NYC-based friends Megan Reilly Cayten, Amisha Patel, and Sumana Setty have always had a collective passion for female empowerment and education, recently they found the impetus to transform their support for the cause into something more tangible?an accessories label called The Catrinka Project. Named for Megan?s 4 ? year-old daughter, the women were inspired to create their line after they learned about a social media campaign?10x10?that recounts how the lives of 10 girls from 10 different countries were forever changed after they began going to school. The Catrinka Project is the ultimate fusion of humanitarian efforts and timeless trends?its wares are all handcrafted by talented female artisans around the globe. Shop the luxe wordly goods from The Catrinka Project and read more about the inspiration behind the collection below.
NYC-based friends Megan Reilly Cayten, Amisha Patel, and Sumana Setty have always had a collective passion for female empowerment and education, recently they found the impetus to transform their support for the cause into something more tangible?an accessories label called The Catrinka Project.
Named for Megan?s 4 ? year-old daughter, the women were inspired to create their line after they learned about a social media campaign?10x10?that recounts how the lives of 10 girls from 10 different countries were forever changed after they began going to school. The Catrinka Project is the ultimate fusion of humanitarian efforts and timeless trends?its wares are all handcrafted by talented female artisans around the globe. Shop the luxe wordly goods from The Catrinka Project and read more about the inspiration behind the collection below.
What inspired you to create The Catrinka Project?
Megan: I have a daughter, Caterina, who is 4 ?. She is full of light and joy, and loves to go to school. I wanted to do something in her name?and in fact, she is lending her nickname, Catrinka, to the project?for the 66 million girls around the world who are so much like her, but face immense challenges because they don?t get to go to school. We are committed to staying in Brooklyn for the immediate future, and I don?t get to travel as much as I did before having kids, so this was one way we thought we could bring the world to us. The Catrinka Project is something tangible for the people and places that we care about, as it leverages resources for those working on this issue around the world.
Our friend Tara introduced us to 10x10, a social media campaign she is helping to direct that is based on a film, Girl Rising, which chronicles the stories of 10 girls from 10 countries who have risen from very challenged circumstances just because someone helped them go to school. We hitched our star and our first collection to 10x10! Our first collection is a capsule featuring a bag made by women in each of the 10 countries, with the proceeds going to educate girls in each of the 10 countries, via the 10x10 Fund for Girls Education. Educating a girl literally can change the world?if you make one little girl?s dreams come true, you will fundamentally improve the prospects of the family she has when she grows up, her daughters and her granddaughters, for generations.
It is also important to us that our bags are made by women-focused businesses. Women reinvest 90% of their income in their families and communities, compared to 30-40% for men. Women-run businesses often face challenges like lack of market access, and we want to use our funds to invest in women. And we love the symmetry of women making products that will send their daughters to school. That is how it works the world over ? a woman?s labor creates opportunities for her daughters.
How did you tackle the business side of starting an accessories label?
Megan: We jumped in! We self-funded in the beginning, and then reached out to family and friends who helped us with the funding we needed to get this far. We are launching an Indiegogo campaign shortly to try to raise the rest of the funding we need to complete the last three bags for our first collection. We are doing everything we can on our own?from storing boxes of bags in our apartments, to building our first website, to designing our logo. We are figuring it out along the way.
Amisha: We also wanted to make sure we worked with designers and artisan groups that had experience producing high quality accessories so we could minimize sourcing and operational problems as much as possible. Working with groups that were already making beautiful things gave us more confidence in navigating such new territory.
Who have you worked with to make this project possible?
Megan: We are fortunate to have a great network of people in NYC and around the world that has helped us every step of the way. Two fabulous bag designers with their own labels, Kaia Peterka and Fiona Kempton, designed bags for us (Nepal and Peru, respectively), and a host of extremely talented professionals have donated their time and expertise to do our product and fashion photography, build our website, and help us get our name out. We are so grateful to have a relationship with L-atitude; everyone there has been immensely supportive of us from the beginning, and is a key part of our marketing strategy as well as our e-commerce partner. We relied on our network to help us find artisans, and even to help us with the translations you see on our tote ? it was so fun to find that among the three of us, we know someone who knows someone who speaks all of those languages, from Krio to Amharic to Khmer.
