We work with charities and NGOs based in India. These organisations link us to women who want to earn a living but who need help finding those opportunities. The organisations meet with the women, often in community centres, and they create an environment in which the women can meet, sew together and support each other. The groups of women who sew are called Maker Networks. Secret Projects then runs a training session using our POWER mantra to teach the women to make Secret Pillows. Importantly, we provide a route to market for what they have made – the final link in the chain they previously lacked. They are supported with training & development and the ultimate goal is for the women to become financially independent.

In more depth...

The women who join a Maker Network start a journey of empowerment with Secret Projects. This is a 4-stage programme:

Stage 1 - Training and SAMPLE Secret Pillow production  

  • Secret Projects engages with its customer base, explaining the importance of working with new groups of women. Secret Projects tells customers about the challenges faced by the Indian women (typically lack of financial resources to pay for their child’s education, food, medicine) and asks its customers to pre-order SAMPLE (trainee) Secret Pillows. The money covers some of the cost of running an empowerment workshop and ensures the products are pre-sold. This means the women can participate at minimal risk.
  • Secret Projects runs a workshop which teaches women how to safely make a Secret Pillow to exacting standards.
  • Secret Projects pays each woman an advance of 33% of the sale price so that they can buy the materials to make their first SAMPLE pillow, with a guarantee that Secret Projects will sell the pillow.
  • On completion, Secret Projects pays a further 17% per pillow to the producer.
  • The SAMPLE Secret Pillows are then sent out to waiting customers (all SAMPLE Secret Pillows are sold as pre-orders for £40).

        Stage 2 - Professionalism 

  • After the women’s SAMPLE Secret Pillows have undergone rigorous quality control checks, the Maker Networks move on to Stage Two of Secret Project's empowerment model.
  • Maker Networks begin to make Secret Pillows which are sold at 25% more than SAMPLE pillows (£50).
  • These pillows are held by Secret Pillow Project as ‘In Stock’ pillows (i.e. they are not pre-ordered by customers). As such, the women do not receive their income from the pillow sales until the pillows are sold.
  • The women are given cotton and wadding to make their Secret Pillows. These materials are sourced and supplied by Fritha from the Indian fabric markets. This ensures that 'In Stock' Secret Pillows are sold as collections, often following trends in western markets, and made from good quality materials.
  • When sold, the women receive 14% of the price of the pillow. Additionally, they have not had to pay for the materials to produce them.  

        Stage 3 - Development 

  • The Maker Network is supported to develop a sustainable future through entrepreneurial activities that the women choose.
  • The women are trained to make new products that advance their sewing skills. Our new range of Secret Clothes require them to learn how to sew zips, for example.
  • The Maker Networks begin to empower other women in their communities through making and selling SAMPLE Secret Pillows.
  • Women are able to access a loan from the project at a low interest rate to pay for their own training (i.e. to improve their tailoring skills) and to upgrade machinery (i.e. to buy an overlocking machine).
  • Women receive 10% of the sale price of their pillows at this stage.

        Stage 4 - Independence and Diversification 

  • Women begin to develop more skills, help each other, and diversify their product ranges.
  • Women branch out and make new products or offer services to local businesses or other international suppliers.
  • Women receive 7.5% of the sale price of their pillows at this stage. This price is benchmarked against another well-known ethical Indian producer, Fab India.
  • Women can continue to stay at this stage for as long as they wish to.

Note the diminishing returns payable to the women for producing the pillows:  This is fundamental to the Secret Pillow Project’s model of empowerment. The initial amount received by the women for their SAMPLE Secret Pillow is very high; this is a reflection of the time the women have invested to get to the stage where they are skilled enough to produce their first sample pillow. If we continued to pay at this level there would be no incentive for women to reach Stage 4 of the empowerment path. They would not progress individually and we would be unable to widen our reach.

By offering a diminishing return as the women’s skills increase, we encourage the groups to become self-sustaining and find other routes to local markets with their products. The money the women receive at Stage 4 is still very competitive, but since it is not as much as the amount paid at Stage 1, the skilled and empowered women will look to diversify their income. In turn, Secret Projects will be in a position to offer opportunities to more women.  The ultimate goal for Secret Projects is to enable the women we work with to become financially independent.

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