Friday 31 October 2014

Made with Care

“You’d think the biggest challenge would be taking the whole family to India. I quit my job; we took the two kids out of school and enrolled them in an Indian one. We spent 36 hours on a train up to Rajasthan, 40 hours on the way back.”

Matilde Ferone is an activist, born and trained, from Hackney. She loves nothing more than travelling, collaborating and giving back to the world. She has packed up her family - her husband and two beautiful daughters Blue 8 and Maya 5 - more than once to step away from the high life of London, to really live: cultural lessons, spiritual epiphanies and grassroots connections the central focus.

“The biggest challenge instead has been finding the best way to market my project and its products. I’m a one woman show, so working out how to best manage my time, as well as maintaining self-belief in my mission definitely trumps living in India, or anywhere for that matter."

Matilde is the founder of Matik Boutique – a London based boutique and project working closely with women textile producers in India and Ghana to reframe fair trade in terms of fashion.

“I have always been interested in the role of women in development. Research and practice show that by investing in women, we can break the poverty cycle. Women tend to be more effective at saving money, they are more likely to invest in their children and they are generally more responsible,” Matilde explained.

When Matilde and her family were in India earlier this year, sourcing and connecting with women’s collectives for her project, she met Lakshmi Bai, a Quilt Maker from Rajasthan who said: “ This job has given me the opportunity to give my daughter a better future. Whatever I could not enjoy as a child, I ensure that my daughter gets. She will get the best education possible. I used to worry a lot about how I would do it but now I have courage and money. I will work more and earn more money and make her a doctor." 

“That’s why I am doing what I am doing,” Matilde added. “To empower these women to have a say in the lives they and their children live.”

Matik is a fusion of feminine thinking and drive. It’s a sisterhood of style-conscious, ethically aware women working together across continents to create a wellspring of positive change.

The scarves, throws, quilts and children’s clothes are all made with care. “And by ‘made with care’, I mean one of a kind, hand-made items, created by using traditional skills. I also mean paying a fair price to hard-working women, helping them to achieve economic security and independence.”

When travelling through Rajasthan in India with her family - after living in Patnem, a very small fisherman village in the south of Goa for three months -Matilde came across the organisation Anoothi, which assists impoverished village women in India attain economic self-sufficiency. “I loved straight away the way they work with women and could see great potential for my idea, which also opened way for connections.” The relationship to Ghana is through Matilde’s mother who is the founder of Una Chance, a charity working to raise funds for NGOs on the ground in Ghana who works to free children from slavery and provide them with education and marketable skills. “When my mum returned from one of her visits, she told me about a group of young women who had just graduated from school and were learning to be a seamstresses. At the time, Matik was mostly an idea, but it obviously fit well with what I was hoping to do, so I did my research and a few months later, I was in Ghana.”

I’ve since struck up a relationship with an American company, Global Mamma, working on similar principles to Matik and I am creating more partnerships locally in India and Ghana.”

** But let’s take a moment to rewind. Matilde’s story actually originates in Rome, Italy, where she is from. 

“I studied Economics at university because it seemed safe. Then, during my third year, I won a sponsorship to study abroad for a year. I chose to go to Toulouse in the South of France. The multicultural environment and the freedom here was very different to conventional Rome. It was a huge was an eye opener for me. I realised that the path I’d had laid out for myself wasn’t going to be enough. Simply having a job and earning money wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a life that had meaning.”

When she returned to Italy, she began studying Development Studies. “I signed up for a semester learning about micro-finance in the developing world and studied direct trade as a tool for social change. After graduating, I went to Pakistan where I worked for four months on a microcredit project.”

She proceeded to set up a social enterprise called AMP (artmusicpolitics) with her husband, which created an informal platform through music and arts for NGOs and grassroots organisations to talk about their work. “We did some really inspiring events with Friends of the Earth, War on Want, People and Planet and many others.” She then spent five years as the Events Manager and later the Development Coordinator for a campaign on palm oil at Rainforest Foundation UK, a human rights and environmental organisation working for Indigenous People’s rights in Africa and South America.  

“Then I had this idea, a culmination of my interests and professional background really. I wanted to create a project where I could help people to use the skills they already have to make products that could then be sold in the European market to reap them financial reward while educating the European community about fair trade fashion. I wanted to change the way people look at fashion.”

“When people think of fair trade, they think of food and coffee. Too little people realise fair trade applies to fashion too. I want people to become more aware of the products they buy, whether it is clothing or home ware, and start to question where they come from and who makes them, because someone did make it from somewhere, and it’s important that people consider whether they want to support the conditions under which it was made.”

“As a consumer, we have great power.”

While Matik is still a work-in-progress, Matilde says the most rewarding part is meeting the women. “Seeing them at work and learning their stories reinforces that what I am trying to do is making a massive difference, and spurs me to keep going.”

With her eyes on next steps, Matilde says she wants to collaborate with European designers and look at possibilities of bringing designers to meet the women in both India and Ghana to promote cross learning. “I’ve also got my internet shop, and I’m doing occasional markets, but I have to work out whether in the long term I want Matik to be a shop or a fashion label, but that will become clearer with time."

Come November, Matilde and her family are back on the road. “We are returning to India to live for six months where I will further develop relationships. After that, we are thinking of going to Indonesia or the Philippines for the next adventure, and of course if we do, I’ll be looking for projects to team up with there.”

To buy any of Matik's gorgeous products, visit the store here.


Leah is a passionate storyteller, a multi-skilled communications specialist and a devoted human rights activist. She writes to ignite meaningful connection, to arouse curiosity, to push boundaries, to live large, to speak up, to create change.

She is deeply fuelled by a desire to create ideas and build visions to make this world a better place. A place where we can each equally follow our dreams - regardless of the place we were born, our religious affiliations, our sexual identity, our access to education. Everything in fact to do with the status quo. After studying the causes of conflict and division in society, Leah now uses storytelling to unite people, to create community and to open opportunities for collective action.

Her website, Paper Planes Connect, is a place to celebrate our difference and to unite in our sameness.

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