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QUILTING FEMALE ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Monday, 09 February 2009

blanket.jpgMy mum gave me this beautiful quilt for my birthday. It's made of hundreds of pieces of fabric in my favorite colors. Bit by bit sewn together in blocks with a red square at the heart of every block. Hours of labor and love she put into this quilt. My mum knows what her daughter needs in Swiss winters, being far away from home.

Wrapped in my quilt I read an inspiring article on how quilts can be a metaphor for studying female entrepreneurship. I've never called myself a feminist, but this article really made me think. Especially because the overall majority of people starting an eco fashion brand is female. What is their motivation? How do they combine the 'soft' aspects of caring for their employees and Mother Earth with the more masculine $ issue in running their business? These questions have triggered me for years and my horizon keeps on challenging me to search for answers.

In her article, Kathryn Campbell points to the lack of research on female entrepreneurship and she proposes the quilt as a metaphor to study it. Quilts have a long history in many different countries and cultures. Early African textile arts were used to safeguard and spread cultural knowledge. Historical, religious and cultural stories were told through abstract, geometric shapes that together weaved a complex image language. When the slaves were brought to the New World, they adapted the quilting medium to carry secret messages. Hung out on the line the quilts were visible for the slave owners who were unaware of the escape plans stitched on these 'simple blankets'. It was an expression of cultural heritage and overt incitement to covert resistance.

Everywhere in the world, women quilt their messages of protest and racism, of suppression and sexism. They often work in groups whereby the experienced quilter teaches the novice how to work the patterns. The process of quilting together is non-competitive and can be viewed as a metaphor of female entrepreneurship. While the male dominated business world uses war vocabulary such as 'strategy' and 'power', quilting celebrates life, art and beauty.

To me, female entrepreneurs in the eco fashion industry are as colorful and diversified as a quilt top. With their different backgrounds and skills they form a beautiful landscape of little businesses. At the same time they share similar ideals of caring for the environment and the people they work with. These shared values make them part of a larger whole and brings them together like the stitching joins the top of a quilt to its plain backing. The last layer is the warmth-creating batting in between the two outside layers. Although this layer is invisible, it's integral to the design and functioning of the quilt. I believe this layer embodies the deep motivation of all these entrepreneurs to create a 'home-coming'. Many have worked in the regular fashion industry for years and can't deal any longer with the non-ethical codes of conduct that apply there. They want to be autonomous and run a business that satisfies them and their families spiritually and not just materially.

Campbell's article has forced me to rethink my research as it also inspired me to further explore this topic in the next few blogs. And my quilt? Even if I move back to the tropics one day, 'Mum's love blanket' will come with me. No doubt I need that everywhere.

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