We are kicking off our Fashion Revolution celebration in April with Katie Schmidt, the founder, owner, and lead designer of Passion Lilie. Passion Lilie is a fair trade apparel brand for women and men with a mission to empower artisans across the world by creating dignified employment opportunities.
The fast fashion industry encourages us to wear things a few times, or even just once, and then move onto the next new trend. As a fair trade fashion entrepreneur, Katie is out to change that.
By offering fair wages, safe and healthy working conditions, and long-term employment to artisans in India, job opportunities with Passion Lilie and other fair trade brands lead to sustainable societies and a better world. They are committed to using eco-friendly materials throughout the supply chain and preserving the artistic and cultural talents of their craftspeople.
1. What inspired you to start Passion Lilie and work with women artisans?
In the summer of 2012, I visited a small group of female artisans living on the outskirts of Bhopal in India. These women were providing hand embroidery work for a local workshop. While getting to know these amazing women, I started to notice that they didn’t own a lot of materialistic possessions. Curious, I asked a struggling mother what she would want if she could have anything in the world. She answered modestly, “Happiness and prosperity for my children.”
This answer completely touched and humbled me. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to help her and others like her. I met with the workshop owner and asked if it would be appropriate to give her money. I wanted to help her provide for her children, and this seemed like the obvious answer. His response to me was, “No, they don’t want charity. They want jobs.” This experience changed my life and inspired me to start Passion Lilie, a fair trade clothing company that employs artisans in India.
2. What countries do you currently work in?
We currently work with teams located in Bangalore, Jaipur, Tirupur, and Hyderabad in India.
3. How is Passion Lilie organized and how many artisan groups do you currently work with?
We are comprised of 15 women in Bangalore, India. These artisans receive free on-the-job training, an above-average salary, 24 days of sick leave, 11 government paid holidays, assistance in obtaining health insurance, and financial advising. This team works together at a workshop, which many artisans have expressed is one of their favorite things about the business, because they get to form a positive and uplifting community.
A few of our other artisan groups are spread out. One half of our scarf and tote team is located in the state of Andhra Pradesh. These artisans work at a workshop started in 1969, which has now been passed down to two talented sons of the original owner. Ten men and women regularly work at this location. The other half of our scarf and tote design team, which includes ten highly skilled block printers, works in Jaipur.
Our fabric production is usually done within our artisans’ homes. We work with one head weaver who gives the processing orders to all the families. These families live in homes with a room used for weaving. Each home typically has 1-3 looms.
4. What sorts of products do the women make?
These women are incredibly talented, producing both women’s and men’s apparel. They make gorgeous tops, skirts, shorts, dresses, pants, outerwear, scarves, and tote bags.
5. What is your personal favorite product and why?
My favorite is the Chambray Ikat Dress. It’s comfy yet stylish, especially in the New Orleans climate where I live.
6. When women work, the impact of the investment is greatly multiplied. What benefits or positive changes have you seen in the communities where the women work and live?
These women have formed such positive and uplifting communities. One of our apparel production teams celebrates the joys in their lives, such as a new baby being born, by bringing sweets to work. They eat lunch together and help each other out like a family. When asked what they love most about their job, all of them expressed their appreciation for the community they have at work.
Seeing women coming to work and building this strong support system with each other, helping themselves to become more empowered, is so inspiring for the younger generation of women. I love that it shows them that this is how their workplace can be, and they can accomplish more together.
7. We love your commitment to empowering other women! What advice would you give to girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?
The secret is to break up your passionate dreams into actionable steps. For me, it’s all been about small daily, weekly, and monthly goals. With the right self-management, an idea that seems vast and nearly impossible can become totally achievable. Also, trust the process. Most people are anxious to get to their goal right away, but in reality, you have to figure out where you’re going along the way and be willing to adjust as needed. I would reassure young girls that the answers will reveal themselves as they wholeheartedly pursue their passions and interests.
8. What woman has had the biggest impact on your life?
My sister has had the biggest impact on my life. When I was only 14 years old, she passed away. This huge moment in my life made me realize how precious life is. My sister, at only the age of 19 years old, already understood that. She once told me, “Everyday you should try something new.” And in her spirit, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to become the female entrepreneur that I am today.
Watch Passion Lilie’s new video about the process of making their clothing from start to finish: