Our Source | Basha Boutique

Basha Boutique // Our Kantha from Bangladesh

We work exclusively on all of our textile products with Basha Boutique, HQ'd in the Mirpur district of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Basha is a generous, safe, kind- & whole-hearted business that employs vulnerable and at-risk women in dignified, sustainable work.

Find your blanket's artisan & read her story (or send her a note) here >

Why Bangladesh?

Child labor, human trafficking, child marriage, homelessness, underpaid labor, and sexual exploitation are key risks for many women in Bangladesh. We are proud & thankful to be involved in this country, working to sustain life-giving work. Some of the challenges that inspire the need for work there:

  • Bangladesh is one of 48 "Least Developed Countries", a group determined by the United Nations as exhibiting the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development (based onpoverty,human resource weakness, andeconomic vulnerability). Unlike its neighbour to the west, India, Bangladesh is not a nation developed for tourism. It is densely populated, with 17 million in the Greater Dhaka Area and over 160 million people estimated in its 57K sq miles (approximately the size of Iowa or Illinois).
  • After the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013 (killing 1,130 people, primarly garment industry workers, mostly women), the world began paying more attention to Bangladesh. We realized for the first time that some of our clothes were made in BD (who knew?), and that inexpensive, fast fashion does indeed a cost. Thousands of garment workers were threatened with a loss of pay if they did not come to the unsafe working conditions identified the day before the tragedy. There is a need for safe, healthy working environments where employers care more about their humans than their resources.
  • Bangladesh is a Muslim country, however prostitution is legal. Brothels abound, as well as various types of sex work, both formal and floating. There is a strong stigma against any woman who has worked in the sexual trade; even women who have left the work are typically cut off from their families, even the same brothers, fathers, and uncles who themselves patronize brothels. 
  • “If you want to know why we work tirelessly to make sure Basha can expand throughout Bangladesh, this [video below] will show you why. It is graphic, it is disturbing, but it is an amazingly candid view of what is happening here. It ends stating the fact that once embroiled in prostitution, there is little to no chance of leaving. This is what Basha is changing, one blanket, one bracelet, at a time.”

Why Basha?

Basha means “house” in Bangla. Asha means “hope”. Through dignified work, Basha is building a house of hope for women in Bangladesh. Women gain job skills and the opportunity to develop into leaders and entrepreneurs in a healthy, healing environment. dignify has found Basha to an extraordinary operation, full of integrity, generosity, and love, in addition to excellence.

Basha's Story:

On a July night in 2010, two teenaged girls chatted with one another while they prepared their beds on a train platform. One didn’t have a mother. The other didn’t have a father. “They’ll be in prostitution soon,” I was told by my savvy guide, Razia, who understood their vulnerability. Across from them a new mother held her four day old son... starting his young life with no bed, no home. An older woman eyed me shrewdly, saying she’d slash my throat. “Losing your senses: this is what happens to everyone growing old in the sex profession,” Razia said. I see the mother of a teen I knew, proud of her comparatively solid tent-like structure next to the railroad tracks, paid for by selling her body. Her daughter had started following in her footsteps by age 13.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement, energy, color: three women attending a support program for women leaving sex work were heading towards me. "Sister, sister," they called, as they waved their storybooks. "We're going home to practice our reading!"

I knew then that my four year term with an NGO was not the end of my time in Bangladesh. Seeing the joy and hope on their faces in the midst of so many others resigned to squalor and degradation...

Less than a year later, a small number of women completed their time with Basha's first partner organization, Children's Uplift Programme, and prepared to begin paid work with Basha, stitching our blankets from recycled saris in a traditional kantha stitch.

CUP was well established and had been providing a drop-in centre, medical care, counselling, and life-skills training for mothers living on the streets in Dhaka. But, many women had struggled to find a livelihood because of the stigma attached to sex work and the trauma that they continued to deal with. Upon completion of up to three years with CUP, Basha would now offer them true, independent employment and the opportunity to leave behind their past lives for good. 

