WASHINGTON — Their mantra is to strike a balance between the built and natural environments, but an American landscape architect is using that very thinking to provide to sex workers in India new careers in textile and design production.

Called “Anchal,” defined as “the edge of a sari used to provide comfort and protection for loved ones,” it is the brainchild of Colleen Clines, who co-founded the unique project with three fellow classmates after a trip to India during her time in graduate school. 

Her landscape architecture training gives Anchal a uniquely creative approach to all aspects of the organization, from the business model to the textiles produced in India, says Clines from the Kentucky chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. 

Mainly working in Ajmer, Rajasthan, in partnership with Indian NGO Vatsalya, Anchal plans to expand the program to encompass a holistic textile center where all aspects of the products are met. It also plans to replicate this model in other cities. 

“Design can become the tool for sustainable solutions to gender inequality, social injustice and environmental degradation,” Clines said, explaining how an understanding of urban systems can be applied to complicated social systems. 

The Indian NGO looks at entrepreneurial opportunities for commercial sex workers. 

Anchal meets this need by providing seed funding, design training, education workshops and access to the U.S. market, she said. 

“In exchange, our partners recruit Anchal artisans and manage operations,” Clines said. 

“More importantly, they offer the women a community of support, health programs, counseling and local leadership that builds trust with a vulnerable population. Together, we offer a unique program unmatched in its ability to create life-changing opportunities for exploited women in India,” she said. 

“We teach artisans not only how to sew but also how to apply design thinking to problem solving and creativity,” Clines added, pointing to how textiles created by these women are sold online and in stores such as Urban Outfitters. 

Since its inception in 2009, Anchal has supported 107 artisans and indirectly impacted over 428 additional family members, Clines said. 

The impact is most evident in their economic growth, education, leadership and a new sense of personal self-worth and communal empowerment, she said. 

Anchal also acknowledges design training as an invaluable life skill and entrepreneurial opportunity. 

The importance of the landscape architect’s role is more apparent in Anchal’s project, dyeScape, a network of small-scale dye gardens in West Louisville, Kentucky, that would provide natural dyes for these women to use in their work. 

Led by Clines in collaboration with Louis Johnson, the current president of ASLA’s Kentucky chapter, the dyeScape demonstration garden, currently in the final stages of construction, is only the first step. 

“The vision is to create a cross-cultural dialogue and collection of products created in both India and the United States that speak of the importance of a sustainable textiles movement, from seed to purchase,” said Clines. 

“Not only will it revitalize vacant properties with a burst of new life, it will also provide education and empowerment through economic opportunity related to the industry,” she said. 

“These efforts will help support Anchal’s efforts in India with handcrafted textiles, and the dyeScape model will eventually replicate in India as well,” Clines added. 

Back in the U.S., using the same mantra, landscape architects are building from green roofs to public places to corporate campuses in cities from historic Washington to bustling New York for sustainable urban renewal, as one saw on a city tour for foreign media. 

Examples include a green roof at ASLA headquarters that decreases the building’s energy use by 10 percent in winter and brings down the temperature on the roof up to 15 degrees Celsius in summer. 

Grounds surrounding the National Museum of the American Indian recall the natural environment that existed prior to European contact with a landscape design embodying the theme of returning to a native place.

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