Secret Sari Project

How a philanthropist raised over £11,000 from 350 backers to unfold women's power

When Fritha Vincent stumbled across a dawn sari market in India, a lightbulb went off inside her head.

The charity worker had been trying to figure out a way to help dozens of Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepalese women she'd met in safe houses set up for victims of sexual trafficking.

She'd already launched two successful projects with Crowdfunder - Secret Pillow Project and Adventure Ashram - to empower the subcontinent's people.

But it wasn't until she saw the jewel-like colours of the saris, and realised she could use them to give the abuse victims she'd met desperately needed self-esteem, that her epiphany came and she decided to launch a third project with Crowdfunder.

Fritha's dream was to raise £3,000 to give 20 young, Indian women the chance of a future. 

While they waited in the safe houses in Mumbai and Bangalore for a safe passage home, sometimes for months at a time, they would be taught to sew the saris into beautiful summer dresses which would fold up into a secret pocket.

The money raised from sales would be given back to the women so they had a month's worth of savings to fall back on, when they finally made it back home.

From past experience with Secret Pillow, Fritha knew Crowdfunder could make that dream a reality.

So she launched Secret Sari with an initial £3,000 target - and in less than a month had inspired the crowd to raise £11,677 to make a real difference to at least 60 disenfranchised women's lives.

Backers were inspired by a series of simple rewards ranging from one Secret Sari dress to the chance to meet the team behind the project in London.

Women from New York to Australia snapped up the dresses, due for delivery in summer 2017, thanks to a collaboration with Fritha's fashionista friend, Turquoise Amy.

Each will have a card inside stamped with the number of the safe house, and backers will be encouraged to send thank you notes to the young women who made them - boosting morale and giving them a real sense of achievement.

"Crowdfunding takes a lot of emotional energy," says Fritha. "But it's so worth it.

"With Crowdfunder, you can test the market. 

"With the money we had up front we knew we could help these women, and pay for the raw materials and the training."

At times, she said, it was difficult to persuade the abuse victims that making the saris would make a difference to their lives. They lacked self-esteem, thought they would not be able to do it.

"When the women knew they'd got sales through the project, it was different for them; it was like a different pressure," says Fritha. "I'd say to them, 'I believe in you and so does that person that's bought the dress through Crowdfunder.

"The pressure of trying to sell the dresses had gone. They just had to make them."

The money raised through Crowdfunder by the 354-strong crowd will be spent on training women in six safe houses in India; giving them a skill they can take into their new life back home, as well as money which will protect them from being re-trafficked by the criminal gangs that captured them and forced them into prostitution.

"They'll have a new story to tell," Fritha says. "They'll be able to report not neglect, not abuse, but that they're international producers selling to customers in the US, Australia and the UK.

"It's so empowering."

She says Crowdfunder made the difference.

"We'd never have hit the stretch target without them," she says. "The night before the project ended they emailed the entire database to tell them about our project.

"I was in the garden drinking a beer, looking after my chickens, and I looked at my phone - I thought there was a glitch with the system because every minute there was a new backer. But I went inside and checked on my computer, and it was no glitch.

"Within an hour-and-a-half we had an extra £2,000. At £18 each, that's an awful lot of dresses."