How Wishwas is Making a Difference for Women’s Lives: An Interview with Founder Nivedita Chandrappa

Wishwas Foundation

by Nevena Rousseva

They say that New York City is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, and it’s what makes the city so special. When a different cultural group integrates their own uniqueness, another layer of interesting is added to this vast city. But it’s not always easy for different groups to assimilate into a new environment. In this case I’m talking about a particular group,  low-income immigrant women living in Queens. Most of these women come from Bangladesh and spend their days sitting at home caring for the family with rare access to socializing or familiarizing their new environment.

Nivedita Chandrappa became aware with the silent struggle of these women and started the Wishwas foundation with the mission to help these women thrive in their new environment. Wishwas offers low-income immigrant women a range of classes from design and sewing to developing a business plan, to legal services, and healthcare resources.

Wishwas Foundation

on the right: Wishwas founder Nivedita Chandrappa

.I visited one of the sewing classes held at the Jamaica Merrick library in Queens. On this day there were about 20 women, (the average is between 30 and 45) most with their young kids who were running around and playing. The room was very loud as this was not just a learning opportunity, but a chance for the women to socialize. For many this class is their only chance to get out of the house. The women were learning about patterns, sewing techniques, and decorative stitching. Many of them already have some kind of knowledge in design, and the class is a chance for them to expand their skills and gain confidence. Most learn during class and take work, such as embroidery, home.

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Wishwas Foundation

Women in class

In order to garner attention to these women Wishwas is holding a cocktail fundraiser on September 26th at clothing designer Naeem Khan’s design studio. Tickets available here.

I caught up with Nivedita over email about the beginning of Wishwas, how it’s helping women, and how she wants to see it grow.

How and why did you start Wishwas?

I started Wishwas because I felt a need for the grassroots women to understand women’s empowerment, equal rights and economic freedom. It started out as a seed idea to give mothers a choice to work and nurture their own talents, besides serving the household and remain just as caregivers.

I started Wishwas with two more friends and we first started at Kew Gardens Community center in 2010, with the help of wonderful volunteers who believed in my vision.

Wishwas Foundation

finished product

Who are the women that Wishwas is helping?

Low-income women who maybe home makers, refugees, disabled etc.

How was the sewing circle organized?

The sewing circle is organized by assessing the skill levels of women, they should have some background in sewing, should know basic addition and subtraction.

We gave presentations in libraries and the libraries who saw the need for this program came forward to host us in their respective libraries, it so happened that most of them were from Bangladesh, but we do have a few Hispanic, Haitian immigrant women too who are enthusiastic to learn sewing.

Wishwas Foundation

embroidered by hand

Who are some of the designers that are working with Wishwas?

Amy De Crew, Kristine from Spencer Devine, Rekha Krishnamurthy from Divine Designs. Handcrafting Justice, Good Shepherd missionaries. Few orders for ethnic clothes are trickling in, eventually we hope to have the women form a co-op and bring out their own designs and brands.

Are the women eager to learn?

The classes are packed, we had to reduce the class size!

Are you seeing an improvement in the lives of the women who come to the weekly meetings?

Yes, some of them are taking orders from home, some are working with designers learning new skills, they make a few extra bucks that can help them share household expenses. It has improved their self-esteem, they are eager to learn English and speak to people other than their ethnic background.

Wishwas Foundation

How can someone get involved with Wishwas?

We welcome anyone who is interested in volunteering their time, contact us at 718-785-6355 or e mail us at team@wishwas.org.

What does Wishwas mean?

Wishwas means faith in one’s self in Sanskrit.

Wishwas is hosting a fundraiser with Naeem Khan. How did that come about and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

I happen to meet Ranjana Khan, Naeem Khan’s wife who was at one of the fundraisers hosted by Reema Rasool from Saywe.org. Ranjana Khan who is also a jewelry designer and has an upscale jewelry line, auctioned her jewelry for Wishwas through which we raised our seed money. Ranjana Khan took interest in our project and has also introduced us to her famous designer better half, Naeem Khan!

We are grateful to have Ranjana and Naeem Khans behind our organization, we hope to raise funds through their help and support.

How would you like to see Wishwas grow?

I hope and dream that Wishwas will create different kinds of co-ops and women can make more financial decisions, and create successful small businesses.♥

For tickets to the Wishwas fundraiser click here.

Wishwas Event Invitation

Hear This, Drink This, Wear This

By Lacey Rutter

Summer is officially coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to end. Turn on a fun jam, grab a goodbye summery drink and let the fall fun begin!

So…

Hear this: Saint Motel- My Type, this feel good jam with throwback melodies will have you dancing into fall.

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Drink this: Mint julep, a cocktail that will have you remembering the hot summer days the old-fashioned way.

Mint Julep`

Wear this: People Tree- Pippa Leaf Dress, throw on some old school skates and take this dress to the roller ring, listen to Sound Motel all night long with a mint julep in your hand. Get it here.

