Faith in Action

Inspired by Others

Lily Qian, designer, and April Foster, Others director, visit a textile market in Bangladesh.

New York fashion designer, Lily Qian, partners with Others: Trade for Hope on a new scarf collection

For decades, the world of high fashion has been a glamorous fixture of the west, where the pursuit of opulence, beauty, and sophistication captivates the imagination. However, this world is a far cry from the reality of many women across the globe. They can only hope that faith, hard work, and a tenacious entrepreneurial spirit will keep them and their families alive for another day. Such is the case in parts of Bangladesh, where The Salvation Army is slowly but surely making a difference.

A recent collaboration between a Brooklyn, N.Y., fashion designer and Others Trade for Hope promises to literally stitch a bond that will bring women of the west and the east together. They hope to knit a rich relationship that will result in a beautiful and more prosperous lifestyle for all.

The marvelous conversation

Lily Qian, a fashion designer, illustrator, and textile expert, is currently working on a special collection of scarves for Others. Among her many notable clients are: Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, Calvin Klein, and The Donna Karan Company, LLC.

Qian and April Foster, director of Others in the USA Eastern Territory, had been introduced to each other through Ahmie Hahm, a mutual friend and Salvationist who also serves as a production manager at Calvin Klein. Hahm saw an opportunity for Lily to use her skills to help April in designing a scarf collection for Others. “One day, we all finally met at a coffee shop and had a marvelous conversation,” said Qian.

The heart of the matter

One of Lily Qian’s many sketches visualizes a future garment for Others.

Soon, Qian and Foster were off to meet the women of Bangladesh. “My primary goal was to see the process, meet the teams of women, approve samples, and better understand how to help facilitate the production,” said Qian. She enjoyed connecting with the team and the producers.

Qian was also fascinated by the progress Others is making through these women. “By hearing their stories, I truly have a better understanding of their situations,” she said. “I learned that Others has helped four generations of women there.” Qian noted that families that had once lived in mud houses, now reside under much better conditions.

“So, there have been major improvements. But it is still really heartbreaking when you see what they have to go through,” said Qian. “Life is challenging for them in different ways. But even though they live in poor villages, they have big hearts.”

Qian said she was moved by the generosity of the women as they welcomed her and Foster into their homes and took a particular interest in them. “They were curious about what was happening in our lives,” Qian said. “The young girls who had cell phones wanted to take selfies with me. They wanted to tell us stories about how they got connected to Others, and how long they had been working on this.”

The business of hope

“There was just so much that we learned,” Qian said. She and Foster saw contrasting lifestyles when they visited women who worked outside of the Others network. “These families had been making grocery bags,” said Qian. “We also visited a refugee community. They were making beautiful saris, but in such heartbreaking conditions. They were getting paid much less than the women of Others.”

Qian took in every moment. “We met up with really great team members in Dhaka who helped us translate and understand what people’s lives are like. I really got a broad range of experience.”

They met with the production teams. A production manager, also named Lily, is a mother of two children. Her husband works for The Salvation Army. “She is so dedicated; this program would not be able to run without her,” said Qian. “Lily is truly connected with the women in the village. It was amazing to see how much she manages in her personal and work lives.”

The reminder of home

When Qian decided to make the trip, she was concerned about safety and potential health issues. But as she focused her attention on all the work at hand, her fears were replaced by a sense of awe and gratitude. “I realized this was a very special trip.”

One of the things that made the trip special was the way the culture and countryside reminded Lily of her early life in Beijing. “I had lived in China and seen different levels of poverty. I’ve seen big cities and I’ve seen the countryside. Bangladesh actually reminded me of home.”

The family of artists

An only child, Lily left Beijing with her parents when she was just 9 ½ years old. They moved to Fairfax County, Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C., where her dad took a new job.

Coming from a family of creative people, Lily had been immersed in the arts.

Behind galvanized metal walls and under a thatched roof, a man prepares his loom with colorful thread.

“My father was a realistic and classical oil painter in Beijing,” Lily said. “He studied under great teachers and had done residencies all over China and had given lectures.” He also lived through China’s cultural revolution, and had become dean of the oil painting department at Beijing University.

Lily’s mom was a talented ballet dancer and an award–winning designer of advertising, packaging, fashion, and ballet costumes.

“As a kid, I had access to a sewing machine, made collages, participated in student fashion shows, and in children’s arts programs,” Lily said.   

As a youngster, she set her sights on New York City—the fashion capital of the west.

“I was always intrigued by it. I just knew that, one day, New York would be my home.” She studied fashion design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and discovered an exciting community of artists there.

“I chose to study fashion because it offered me an opportunity to combine everything—fashion, graphic design, painting, and textiles.”

The impact of Others

Now that Qian is back from Bangladesh and in New York, the work of Others continues. “We’ve shared a lot of ideas about marketing and promotion. ‘How do we tell our story?’ ‘How do we get more press?’”

Qian said her fashion colleagues and friends struggle to understand the width and the breadth of Others. “They can’t imagine what we’re doing for these women. So we will continue to tell more.” The collection, which will have products for both men and women, will also have a broad appeal. “We want people to understand how important this project is and how it impacts everyone’s lives.”

Qian said, “We have limited resources and contacts. What we really need right now is support for the next phase.”

The religion of love

“Because Bangladesh is primarily a Muslim country, I was curious to see how the Army has been received as a Christian organization,” Qian said. “I wondered if that creates any conflict. But the [collaboration] was just a wonderful experience. I’ve met team members who are Christians, some are Muslims, and some are Hindu. It was no big deal at all. Everyone works together.”

Lily recalls a day when they went to church. “Everyone was praying together and respecting one another. They were there to support each others’ families and what they do. That is the way it should be. I sincerely hope this idea continues—absolute mutual respect, inclusion, and acceptance. I really appreciated that.

“We’re working toward the same goals, and we want to live peacefully.”

by Warren L. Maye

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