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“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa
I, two, we. Right away it sounded inspired. What is “I2We?” (pronounced eye-two-we)
Inquiring minds at the Clarion Content wanted to know.
Bonnie had encountered this small dedicated group on her trip to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
She bought a couple of great handbags from this Chicago based craft company. See their Etsy here.
Chicago, once the home of the newly immigrated Molly Kaplan, and I2We are part of a long tradition, of immigrants, women, and sewing.
Immigrants and especially women in America have for many years participated in the textile industry at both small and large scales. From the individual loom which was an iconic staple in Colonial Era homes, to the mills of the South so effective dramatized by Sally Field in Norma Rae.
Molly Kaplan worked in a Chicago textile mill. Low cost piece work has long been part of the story of the female American immigrant. Molly was no different. She also sewed beautiful, individual pieces and sold these one-off works of art on the street to supplement her income.
Both suppression and empowerment have been embedded in this tradition. Work is freeing. Piece work is entrapping, promising the allure of a good salary, but really often enriching only the owner. Women and immigrants were often hired for these positions because they were the cheapest available labor.
I2We has seen this long arc and responded. The company makes one-of-kind handbags.
But it is the how that is the story.
Jeanette Srivastava, the founder of I2We, shared that story. An idealist looking to change the world, she had become tired and frustrated by grandiose goals when a small opportunity, a question asked suddenly sparked an idea and opened a path.
Riding an elevator in downtown Chicago, Jeanette met a man with several huge boxes of bags.
“What are those?” she queried.
“They’re from the dental conference. I am going to throw them away,” he replied.
“Wait. What? What a waste. Such a pity. They are brand new. And perfectly good.”
Jeanette convinced the man to donate the 200 bags and an idea was born.
Upcycling. Employment. Empowerment.
It was a small change that started with two hundred bags and Jeanette reaching out to the local Muslim Women’s Center. There she found women interesting in sewing for money. She organized seminars and meet-up groups for the women to find like-minded cohorts. She invested some of her own money.
Five years later, I2We lives on. Women and immigrants have jobs. Flexible, work from home jobs that allow them to keep participating in their family’s lives.
It is an empowering new age model. It bypasses traditional Patron enriching capitalist hierarchies like the maquiladoras of Mexico.
I2We uses legal female immigrants in the great Chicagoland area. They pay fair wages for each piece sewn. They allow the women to work as much or as little they want, depending on the hours they need to support themselves and their family.
They are hoping that their model inspires other microbusiness models in progressive, immigrant rich communities like Durham.
Support immigrant women by shopping for I2We bags here on Etsy.
Find out more by emailing founder, Jeanette Srivastava at i2wechicago at gmail dot com
Remember this world changing idea was started with a simple conversation Jeanette had with a stranger in an elevator.
Even a leader and a heroine like Jeanette was overwhelmed by trying to “change the world.” Starting small enabled her to make a big difference.
Where can you make a small start that may open a wider door or begin a longer path?
What is in the way that can be set aside?
Please comment below the Carolina Partners’ butterfly.
Follow Molly's Minstrels on Twitter here.
Check out Bonnie Cohen’s Life & Relationship Coaching website, TransitionWorks, here.