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Hands-on Help for Women


As a summer intern at dyeScape in Louisville, KY, Emily Dissen 18 TX is working with victims of human trafficking.

After learning about design for social change at RISD and working with women in Sri Lanka through the Landscape Architecture department, Colleen Clines MLA 10 headed east to India to apply design thinking to a very real and heart-wrenching need. In cofounding Anchal, a textiles startup that creates job opportunities for those trapped in the commercial sex trade, she taught local women to design and sew kantha quilts using recycled saris. Anchal then sells the product online, helping women to earn a regular income, healthcare benefits and healthy doses of self-confidence and self-reliance along the way.

For the past couple of years, Clines has been working to bring Anchal’s model of opportunity to women in her hometown of Louisville, KY, where a new initiative called dyeScape helps victims of human trafficking learn to make sustainable, hand-dyed textiles for the marketplace. When Anchal won a $15,000 grant from the city in 2014, it allowed the nonprofit to transform vacant urban lots into gardens for growing yarrow, hollyhock and other flowers used to make dyes.  

“The human trafficking problem in the US has been hidden behind closed doors for too long,” says Clines. “We wanted to provide alternative careers to exploited women stateside.”

This summer a Textron Award obtained through RISD’s Career Center has enabled Textiles major Emily Dissen 18 TX to intern at dyeScape, where she’s teaching the newest group of Anchal employees basic gardening and dying skills. “Natural dying is part of the Textiles curriculum at RISD,” says Dissen, “but every dye plant is different, so I’ve been learning a lot. At first I was a little shy with the women in the program, but they’re really nice and excited to learn.” 

Dissen is one of six interns helping out with dyeScape this summer, contributing energy and skills that have been a godsend, Clines confirms. “Emily is leading workshops with artisans, developing dye recipes and maintaining multiple gardens,” she says. “I met her through [Landscape Architecture Professor] Lili Hermann, who has been a mentor to both of us.”

In anticipation of the upcoming holiday season, dyeScape employees are making hand-stitched heart-shaped ornaments dyed with indigo and marigold, which will be sold on Anchal’s website. “It has been amazing to work alongside these women,” says Clines. “They’re coming from really traumatic situations and showing an immense capacity for moving forward. I think having a creative outlet is hugely beneficial.” 

Clines is planning to travel to India again in September, where she’ll head up a new training program and report on the impact of Anchal’s work on the communities it continues to serve in Calcutta and Ajmer. Dissen will be back in Providence getting deeper into textile design during her junior year and beginning to think about next steps after RISD.

“Before I graduate, I want to get a good sense of the scope of possible careers I can pursue,” says Dissen. “I might do a more traditional internship at a textile design company next summer, but based on this summer’s experience I know that I’m definitely interested in social issues and using design thinking to address them.”

Simone Solondz

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tags: alumni, entrepreneurship, global, internships, nonprofits, public engagement, Landscape Architecture, social responsibility, students, Textiles

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.