Where are your artisans based around the globe? What kind of craftwork do they specialize in?
Megan: We are working with a group of women-focused artisans in each of the following 10 countries: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, Sierra Leone and Uganda. We are very focused on using local materials and textiles, so you will see embroidered silk from Afghanistan, ikat from Cambodia, beadwork from Haiti, and kitenge from Sierra Leone and Uganda. We have also incorporated local decorative features, like the shell used as the clasp for the Sierra Leone clutch and the silver bracelet on the Ethiopia tote. We have employed women wherever we can, in some cases using our order as an incentive to train women to do work traditionally done by men.
What is your favorite bag from the collection?
Megan: My favorite?as well as Sumana?s?is the Layla, our pouch from Afghanistan. It was inspired by a cloth made in Afghanistan in the 1930s that was traditionally used to cover offerings of food for a newly married couple. I am amazed that the women artisans of Zardozi, almost all refugees, could produce something so delicate in a refugee camp in Peshawar.
Amisha: My favorite is the Laurie, our tote from Ethiopia. The handcrafted leather gets a pop of pattern with a summery blue-and-white cotton print. It's just the right size for all of my everyday essentials!
How have your travels around the globe influenced your personal style?
Megan: I have lived and worked on four continents, and I am constantly inspired by the color and sense of decoration that you see around the world?hot pink turbans on men in Rajasthan, kids decorated with kohl in India and thanaka in Myanmar, flowers (both real and embroidered) on women in Oaxaca, Mexico. My challenge has always been to find a way to pull it off, in some small way, back in New York ? to incorporate some of that inspiration into a professional and personal wardrobe that functions in my everyday life. I think accessories are a great way to do that.
Amisha: My friends call me an urban nomad. Part of my style reflects the fact that I?m used to being on the go and packing light. There?s nothing like a bright or printed scarf from India or Laos to cover up the fact that I?m sometimes wearing the same white t-shirt for days in a row! I?ve always been comfortable playing with prints and colors, and so picking up textiles while abroad and re-imagining them into more western silhouettes feels so natural. Since I?ve been working on designing my kids? line Ode, I look for inspiration in everything from architecture to spice stalls when I travel so I can ultimately make grown-up sizes for myself!
What are your top three travel essentials (excluding your passport and cell phone)?
Megan: I am actually conflicted on cell phones. One of my favorite travel memories is of leaving Urumqi, in western China, on a bus for Kashgar in the late 1990s. The bus was supposed to take 24 hours ? it ended up being 48, and the last were pretty excruciating ? but as we rumbled off into the desert I remember feeling completely free. No one knew where I was and I was so far away from my next destination that it was all about the journey. Now with kids it is a bit different, I will admit! My top three travel essentials are my aviator sunglasses, comfortable sandals and, of course, the perfect bag from the Catrinka Project to carry all your essentials in.
Amisha: I once managed to cross borders without a passport, but that?s probably a story better saved for offline! My three travel essentials are: my camera, a journal, and my Ray-Ban Jackie O sunglasses (never know when you?ll need to hide from the paparazzi!)
What?s next for The Catrinka Project?
Megan: We are so excited to launch our first collection! We will be selling our first 7 bags at trunk shows in NYC and San Francisco and developing more retail partnerships, in addition to our online presence at L-atitude. We are sampling the last three bags of the collection from Haiti, India and Peru, and we hope to have them available for sale by the summer. We are also building up our relationships with nonprofit partners in the field. They are the ones who are making a difference in girls? lives every single day, and enabling that change is what we are all about. Beyond that, if we are able to make this project work, we hope that we will be able to build Catrinka into a business centered around making fabulous, textile-based bags and other accessories that employ women and send girls to school. We?d like to introduce a few new country bags every year, and also build a wholesale business with retail partners who can help us to scale sufficiently that we can be sustainable. We hope you?ll be seeing a lot more of Catrinka in the future!