The early days were challenging. Basha was a radically different environment from the one our new employees had known before. Quality standards were a totally new concept and caused frequent quarrelling. But, gradually, our trainee artisans discovered that with diligent work they could earn a good wage. 

As time passed, the sharp pain on their faces was gradually replaced with the peace and hope.

Basha Today:

  • Five production centres, working with various training programs to prepare women for employment:
    • Dhaka (partnered with Children's Uplift Programme)
    • Mymensingh (partnered with MCC's Pobitra program)
    • Bhaluka (a girls hostel and production centre available for any artisans wanting a fresh start in a new community)
    • Jessore (partnered with the Salvation Army drop-in centre & training program)
    • Tangail (Basha's own training program; brothel site)
    • ~120 Basha artisans and 40 admin & support staff
    • ~100 children in daycare, provided free as a job benefit (paid by support from Friends of Basha)
    • The price of a Basha blanket pays for:
      • A fair wage to the woman who made it, based on local standards and cost of living (fairwageguide.org)
      • On-site day care where children have a safe and stimulating environment. Plus, support for their education (tutoring if they are in school) and two healthy snacks a day (rice and lentils, noodles, eggs, milk, peanut butter).
      • Medical support, including on-site nurse visits and payment for 50-100% for their medical costs. (medications are often overused, hence the 50%; but, for example, with an employee’s recent heart valve replacement, 100% was covered between Basha and Friends of Basha).
      • Benefits, like an annual bonus & paid leave.
      • A safe, sensitive work environment. Many women Basha employs would not be employable somewhere else: women with anger issues, trauma, mental health issues, etc.
      • Ongoing education: 4-6 hours per week so they can continue to develop professionally and personally. 
      • Profit sharing: still a work-in-progress.
      • Marketing and product development, allowing Basha to grow & create more jobs for women at risk and survivors of trafficking. 
      • Access to the global market: The ability for dignify to import, market, & sell the goods in North America




    What About Fair Trade?

    Basha is committed to fair trade and its principles – for excellence in Basha's own business practices, and to support the movement towards a better form of global commerce.

    Basha has been accepted into Bangladesh's local entity, Ecota Fair Trade Federation, and is working on their application for the WFTO. In the meantime, Basha continues to promote ethical trade & exceed Fair Trade principles:

    1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers: Basha supports poverty reduction through trade with small and marginalised producers.

    2. Transparency and accountability: Basha is transparent in business dealings with all members of the supply chain.

    3. Fair Trade practices: Basha operates with concern for employees’ social, environmental and economic wellbeing. We pay above the local standard for similar work, and employees also receive a share in any profits. Other employee benefits include: part-payment of medical costs, gratuity and severance pay, festival bonuses and a subsidised crèche facility.

    4. Payment of a fair price: We operate fairly in our local context by offering at or above market prices for materials and services whenever possible.

    5. No child labour: Basha generally does not employ anyone under the age of eighteen. Girls between 16-18 who meet Basha’s criteria are provided employment in compliance with local labour laws, which include safe working conditions, restricted hours, and ongoing education.

    6. Non-discrimination, gender equity and freedom of association:Central to Basha’s work is the righting of gender and cultural inequality. Basha does not discriminate when hiring on the basis of race, religion, age or background.

    7. Working conditions: Basha seeks to maintain excellent health and safety standards and practices, and to foster a positive and enjoyable working environment.

    8. Capacity building: We seek to continue to develop of all our employees, offering ongoing professional and personal training. We currently offer training in life-skills, business, Bangla literacy and English.

    9. Promotion of Fair Trade: We are an active advocate for Fair Trade through web and printed promotional material and at events. We also seek to lead by example among our competitors.

    10. Respect for the environment: A high proportion of our materials are re-purposed or recycled. We source materials locally and choose carbon-light transportation of goods where possible.

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