.5 years of work: consistently delivering an excellent product that people want and appreciate; doing our best to treat each customer as a valued person; offering a beautiful, redemptive story to join & participate in.
I am humbled and thankful that dignify has continued in a healthy, sustainable way during this unprecedented time.
But, I also feel that it's not an accident! There is something to be said about putting one foot in front of the other, showing up to work, pressing on through boredom or discouragement, and simply continuing (slowly) in the right direction.
As we near 8 years of business, I can't point to any exponential boom, but rather a steady march towards sustainability and success. I am grateful!
・How will our future supply be impacted?
・In the summertime, many people buy classic throws & large throws as wedding gifts... this year, what will that mean? Postponed weddings and no gifts? People looking for more or better gifts because couples are still getting married but without the big party? 🤷♀️
・Will the financial duress hit the wall for our customers and our sales will really slow down? Will we have a much more low-key Christmas season (our most successful time of year)?
Nothing will answer these questions but time. In the meantime, may I express how much I appreciate your support (you're still reading this! 👏).
Each individual (you!) who is here makes all the difference — to the work of dignify, Basha, Friends of Basha. There is much hope here!
This week, I posted on my personal Facebook page about Amazon's Prime Day, with some stats that bothered me.
A thoughtful friend commented with honesty,
"Could you share some more of your insights about Amazon. I don’t disagree that their model is terrible but I also haven’t been convinced enough to forgo the crazy convenience of it.
Help convince me!"
Here is the response I posted.
Colleen sent in this message:
Hi, love the items and have purchased several.
Question: last week I had put a classic throw in my cart and then shopped for another and placed in my cart as well and when I went to complete the purchase, they were marked as sold and unavailable.
How does this work? Was extremely disappointed!
I completely understand — what a disappointment! Let's talk more about this...
(Photo courtesy of Friends of Basha)
Reflections from my experience visiting a Brothel in Bangladesh
As impossible as it is for me to believe now, earlier in 2020 I flew around the world. The primary objective was to visit Bangladesh and see, in person, the life-changing work in which dignify has had the privilege to participate over these past 8 years.