Susie Helton, wife of Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief Mike Helton, has been to India three times in the past two years.
Helton works with an import/export company dedicated to helping artisans in marginalized Indian communities earn a fair wage. The company develops products – jewelry, purses, rugs, pillows and other items – trains their artisans to produce them, then finds buyers for the products in the U.S.
"It all started," says Helton, "when a young couple, Shane and Alicia Hatton, visited India in 2006. They found women who desperately wanted to help their families but had no way to earn money."
Dekko Trading will be hosting an open house at their warehouse at 1458 Madison Street in Chattanooga’s Southside on December 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People can visit their website and purchase products at any time. Dekko welcomes inquiries from those wishing to host home parties, get a party-in-a-box, or make wholesale purchases. For more information or to see products, visit dekkotrading.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hattons quit their jobs in the Chattanooga area and moved to Jaipur, India, a city of over three million inhabitants that dates back to the 1700s. They set about learning Hindi and exploring ways to improve the economic condition of their new neighbors.
Steve and Lori Bower of Chickamauga became interested in what the Hattons were doing and visited them in India. That led them to launch Dekko Trading in 2013.
Helton joined the Dekko team in 2014 as a designer, sales manager and helper at the company’s Chattanooga warehouse. She is both an employee and a volunteer for the company.
Dekko is a Hindi word that means "take a look" or "look at this."
"There’s sort of a double meaning to it for us," says Helton. "Alicia chose the word. When she’s working with artisans, it’s a term she uses a lot in showing them things. But it’s also a way, in our minds, of affirming the value of the women we work with in a society where women often have very little opportunity – look at them. We’re working to empower these women, to help them look at themselves as valuable."
In 2015, Helton decided she wanted to visit the Hattons and meet the artisans herself, so she took off for India. "I got to work with women making Dekko products and became friends with them. People in India take a little while to warm to you, but once they do, they treat you like family."
While in India, Helton spent time finding materials for artisans to work with – textiles, gemstones, jewelry components, wood products, and handmade paper. She was also interested in learning about the already established skills of local artisans.
Back home, Helton decided to put together a design team that includes one of her daughters, as well as friends and relatives of the Bowers. All the members of the team donate their time. "We’re always working on new ideas for products. We make prototypes and patterns for the artisans in India. Once an artisan completes a sample to our specifications, we give them the thumbs-up to start producing the item for sale."
Helton made a second trip to India in 2016 for the specific purpose of helping the Hattons with their newborn twins (they also have an 8-year-old). She stayed for a month. This past July, she and the Bowers returned to India to work with artisan families.
"Some artisans have sporadic or no electricity," says Helton. "Often whole families live in a single room. We have to keep their circumstances in mind when we design products. We have some artisans using hand-cranked sewing machines."
In spite of being a small company, Dekko carries a wide variety of products and offers many purchase options. People can buy directly from their website or purchase through home parties. There’s also a "Party in a Box" option so anyone in the U.S. can hold a party. The company sells wholesale, too.
Dekko is gearing up for the Christmas season now and adding new products to their line. They carry jewelry made of sterling silver, wood (including mango wood), brass, glass beads, crystals, and gemstones. Many beads are hand-carved, and artisans use organic dyes.
Using recycled vintage saris, Dekko artisans stitch scarves, shoulder and cross-body purses, rugs and pillows. The company carries sari play silks for children, baby booties, handmade soaps, journals and stationery composed of recycled handmade paper. Some products they plan to debut this Christmas season include men’s and boys’ bow ties, baby bonnets, and baby harem pants, as well as many new jewelry designs.