The bag firm making an actual distinction to girls’s lives — That’s Not My Age

Maison Bengal raffia bag


Sheenagh Day is a bloody sensible girl. The educated geneticist – with a BSc in Genetics from Leeds College and a Masters in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence Faculty in New York – moved to Bangladesh (from the UK) in 2000. In Dhaka, she was working for Partners in Population and Development, an intergovernmental initiative created to enhance collaboration within the fields of household planning and reproductive well being; when an invite to go to a area people of ladies making baskets (95% of the world’s jute comes from Bangladesh), become an eye-opening, nine-hour journey that fully modified her life.


Sheenagh Day with villagers in Bangladesh


Historically in Bangladesh, ladies solely stay in training for a few years, as a substitute they’re married younger and anticipated to have youngsters. ‘These fantastic girls requested me to assist them to promote their product,’ says Sheenagh, ‘ They instructed me, ” We’re very poor, with little training and we wish our daughters to have a greater life than we now have.”‘

Describing her profession as ‘curly wurly like a double helix,’ in 2004 Sheenagh determined to return to London to arrange a Honest Commerce firm, Maison Bengal, to assist the ladies promote their merchandise to the western market. Self-funding the enterprise, she began out with market stalls at Spitalfields, and Greenwich. Promoting stylish and easy baggage and baskets, designed by an artist buddy Jane Morter, who works on a contract foundation for the corporate. Individuals preferred the product. Inside 5 years Maison Bengal obtained a few large orders from The White Company – and now sells in 37 nations world wide.


Maison Bengal pops up at Ally Capellino


Listening to Sheenagh inform her unbelievable story, at an Ally Capellino occasion, just lately (recorded on Ally’s Instagram feed HERE) the start of Maison Bengal appeared like a really easy course of. So, I requested her if this was actually the case, ‘ It was fairly simple, nevertheless it took a very long time – as neither I or my suppliers had labored with the industrial sector earlier than,’ explains Sheenagh. ‘It’s been  an natural progress, one step at a time as and when inexpensive. I by no means requested for out of doors monetary assist to hurry issues up. I had little or no thought of the way you grew a enterprise, aside from to easily carry on attempting to promote the products, and see what occurs,’

This success has meant an enormous change for the villagers. ‘Our suppliers may in all probability not have coped with a fast progress, so it’s a good factor the enterprise developed because it did,’ continues Sheenagh, ‘The largest challenges, as soon as the enterprise acquired to a sure measurement, had been actually to do with storage of the merchandise and discovering the fitting individuals to assist pack and despatch the merchandise.’ Working with an NGO, Maison Bengal ‘educated the neediest individuals’  – and supplied them with these new expertise.


Who makes your baggage?


‘For ladies who by no means go away their village, it is a large deal. They’ve much more financial empowerment than they’ve ever had. They will purchase cows, construct a home, purchase an electrical rickshaw for his or her husbands – however a very powerful factor is to teach their youngsters, significantly their daughters.’

Realising the advantages of standard pay – in comparison with fishing and farming – the husbands are actually concerned in basket-making, too. Given the patriarchal nature of the society, this took surprisingly little encouragement, in line with Sheenagh, ‘As soon as they realised their wives had been getting a daily earnings, and the way a lot their household benefited from this vital addition to the household funds; it wasn’t a difficulty.’

Further Giant Jute Bag by Maison Bengal

Now 60, Sheenagh is altering girls’s lives in a very completely different manner. Creating this enterprise mannequin has allowed her to have extra of an affect on girls’s well being. With the backing of Maison Bengal, the village has gone from no well being care in any respect to having a small mom and little one clinic with a health care provider who comes each Friday (historically a Muslim break day). ‘ The explanation I left genetic counselling was often because I felt I couldn’t change issues. I may presumably assist individuals make one of the best, educated selections for themselves, however I couldn’t take the issue away,’ Sheenagh explains, ‘ With Maison Bengal we intention to realize sustained transformative change in individuals’s lives. To assist their youngsters fly and make their lives higher. And I’ve actually achieved extra by way of what makes me tick as an individual.’

At the moment serving to 5000 girls in marginalised communities all through Bangladesh, Sheenagh is happy with the progress Maison Bengal and its suppliers have made, however by no means complacent. ‘Many individuals now depend on us, so it’s important to maintain drumming up demand for the merchandise, designing new issues, and coping with the various challenges we now have to face (Covid, Brexit, fluctuations in foreign money trade charges, the results of local weather change to call just some).’

Having labored with the unique Bangladeshi neighborhood for over 20 years, she has watched the kids grow-up. As we speak, two of the daughters are finding out medication and regulation, in Dhaka.  The primary ladies from the village to go to college.


Maison Bengal maker


Sheenagh Day’s recommendation on making a distinction:


What would you say are the abilities required to realize all this?

I might say endurance and willpower to see Maison Bengal reach offering incomes to households. You might not count on rapid success, it was all the time going to take time to construct belief, understanding and a marketplace for the merchandise. I used to be introduced up in France, we moved there after I was six years previous, so attempting to speak while you don’t have a lot shared language is in my DNA. I’ve additionally all the time wished to assist different individuals in a roundabout way I suppose, and to really feel I used to be making a optimistic change.

And what have you ever discovered alongside the way in which?

That authenticity and enthusiasm are important, all through the entire provide chain, with artisan producers, suppliers, patrons and colleagues. That when you consider in one thing sufficient, and work at it lengthy sufficient, bringing individuals with you all alongside the journey, one thing good will come out of it.

Any recommendation on making a distinction, serving to to alter the lives of others – and even your individual?

I’d say when you’re pondering of fixing paths in midlife, don’t be postpone by different individuals attempting to dissuade you; by telling you the thought is a step backwards in your profession trajectory, or that you’ll lose face, standing or credibility. For those who consider in your thought, and suppose you may make it work, then go for it!

Maintain issues easy, and all the time be genuine.



Store Maison Bengal HERE.  The Maison Bengal pop-up is at Ally Capellino (9 Calvert Avenue, London E2) till 13 August 2023



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