Ethical fashion: My chat with Fritha Mason, founder of the Secret Sari Dress project

Ethical fashion is THE thing now that we have all come to appreciate green living and ethically manufactured clothing. An innovator and inspiring female entrepreneur in this sector is Fritha Mason, and founder of Secret Projects, which runs the Secret Sari Dress campaign. You can see me here also sporting a couple of different Sari dresses. I simply love them as they are very easy to wear and more importantly very fresh. Particularly lovely during the summer. 

Secret Sari Dress ethical fashion

I love wearing a Secret Sari Dress. There are various designs. The polka dot and the jaguar models are my favourite Saris.

What is a Secret Sari Dress? 

A Secret Sari Dress is a simple, yet gorgeous dress made from a sari, that can be worn on the beach, at a festival or party as well as at home and in the garden. Made by young women in West Bengal, who without an income can be a target for trafficking gangs. Click here to meet the Makers.

This powerful and unique dress is so versatile!  Unfurling from it’s little pocket into a great, stylish dress for the beach, or festivals, to look gorgeous at home, or in the garden, this dress adapts to a myriad of occasions!

What makes the Secret Sari Dress Unique?

The Secret Sari Dress is not just for looking good in… folding into a tidy pocket, it takes up so little space in luggage that it makes an ideal item to pop in your carry on suitcase for holidays!  Dubbed the ultimate festival dress, the Secret Sari Dress has become a hit and found fame in the Rock and Metal world. As word about the story behind the dress spread, wonderful strong and empowered women from the industry came forward to lend their support and our #SheRocks campaign was born.

Made in West Bengal at Molly’s Sewing Unit this dress isn’t just about style, it’s about empowerment. West Bengal has a frighteningly high rate of trafficking and young women without an income are at risk of falling into the hands of trafficking gangs. The young women at Molly’s Sewing Unit are paid a good rate for each Secret Sari Dress they make, providing them with income to support themselves and their families, making them much less vulnerable to these external forces.

Fritha Mason With Secret Pillows. Image Copyright by Julia Neal

How did you come up with the idea of Secret Projects?

Having travelled extensively in India, through many isolated communities, I founded Secret Projects learned of an issue that affects many women throughout the continent. The women that I met in these communities had been taught to stitch at home and school as girls and could produce the most beautiful clothing and homeware. What they lacked, was the knowledge needed to sell their goods either at home, in India or on the international market and earn an income from their expertise to support themselves and their families.  When I learned of this problem, I felt compelled to solve this selling obstacle and, in 2014, Secret Projects was born. 

How difficult has it been to set up this project?

Setting up an ethical business isn’t easy, but we have kept going since 2014, adapting and evolving as necessary in order to grow. In 2019, I took the decision to transform Secret Projects into a Community Benefit Society, giving people the opportunity to become Shareholders. We are proud to have over 260 committed Shareholders, each one sharing our vision of a world where all women have the confidence and resources to make choices, thrive and contribute to the strengthening of their communities.

What are the biggest challenges in running Secret Projects?

Our challenges have been many since I set up Secret Projects, from operating in India to being a retailer in a changing and challenging retail environment and of course over the last 12 months the global pandemic, which has changed the landscape hugely and has bought so many challenges.  However, if there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that resilience can help overcome any challenge. Although some challenges do take longer to overcome than others of course, and the current situation with Covid-19 is something that we can’t make light of. 

What is the best feature of a Secret Sari?

So many! From a practical point of view, it folds up into a nice, small, neat pocket that won’t take up too much space in a suitcase, which makes it great for travelling. Made from gorgeous Indian sari fabric by our Maker Group, Molly’s Sewing Unit in West Bengal, it’s style means it can be worn not just on the beach or in the garden, but it looks great for the evening. It has been dubbed the ultimate festival dress and embraced by women in the Rock and Metal world.  The best feature for us though and for our Customers is that it empowers and provides marginalised women living in an area of  India with a frighteningly high rate of human trafficking with an income generating opportunity, making them much less vulnerable to these external forces.  

What’s your ultimate mission for the Secret Sari campaign?

#SecretSariDressCampaign and #SheRocks –  a global community of women and men sharing their power to drive women’s empowerment in India in a wide variety of ways, working alongside Secret Projects! has the clearest mission and aim and that is to continue to empower women in India through the production of the Secret Sari Dress. Production = Empowerment.  The campaign is now in its third year and the impact of these last 3 years have seen: We have sold £10,000 worth of Secret Sari Dresses! 

We have provided income generating orders for marginalised young women at Molly’s Sewing Unit, West Bengal, where the dresses are lovingly made 

We have over 60 female Influencers – who keep the story of the Secret Sari Dress alive all year round! 

 

The impact of pandemic has fallen unequally on women. How can your Secret Projects make a difference? 

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we continue to work tirelessly to empower women through the making and selling of clothing and homeware. We know that  women don’t want hand-outs – rather to have opportunities to earn a fair wage to support themselves and their families.   There are millions of women in India who are trained to stitch but are unable to use their sewing skills to earn an income. Secret Projects is designed to create income generating opportunities for women in India by using their expertise.

We work closely with established and reputable NGO’s in India who connect us with women who have good sewing skills, but are unable to earn an income using these skills. Our Makers join our 4 stage, Virtual Training for Empowerment  that not only provides women with training to make our products to earn an income, but also for those who want to an opportunity to start their own micro-enterprise

 

How do I fold away my Secret Sari Dress? 

Please click here to watch a film showing how to fold your dress away.

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