Jas lives in the UK, and came to Freeset last year as a volunteer. You can read about some of her experiences on that trip here.
Five months down the track, we asked: how did you use your professional skills in this context; and what now?
Jas, you came to Freeset as a volunteer – how did that happen?
I had been stalking Freeset online for years; frequently checking the volunteer page to see what they were looking for, regularly regretting the fact that I wasn’t a plumber or an electrician.
My eyes lit up when I saw that the need for ‘Lean Production’ skills had magically appeared: that was something I knew well. For the confused, Lean Production is all about creating value (the product or service that a company creates/provides) in the most efficient way possible, without compromising on quality or customer satisfaction. I promise it’s more fun than it sounds!
How did you use your professional skills here?
At Freeset, I worked mainly in t-shirt production, mapping the sewing process from start to finish with help from the staff. Hopefully, this will be a useful benchmark for future iterations of the process.
I also reviewed the quality systems being introduced and helped design graphics showing what good and bad quality looks like.
You also trained a lot of our staff in techniques for how to simplify their jobs, right?
Yes! Training people from across the business was amazing, and the greatest privilege was delivering a session to the supervisors. These women are leaders: fierce, clever and full of passion for their work. Hearing their ideas and vision for Freeset production was inspiring.
I was also lucky enough to give English classes to three amazing students, and left just after seeing them receive their learning certificates.
We know that our employees gained heaps from you – what did you gain?
I don’t even know where to start, the list is too long! I’ll give you my top three:
Seeing India’s strong inner-city communities made me think that in the UK we sometimes forget about the importance (and joy) of knowing your neighbours. I’d better start knocking on doors when I find a new house in Bristol.
On a lighter note, I also learned that I am able to eat an unprecedented volume of rice. Indian food is just too good.
What was it like to return to your home in the UK?
Once home I honestly felt that the maze of lanes surrounding Freeset existed on an entirely different planet; I had left a significant piece of me in an unreachable place. The surreal feeling of reverse culture shock has since subsided, but the sense of deep connection to Kolkata has not.
In order to stay connected with that time, place and people, it’s been really important for me to bring Freeset into my life here.
I’ve found that talking about it really helps. I’ve shared with some local groups, taking a glorious 45 minutes to fill people’s brains with freedom and recycled saris, and I’ve become adept at weaving Freeset into daily conversation.
Aside from talking, wearing the Freeset tees and placing cha cups around the house, I’ve also been trying to live with ‘Mukti’ in mind (the word for ‘liberation’ in Bangla). I want to liberate myself from the things that don’t matter; the ridiculous, pointless things that distract us from loving other people. Whenever I find myself worrying about something inconsequential, I try to take my mind back to Kolkata, and this helps me to remember what is important in life.
How has Freeset shaped you?
Freeset has been shaping my life since I first visited in 2012. Initially, it influenced my consumer choices. Seeing Freeset’s women tying labels and stitching seams was the first time that I had actually been connected with the wonderful people who make my clothes.
My 2018 trip changed my career direction. That time really made me see that fashion can be a solution to problems rather than a cause; an industry in which people and planet matter. I came home wanting to be part of making that happen, and now work in the ethical trade team of a UK fashion brand.
I’ve also given a lecture on sustainable fashion at a university in the south of England (mentioning Freeset, of course), and hope to do more of this. To satisfy the part of me that loves to write, I recently purchased a web domain which will be transformed into an ethical fashion blog. There might even be a podcast in the pipeline…
Basically, I’m just looking for more excuses to talk about Freeset.
What would you say to someone interested in volunteering with Freeset?
Spending time at Freeset can’t fail to change your life. You’ll experience hope, horror, love and shock every day, in a place which probably couldn’t be more different from your home. Your way of viewing the world will be challenged immensely and probably deconstructed, which I think can only be a good thing. Come ready to give, but also willing to learn. You’ll do lots of that.
If you come with the right mindset, your experience won’t be easy but it will be amazing. If your motivations for volunteering is the love of that community and the dream for more women to claim their freedom, then you’re on the right track.
What’s Kolkata like?
The Freeset environment is very supportive and full of some of the loveliest people on earth. You’ll need to come willing to fend for yourself a bit. Gradually you will learn to make your way in Kolkata, and that will become an achievement that you treasure.
Finally, bring an open mind and let all the differences wash over you, don’t fight them. If you go with the flow, you’ll have a much easier ride.
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