I had the opportunity to meet Michelle at the Denver Freedom Market this summer, and was absolutely blown away by her story. Her passion for helping women find freedom is stunning, and we can’t wait to collaborate with her. Hazel & Deen’s Artisan Partners are alleviating poverty through job creation and transformational ventures. This craftsmanship and Direct Trade model is effective in providing opportunities for women around the world who would otherwise have none. Read more about Michelle’s story below!
Written by Michelle Pride, founder and president of Hazel & Deene
I was 21 when landed in Kolkata at the break of dawn. Hot season had just arrived…and I didn’t know what that meant until I lived to experience the sweltering afternoons in a city where personal space was not a concept embraced by the masses.
Kolkata is a place unlike any other on this earth. It is a hauntingly beautiful city full of architectural feats and untouched hidden gems that reveal a tangled and mysterious past. The buildings are empty and the streets are full.
At that time, it was also lagging behind the globalization spreading across India. It was truly an anomaly and one that captured my adventurous spirit through my days wandering its winding alleys and hearing stories from the people who called it home.
There are many smells that can overwhelm a new arrival to Kolkata: from simmering curry to sweltering piles of refuse…from lots of bodies and not so much deodorant to the incense that is constantly burning at small shrines.
To me, there is a different smell that marks my time in Kolkata.
It is the smell of jute.
I lived and worked with a freedom business in Kolkata called Freeset. This business is literally taking over the red light district from the inside out as it is located in the heart of the main lane of the brothels. Outside the business there is oppression, fear, and injustice. Inside those four walls, however, freedom, dignity and justice are found.
At Freeset, jute is used in abundance. Jute is a natural fiber that is sometimes mistaken for burlap. The jute used at Freeset comes on huge rolls that are as tall as most of the women employed there. The smell of jute is not so powerful in small quantities, but when the entire building is filled with jute…it is a very distinguishable smell.
If you’ve never smelled it…
Jute smells like laughter during chai time.
Jute smells like excessive hugs when you haven’t seen each other in…oh say, four hours.
Jute smells like family that shares no blood lineage.
Jute smells like curry dinners shared on the floor of one room apartments.
Jute smells like freedom.
I was marked by my time in Kolkata and transformed by my relationships. I still stop dead in my tracks when I smell jute and my entrepreneurial journey to start Hazel & Deene is in large part due to my time there. As most travelers, I expected to bring back part of Kolkata with me when I returned…I never expected to leave part of myself there.
But I did. And a part my heart, my mind, and my soul remains in Kolkata to this day.
I know I am not the only one who has experienced such a transformational time in my life. You probably remember well a moment or a series of moments when you realized that life as you knew it would never be the same. This is called an Epochal Event. You know…when an event is so important that it has the power to usher in a new epoch (Hence when we say, “that was epic!”) .
Sometimes these events are forced upon us and other times we are a willing participant. Either way, an Epochal Event creates a divide: life before that event and life after that event. When you experience an Epochal Event you have two choices. Do you pivot drastically to alter your life because of your experience or do you file it away as a momentous occasion to be recalled during story time?
When you experience an Epochal Event you have two choices. Do you pivot drastically to alter your life because of your experience or do you file it away as a momentous occasion to be recalled during story time?
My pivot was away from a career in financial services. I traded the security of numbers and excitement of market trends for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship and the possibility of changing lives through profit.
Hazel & Deene is a response to my time in Kolkata and a business that fights market assumptions about social enterprises. Our designs are modern interpretations of heritage skills that bring new life to artisans in remote areas. We have four working guilds in India that employ marginalized artisans and provide fair wages in addition to social services. We work in partnership with our artisans to develop their skills, create stylish designs and share their undiscovered talents with you. Beyond gainful employment for artisans, our guilds reach into their local communities to break cycles of poverty and need. Led by local leadership, our artisan guilds support revolving education loan funds, supply clean water, fight human trafficking, and much more.
Although we have incredible products, we are a people company. The engine of passion and growth at Hazel & Deene is found in the newly launching Society. We are bringing together entrepreneurial women with a passion, a purpose, and a desire to create influence in their communities.
I want to challenge you to recall your Ephocal Event…and make that pivot. It is not too late. And if your pivot includes pursuing your passion, living with purpose, and creating influence…give me a shout. We might be good friends.