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Stylish, sustainable and multi-functional

Stylish, sustainable and multi-functional

It started with a blanket. 

Karigar designer Jolijn Fiddelaers had wrapped herself in a handmade woollen throw from our first Home collection when she thought, wouldn’t it be nice if I could also wear this outside? She wanted to extend that warm, ‘gezellig’, cosy feeling outside her home and with that, the journey of the Karigar Cape began.

Karigar prides itself in creating wearable fashion textiles that are handcrafted using natural materials. When we defined the areas in which we could be sustainable, design –  a crucial element of our brand – came to mind. With the clever use of design, we extended our philosophy of sustainability to the function of our products and created in effect something transformational -- a blanket that also became a stylish poncho, a hoodie, a jacket or even a dress!

The multi-functional Cape can be worn in 17 different ways (and possibly more if you are willing to get creative). So instead of using one product for one season, our Cape offers the wearer a product that’s made to last, extending the life-cycle of the garment and encouraging them to do more with less. The use of colour, natural materials, weaving pattern, free-size armholes – all contribute to make the Karigar Cape playful, smart and sustainable.

We’ve had many reactions to the Cape, ranging from ‘fascinating’ and ‘prachtig’ (wonderful) to people asking us curiously how the same product can become both long and short. But the one that always leaves us smiling is when people say, ‘oh, that’s like a blanket’!

Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal

 

Creating connected communities

Creating connected communities

A surprise visitor was waiting for us the first time we went into the Himalayan mountains to meet our artisans face-to-face. Until then, much of our daily interaction had been over the telephone.

Sitting beside his mother at the loom, was a young boy not older than 10, waiting expectantly to see the 'foreigners' who had come all the way from 'America'. To him, anything outside of India was America. Even Amsterdam. The young man waited in anticipation. That's when we arrived- two Indian women, as old as his mum and with exactly the same skin, hair and eye colour.

If our gender might have ever worked against us in other circumstances, this time it went in our favour. Most of the artisans that we work with to create our handmade products are women -- of all ages and skill levels. And despite the fact that they were terribly shy at first, these women opened up to us sharing the stories of how they started to weave after separation, after losing their husbands to the flood that devastated the region or after their sons left in search of work.

One of the biggest challenges rural India faces is the fact that its younger male population is moving to bigger metros in the hope of finding better employment. Often unable to find jobs they are qualified to do, they end up in jobs where they are exploited. Living away from family is never easy and if they can find opportunities closer to home, then that would help address this increasing problem of urban migration. 

 
Our karigars (artisans) in the mountains are mostly first generation. Silk rearing, spinning and weaving began as a project by the local government along with NGOs to prevent deforestation and to create jobs for villagers, particularly women, so that they are self-sustained. Villagers were taught how to work with the environment and to co-exist alongside nature. Over the years, the women have learnt how to spin yarn, weave and create textiles from locally available resources. More women and girls are being encouraged to come to work and be independent. And we hope to involve as many of them into our creation process as time goes by.

The World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report 2016 estimates it will take 170 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace and in society. That's 170 years until companies and governments are equally led by men and women. And sadly, it will not happen in my lifetime or in the lifetime of my two girls, aged 2 and 5.

Today, out of all the karigars or artisans we work with, women account for more than 80%. So what is it that we do as a sustainable fashion brand that directly impacts lives and makes a difference?

Our return on investment is to see the women that we work with flourish at the work place, and re-invest what they earn into the betterment of their families. Studies have also shown that women invest 90% of their earnings back into their families, compared with 30% men.

By empowering women and giving them regular work, training them on international quality standards and new designs, we have watched them grow more independent. They feel proud that they are able to provide a better life and set an example to their children!

Creating contemporary fashion products by using their expertise and skills has been our way to connect with local rural artisans and craft groups to bring about this change. It is through design that we want to continue to contribute to building stronger, connected communities.

Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal

(This article was first published on Huffington Post). Read the article here

Can purpose and profitability go hand in hand?

Can purpose and profitability go hand in hand?

In October 2014 I was at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven showcasing handmade products from my sustainable fashion brand for the first time. We had a prominent space to display our textiles and we anticipated a big crowd of people for the event. Every year around 295,000 visitors from the Netherlands and abroad visit this design event that is spread across the city.

I was nervous but also excited, as it was the first time we had presented our brand in a public forum. When the first visitor stopped at our stand to touch, feel and try on our stoles, I made my pitch. “All our products are designed in Amsterdam and handmade in India by rural artisans”, I said confidently. The response that I got was not what I anticipated. “Hmm okay. But do you use child labour?” It was the first, but not the last time I was asked that question. That day at Dutch Design Week, I was also asked, “Do your artisans work in good conditions?” “Have you visited your suppliers?” “Are the people you work with being exploited” and even, “do you make your products in sweatshops.”

As the co-founder of a young brand of sustainable fashion, I realised then that I was being held accountable and answerable for my business. And just as I had been looking at hangtags and ‘Made in’ tags before making a purchase, consumers were doing the same with our brand.

Purpose and profitability – that’s what consumers today demand from corporates – more so in the apparel industry.

As a response to this increasing tribe of the conscious consumer, in 2011, clothing giant H&M introduced their Conscious Collection using organic cotton, tencel and recycled polyester to make garments. Similarly, Zara launched the ‘Join Life’ collection in 2016, as a commitment from the company to produce responsibly, in addition to reusing packaging to reduce its waste. In May 2016, Inditex also released the names of their wet processing units in Bangladesh, China, India, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and other countries.

In the past, the demand for Social and environment responsibility from corporates was a gentle stream. Today is a raging current and tomorrow it will be a tidal wave. Consumers are changing and if corporates don’t respond to that change, their sustainability will be under threat.

Data shows a clear link between doing good and doing well with customers. In a 2015 study on Corporate Social Responsibility by Nielsen, 30,000 people across 60 countries were surveyed to see how passionate they were about sustainability while making a purchasing decision. Sixty-six percent of global online consumers surveyed said they are willing to pay more for products (50% in 2013) and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.

Some fifty-three percent of global respondents in Nielsen’s survey say their purchase decisions are partly dependent on the packaging – they check the labeling first before buying to ensure the brand is committed to positive social and environmental impact. 

During his farewell speech, former American President Barack Obama said that, “This is where I learnt that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it.”

His words beautifully summarise the power that people hold. Even the act of consumption is the equivalent of voting. Someone once said, ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want’.

As a young company, we had to share our brand values with our consumers, reassuring them at we were both socially and environmentally responsible in how we produce. So as a way of being transparent about our production process, we introduced a Talking Tag – a hangtag on each product with a unique QR code showing through photos and videos how the product was made and the people who made it.  

As a young business who is part of this movement, I have taken a stance on sustainability for my planet, and the world that I leave behind for my children. As a consumer, you can do the same. Stop to ask questions, just like our consumers did. Look keenly at the ‘Made In’ tags. Demand information on the environmental and social impact of businesses. Together, we have the power to shape shift behaviour.

 Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal

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