After a trip to India, a woman was inspired to help change the lives of the women she met.
Mary Elizabeth Heard started her business, Marigold & Co, with the mission of using social entrepreneurship to create job opportunities and empower women in rural India.
Her current products include all-cotton pajamas, wallets, and jewelry. Her brand supports ethical production and sustainability.
“I went to India for the first time a little over a year ago last summer. While I was there, it was definitely this crazy experience what I understood about the world didn’t really make sense anymore. I was really struck by how many people there were living in such poverty” said Heard.
“ And I think the main thing that you can see is just that there aren’t enough jobs for people. The government— they’re definitely are taking steps forward, coming up with programs, but in this village I spent two weeks in, most of the people there are unemployed and then the government has started this program where they’ll hire people but can only hire them 100 days a year and only pay them 100 rupees a day, which is a little over a dollar. It’s just not enough for them to run a household.”
In high school, Heard had a business where she was designing jewelry and custom gowns for events and things for people.
“When I went there, someone had told this woman who started an orphanage in this village, her name’s Viji—someone told her about my business in high school. She approached me and was like ‘hey I heard you had a successful business and she was like what if you started it here and had the women making the things that you design’”, said Heard.
Heard decided to pursue this and went back in December 2016, doing a trial run.
She went to Chennai to shop for materials including leather, cotton, and silk. She brought the material back to the village, Hanumanthapuram, and hired a couple women, teaching them how to make it.
She returned in June 2017 and had them set up more long term. She witnessed a lot of what the women had to go through and experienced it herself as well.
“I think while I was there, I very much for the first time, felt like such a feminist. I felt so taken aback the way I was treated as a woman and the way I saw other women being treated and subordinated and kept down,” said Heard.
“A lot of them don’t have equal opportunity to education. They’re valuable based on their marriage, like it has to do with much money their husband is gonna get. Women can’t go to funerals. I’m not saying this is all over because I’ve only been to a few places in India.”
“But for instance in the village, someone passed away and all the men in our group got invited to go to the funeral but the women just put their hands out and pushed us back and were like no women can’t go to the funeral because their tears are weak, I know there’s some kind of cultural significance there. And not that I want to go somewhere and assert my own opinion of what is right or wrong, in terms of something that’s been intact in them for a long time. But I did feel very strongly about the fact that women were not being treated well in a lot of ways and there’s room for improvement.”
Heard now hires four women. For three of them, this is their only source of income in their home and they all have children. And three of the four’s husbands are out of work and are alcoholics.
The women are really excited about the opportunity and said they always wanted to learn a skill, to know a craft. No one ever taught them, they just grew up in the village, said Heard.
Heard’s long term goals involving doing some production in the United States in order to grow the business and work towards greater profits to do larger scale projects.
Heard graduated December 2018 and will be moving to India for a couple months.
“I want to make sure that whatever project I bring— because I want to bring more job opportunities to the village—I want to make sure that whatever I do really fits their culture well, fits their geography, and is like appropriate for what their needs are.”
“I’m open to a lot of things and want to do a lot of research but ultimately I want to bring something that’s going to provide a lot of jobs and I think that’d be exciting.”