In 2009 Jodie Fried and Sally Pottharst established Armadillo & Co; a brand for the design conscious and design responsible among us; a brand who’s DNA is firmly founded on the combination of “aesthetics with ethics”. Since day dot each of their rugs has each been carefully crafted – by hand – from natural fibres and recycled materials. They have been staunch supporters of Fair Trade practices and go above and beyond supporting not only the weavers but their children and local schools, too.
In particular, Kantilal Vidya Mandir School in Uttar Pradesh. Located in the Carpet Belt region of India the school is attended by many of Armadillo & Co’s weavers’ children. Naturally, their involvement and support started off slowly and grew organically. Simple things, like giving the students new uniforms, saw the relationship bloom. “I know that sounds superficial,” says Jodie Fried, cautiously, “but with all these little changes you notice a greater sense of pride in the children. It’s about them wanting to go to school and inspiring other kids in the community to come to school.”
For 12 years Jodie has been working in the philanthropic sector. The first not-for-profit organisation supporting a small school in India she founded was the Anganwadi Project and Sally Pottharst was a board member. Evidently, the two women shared a passion and Armadillo & Co’s support continued to grow. In early 2018 it was decided upon to define and distinguish the two organisations.
“We decided to channel the philanthropic work that we were doing with our weavers and their children into the Armadillo & Co Foundation, which became a separate entity from the business and meant more people could be involved. It had its own identity in a way,” says Jodie. “We had the passion, the purpose, and the problems were there.”
Setting the school up to be an effective place of education and a supportive environment has been the main focus of the Foundation with sustainable practices remaining integral to the process. This can be seen in the recently installed solar panels and a medical centre with a full-time doctor available to the students and their family during school hours. Additionally, the Foundation is building a small library for the school while repainting the buildings are next on the agenda – once monsoon season has passed.
It’s important to note that there is a board member of the Armadillo & Co Foundation based in India who has a “very close eye on the operations of the school”. He has been with Armadillo & Co for 12 years and acts as an advisor-slash-cultural correspondent to ensure the Foundation’s efforts are suitable and answer the community’s needs; to ensure good intentions don’t manifest as a cultural imposition. “We take his lead on a lot of what we need to be doing there and what is culturally appropriate,” says Jodie. “We really rely on him to be able to say this is what we need, this is appropriate, this is enough, or this is too much.”
For example, the board of the Foundation might have an idea to put in new tables and chairs while he could come back and advise against it as it may show too much wealth. Similarly, the idea to carpet the school is actually impractical as the school is susceptible to flooding during monsoon season – so pavers and an effective drainage system are a far better investment.
Not only does the Foundation support the school and its operations, but it also supports the children in their ability to attend. Specifically, through a recently launched scholarship program. “A very exciting part of the project which Sally and I launched earlier this year was setting up scholarships for the top four performing girls to go on to continue their education for nine years,” says Jodie.
It is slightly unorthodox, as traditionally speaking girls will leave school once they get to the 5th grade to remain at home and support the family domestically. Before the scholarships were put in place the principal and cultural advisor were intrigued by the notion and suggested calling a meeting with the mothers of the school to gauge the level of interest and how it would be received. Only the mothers were invited to ensure they were able to speak openly and honestly.
“It was so overwhelming,” says Jodie. “All these women turned up. All illiterate. So committed, so passionate about wanting their girls to be able to speak English and to be able to have a career: to be able to go further than they had been able to go.” They were all for the scholarship program.
The first four girls to be offered scholarships started in June 2018 and each year, a further four will join the program; all supported in school fees, uniforms, textbooks and transportation.
Funding for the Armadillo & Co Foundation is found through various sources. A big portion is realised in Armadillo & Co sales with a set percentage of net profits going directly to the Foundation. There’s also the option for online customers to donate directly with automatic prompts at the checkout. And the internal team gets involved with company fundraising, too.
It seems like a new chapter for Jodie Fried, Sally Pottharst and the Armadillo & Co team. But in some ways, it’s not. “It feels really timely that the Foundation was incorporated because it was always there. For seven years we’ve been working with this particular school it’s just now being highlighted because it has been separated,” says Jodie.
With the formalisation of their philanthropic work, the hope is that awareness and dialogue will increase. And with more dialogue around the Foundation increased support will hopefully ensue.
Armadillo & Co
Armadillo & Co Foundation
Photography by Darren Centofanti
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