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PhiLAnthropist: Project H's Abject Object Pairs Sustainable Design and Volunteerism to Empower Local Women

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Abject Object's Hammock Bag is created from old parachutes and easily transforms into a large shoulder bag. Photo courtesy of Project H.

There is no design without action; We design WITH, not FOR; We document, share and measure; We start locally and scale globally, We design systems, not stuff. - From Project H's Mission Statement.

We mentioned Project H's Abject Object in last week's PhiLAnthropist Gift Guide. Project H Design is definitely one of coolest organizations we learned about in 2009. And we're quite certain we'll be hearing about it more in 2010, and beyond.

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27-year-old founder Emily Pilloton believes design can change the world. With the help of passionate and dedicated volunteers, Emily has created various Project H chapters, thought the country, with a focus on using design to help and empower individuals while making a lasting difference by solving problems. They achieve this by teaming up with local not-for-profits to tackle issues faced by individual communities.

LA has had their own chapter and for a little over a year. They have collaborated with the Downtown Women's Center on Abject Object. LAist recently spoke with Kim Karlsrud, Project H volunteer and Los Angeles Chapter Head about the project's goals, success stories and their upcoming holiday sales event at Artecnica this Saturday.

A friend introduced Kim to Emily a few years ago. Shortly after, Emily gave Kim the "ok" and she launched the LA Chapter of Project H, "after feeling a frustration within the design industry in LA and what it meant to be a professional designer". Many of Abject Object's volunteers shared this frustration and had the desire to want to work on some sort of sustainable and social project, but they was no opportunity, through work or otherwise.

In choosing to team up with the Downtown Women's Center (DWC), Kim says they started by brainstorming about the "social issues they could address within the city". Two aspects of LA were clearly evident. First was the fact that LA is the homeless capitol of the US, particularly Skid Row. Secondly, they noticed how many usable materials were being thrown away by many manufacturers for lack of a better disposal option. They were particularly attracted to the DWC "for the experimental approach they took with their center". They offer therapeutic gardening, art work shops, spa days and yoga so it seemed they were very open to new sorts of approaches.

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When Kim contacted the DWC with a proposal for Abject Object they were immediately receptive and on board and offered them a weekly work space.

The main goal of the project is to design a system focused around marketable, creative, skill building. The skill for their project is sewing, both hand and machine, as well as pattern making. Each week, on Sundays, volunteers meet at the DWC and work for about 4-6 hours. They work with about 4-7 women to help teach these skills, while also helping the women collaborate and develop effective means of communication with each other.

The objects they create with the women are a way of testing out this system. "What we want to do is create what we call 'transformative textiles' where women use these sewing skills and communication/team building skills to create these objects" Kim says.

In deciding what objects to create, they worked with a woman from the permanent housing division at the DWC to find out what would items be most relevant and easiest for the women to make, while still obtaining these skills. After serious research and brainstorming, they decided upon four objects: the pocket scarf, the hood bag (right), the hammock bag (pictured above) and the rag rug. Each object makes use of recycled materials found around the city, including old parachutes and donated clothing. The rag rug utilizes all the fabric waste from the other objects so they put out no waste. A recent partnership with TOMS shoes and their "take-back" program has also provided Abject Object with TOMS fabric to make use of as well.

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The overall goal is to expand to other non-profits, such as Chrysalis, St. Joseph's Center and many others that are trying to experiment with the idea of social enterprise and create this model of hands-on creative skill building.

Kim shared story about a woman they work with at the DWC named Tere. She has been working with Abject Object since this past June, and Kim says Tere, a sweet and hard-working lady, embodies what they hope Project H will do for someone. After completing the basic hand and machine sewing workshops, Tere came back a few weeks later with some pictures to show Kim and the other volunteers. Tere was part of a musical group and in just a few weeks, since learning to sew, made new costumes for everyone in her group. She also helped teach other at the Center how to make these costumes as well, "really taking on a wonderful sort of leadership". This sense of empowerment gained by Tere is exactly what Abject Object hopes to instill in the women at the DWC, and beyond.

Join Kim and the other volunteers from Abject Object this Saturday, from 6:30pm-10pm, at their holiday party sales event at Artecnica in West Hollywood. Not only will you have a chance to buy these goods they have been working on, but a chance to meet the artists as well, including Tere and many others.

If you can't make it to Saturday's sales event, stay tuned for a website to be launched around February. They are also hoping to attract some selling partners and sell Abject Object products in local stores.

The LA chapter has a great group of dedicated volunteers, but if you are a good sewer and are willing to make a commitment to Project H and the DWC, they do accept volunteers. They also host a variety of workshops thoughout the year for those that can't make a long-term standing commitment.