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I first met Colleen Clines when her organization, Anchal Project, was promoted during the documentary Half the Sky on PBS. Anchal Project helps commercial sex trade workers in India become seamstresses so they can design and hand-stitch quilts, scarves and pillows for a fair living wage. Though Colleen started this organization while getting her Masters in Landscape Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Anchal Project turned into her full-time job and her life’s passion. Colleen is a bright light in our community and someone we will surely be hearing more from in the future.

What do you do for a living?

I am the co-founder and Executive Director of the Anchal Project. Also, I am an Adjunct Landscape Architecture Professor at the University of Kentucky.

You were at Rhode Island School of Design studying Landscape Architecture and took a fated trip to India. Can you share what happened in India that made you start Anchal Project?

During a trip to Kolkata during a seminar, I had the amazing fortune to meet the founder of New Light, Urmi Basu.  New Light is a non-profit in Kalighat’s red light district. They provide a creche-cum-night-shelter to protect and educate young girls, children and women at high risk. (A creche-cum-night -shelter  is essentially a night shelter for the children.  A place they can go while their mothers “work.”  They do homework, eat dinner, and sleep there.)

It was here that I experienced the dark and dangerous world of an Indian brothel. What I had read was made visible through pimps, clients, and narrow alleys.

But what struck me more than the atrocities these women were forced to endure were their smiles. The women and children of Kalighat became my friends; friends to fight for.

If you had never gone to India, where do you think you would be now? Doing what?

I truly believe everything happens for a reason. When I visited RISD while deciding between accepting a job offer or pursuing graduate school, I was instantly drawn to a professor and her work in India. At the time it was for more selfish reasons, mainly an opportunity to travel around the world, but now I have to believe that I was meant to go to RISD, to take the seminar and travel to India.

While I could be at a landscape architecture firm in NYC, I do not think I would have been fulfilled. I am passionate about women’s rights and using design as the tool for needed social change.

Tell us when you are going on your next trip and what you will be doing there?

I will be in India from mid-January through February. This is the part that I love. It is what keeps me motivated. I visit old friends and meet new ones. I will visit with Anchal’s artisans and run design workshops that will inform our new products. The artisans’ creativity and ideas drive the project’s next steps. There is so much in store for the next year, including the hiring of 35+ new artisans! The sky is the limit.

Has it been hard to raise awareness of Anchal Project here in Louisville?

I think like every new endeavor, it takes time to receive support, especially for a project with a global perspective. I also think being young increases the challenge of being recognized as serious about an endeavor.

However, once the word started to spread, the Louisville community has really been amazing. I am blown away by people’s generosity and support. I truly believe that Louisville has the creative energy necessary to foster an international endeavor like Anchal.

How do you balance your job and your personal life?

Launching a start-up definitely keeps me beyond busy and stress can easily take control of my inner peace. However, I know that in order to remain engaged and healthy, I need outlets that create equilibrium.

My balance must include things that inspire me. I feed my creativity through brainstorming with friends, experimenting with new recipes, going to see live music, making art, being outdoors and dancing. I usually find myself refueling in nature. I love to lie under a tree, look into the sky and just breathe.

What is the biggest life lesson you have ever learned?

In December of last year, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26. Through the all of the pain, fear and six months of chemotherapy, I came to appreciate the simple things. I think that I am still processing it all, but I do know this: treasure each day, love the small moments that bring laughter, surround yourself with positive people, do what you love, even when it is tough, and keep dancing!

Who is your mentor?

Hands down, my parents. They are incredibly supportive and are always there when I need advice. There is no way I could have launched Anchal without their love and encouragement.

What is best advice you have received in business?

You’re the only you and the world wants to hear from you.

If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?

I know I would still need to have multiple creative outlets, so I cannot just choose one! Probably a combination of an artist, furniture maker and professional hip-hop dancer.

What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I Irish danced all the way through high school, wig and all.

What is your favorite place to go eat?

I love Lily’s. I have so many fond memories there. I am more recently obsessed with everything from Rye, veggies from Harvest and the lima beans from Mayan Café.

I love your style. What would you say are your favorite things to wear right now?

I love to combine vintage and new items. Vintage scarves are my staple (including my didi scarf), my new black leather jacket from Topshop, beat up short booties with tall socks and a crazy shade of bright red lipstick.

Where do you like to shop?

Consignment/Vintage Stores, Crazy Daisy and Anthropologie.

How do you treat yourself?

Buying a new sketchbook and pen.

What is your weakness?

I am a definitely a perfectionist with my work.

What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?

Going to see live music and enjoying our amazing park system while sipping coffee from Heine Brothers.

Three things you cannot live without (besides God, family and friends):

My iTunes library, my sketchbook, and access to an airport for traveling.

What are you reading right now?

I have a bad habit of reading several books at the same time. I guess I like a mixture of contemporary, classic and academic. Here are a few: State of Wonder, The Power of Design and Les Miserables.

Oh and that doesn’t even count all the blogs!

What are three of your “favorite” things right now (can be anything).

My Anchal didi scarf, Houndmouth’s EP, and my juicer.

Thank you to Colleen Clines who was gracious enough to fit in this photo shoot about an hour before she had to leave to go to New York City.  We thoroughly enjoyed coming to her beautiful home. To learn more about Anchal Project click here.

Beautiful photography by our FACES photographer Adele Reding, who captured the fantastic fall landscape at Colleen’s home in Fisherville. Adele is currently booking appointments for Christmas Cards; she does the photography and the cards for you. To learn more about Adele Reding Photography, click here.

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