People Tree Pippa Leaf Dress

Tesla Sustainable Style Night

Monday night was about sustainable fashion at Tesla’s style night hosted by Remedy.

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

Remedy Design

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

Remedy Design

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

by artist Mark Samsonovich

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

leather tie

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

Naës lingerie

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

(RE) by Lanni Lantto 1920s inspired upcycled dress, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

Kids clothing made form upcycled men’s shirts, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

(RE) by Lanni Lantto 1920s inspired upcycled cape, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

(RE) by Lanni Lantto 1920s inspired upcycled jacket, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

Remedy designer Ashley McAleavy, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

artist Mark Samsonovich, photo: Paul Do

Tesla Style Night New York Fashion Week

photo: Paul Do

(RE)designing with Lanni Lantto: Interview

Lanni Lanto Draped See Dress

photo: Yin Tang

by Nevena Rousseva

LA based Lanni Lantto is not a designer. She is a (RE)designer.  Her approach is unconventional, as was her route to fashion- starting out as an environmental and social activists in Washington D.C. The premise of her designs is using pre-existing materials, like clothing she finds in thrift stores to breath new life into them as redesigned pieces. Instead of sketching designs she uses an actual garment as her canvas and lets it guide her to creating a new piece.  This way she creates zero new waste and actually keeps garments out of landfills. Her goal is to take upcycling mainstream and change perceptions about the concept.

On September 9th Lanni will be participating in Tesla’s Style Night where through her redesigns she will explore the transformation from petroleum-based transportation to electric vehicles. I caught up with her about redesigning, her philosophy, and the challenges facing her and the fashion industry.

What’s your favorite part about redesigning clothing?

The creative process, being able to conceptualize the potential of the transformation of one object into something else is very exciting.  Then being able to tell people what it is made out of and in their reaction seeing that they just saw that same potential and knowing that now they are forever changed. Even if it’s the tiniest of rethinking, at least I was able to affect them by showing them what is possible.

You were an activist before moving to fashion- why fashion?

Yes, I was born an activist in that I have always been very sensitive to the injustices around me.  We live in a culture that degrades women and destroys nature.  It may seem that these things are separate but I believe they are very much related.  Fashion doesn’t have to be so superficial; it is a wonderful vehicle of change.  It’s all about the message we convey through this medium; and my message is about rising above the bulls*it to a higher truth.

What’s the higher truth?

The truth is that we all are beautiful as we are.  You don’t have to do anything to become beautiful nor does a flower, – it just blossoms into what it was always meant to be.  Making a connection between our personal self-worth and the value of our natural resources is a big first step.

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Lanni Lanto XL Blazer

photo: Yin Tang

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the fashion industry today?

Long-term sustainability, limited raw resources, and ethics.  The fashion industry has gotten itself to a very greedy stage; create as much as possible as fast as possible while making as much money as possible.  The results have been devastating considering this is a trillion-dollar global industry; toxic chemicals, immense water waste, Co2 pollution, landfills overfilling with last season’s trends, low wages and inhumane working conditions.  We are so over-fed by ready-made fashion that we don’t even know where our clothes are made or even HOW they are made!  I ask people all the time, do you know how your shirt was made? Do you?  Redress Asia made a great video that shows a shirt’s lifecycle.

Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve redesigned?

I’m currently working on a piece that tells the story of our transition from the mindset of industrialization to ‘ecolization’ (I may have just coined a term!).  There are so many layers of symbolism that are possible through the art of clothing; color, texture, history – along with the actual materials like car parts, employee tags from the River Rouge plant, voltmeters – all these things tell a story without words.

What are you finding to be your biggest challenge right now?

My biggest challenge is patience.  I have so many ideas on how to bring upcycling mainstream that require collaborating with other people.  There is a lot of integrity behind this mission so it’s about waiting for the right people to show up at the right time.  Which I am confident they will.

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Lanni Lanto Design

photo: Yin Tang

What’s one other thing in the world you’d like to see get redesigned in some way?

There is a global movement happening, where as a species, we are evolving to a new level of thought and action.  We are seeing the negative consequences of how we have designed our lives over the past couple hundred years and we’ve realized this is not working for the planet or us.  We are redesigning our future in all areas (from green architecture to gift economies) based on ecological principles- working in harmony with our surroundings instead of dominating them.  I see fashion redesigning as one part of a whole in our awakening to a better future.

Where did you grow up?

In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, surrounded by woods and Lake Superior.  It takes about 3-7 hours in any direction to get to a “major” city so it’s easy to be connected to nature.  It’s a harsh place to grow up 8 months out of the year (cold climate and heavy snow) but we tend to become very resilient and resourceful as a result.♥

For more on redesigning check out some of Lanni’s videos. To see more of Lanni’s work click here.