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It's just us and them

It's just us and them

Last Saturday, someone from New Zealand discovered KARIGAR for the first time. She happened to chance upon a video of designer Jolijn wearing the Cape in different ways. What made her really curious to know more wasn’t the innovative design of this particular garment. Her own personal association with a fair trade organisation that works with women artisans made her dig a little deeper. And that’s when she wrote in: “I would hope that it's not the middle man who is making profit from your enterprise.”

Shirley’s question is a candid one, even necessary, in an environment where more young brands are offering artisan-made products and promising their customers full transparency.

To be honest, for KARIGAR, the guys in the middle were never really an option. From the very beginning, our three-women founding team decided to go straight to the source – from the winding mountains of the Himalayas to the dusty deserts of Gujarat. WE wanted to do the talking with the artisans.

For anyone who has worked with artisans in developing nations, they can tell you just how challenging this can be.  (Ask Sindhu, KARIGAR’s production head, whose morning often starts with phone calls at 5:00 CET, India time 9:30!) Cultural barriers and gender biases are frequently tested, and timelines often disregarded. But despite its hurdles, it means less gets lost in translation.

And for the artisans, working closely with us means the positive impact of our work benefits them directly. Standing to gain from this middle man-free partnership would be our women artisans, accounting for almost 80% of KARIGAR’s artisan team. For women in rural India, working with craft gives a sense of freedom to work from anywhere – even home, while taking care of young children – because you take your skill with you wherever you go. And no middle man means greater flexibility. 

This conversation with Shirley also got us thinking, how could we quantify the impact we were having? Would the months we spend on ground training artisans on design and quality be counted as significant? Or would our annual artisan empowerment programme make a small difference in their development? Studies show that women tend to invest 90% of their income back into their families, and in our five years of building a brand, we have seen this data to be true. With their entire earnings in their control, many of our women artisan partners have chosen to offer higher education to their children, or keep some savings aside for their own personal development. For some, this financial independence means being able to afford a bottle of nail polish without asking for permission. 

With our recently-launched Cape Uptown being handcrafted by men and women artisans in Himachal Pradesh, we’ve added one more group from a new part of India to our expanding network of partners. And with every new partnership we realise how each order, no matter how small, can make a difference in its own way.    

Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal
Photo: Marloes van Doorn

 

 

The new influencer

The new influencer

There’s a different kind of influencer wielding her power in the Himalayan mountains of rural India. Contrary to the kind of influencer the modern world is used to, she doesn’t need social media to share her story and connect with her crowd. Her followers grow organically and are genuine fans, listening to every single word of advice as if their life depended on it. 

And it would. For these ‘influencers’ are first generation women weavers of the Himalayas who have proven that when the going gets tough, learning a new skill can be life-changing.

The women we are talking about never questioned the only identity they had – to be the wife of her husband. But that changed in June 2013 when flash floods devastated the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, washing away villages and with that, its men. Some women lost their husbands, the sole earning member of the families.

But there was no time to cry or challenge fate. Many of the women saw opportunity in the art of weaving – a craft that would feed their families and keep them employed. These farmers quickly learnt how to spin and weave and with every passing year, they grew more skilled and empowered. From weaving for local markets, they expanded to working with brands like ours.

As we step into the New Year, we are grateful for the funds raised for our first ever Artisan Empowerment Programme. Standing next to these strong women who will be part of the empowerment programme, we listen as they share their story of loss and love for the job that gave them a new status in society.

Over the next few months, our Empowerment Programme will shape and challenge our artisan teams to make next steps in their communities. And with that, explore the power of its truest influencers.

Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal 
Photo: Marloes van Doorn

Mystery of the missing capes

Mystery of the missing capes

Last week, a bag with 35 KARIGAR Capes went missing on a bus from Ukhimat to Dehradun.

What happens next is a series of nail-biting events.

Here’s what we know: at 11am, the bag with the woven Capes was packed and loaded on a state bus that regularly takes commuters down the winding, mountainous route. At the end of its typical 7-hour journey, our products are picked up from the bus station and passed on to our tailoring teams, who add their finishing touches with armholes, washing and tagging.

When we reached the bus stop to claim our goods, we discovered that our duffel bag was probably taken by an army jawan (soldier), who mistook the bag of 35 colourful capes for his dirty clothes. Possible, because our bag was made from Army camouflage fabric, similar to the bags that troops carry. This bus route is also a common one for troops, who travel to their barracks and back.

But this soldier had got off much earlier, his friend said, and taken another bus to his home in Uttarkashi.

Yes, he did come home, his mother confirmed when we finally tracked him down. He had indeed picked up the wrong bag, she said. Now he’s on duty in Jammu and has taken the bag with him.

As we write this, we are heaving a sigh of relief as the travelling Capes are being collected 509km from their original destination. They will soon be put on the commuter bus for Dehradun town, where Hari will be waiting to pick them up.

You’re probably thinking, why a commuter bus in the first place? As a young brand that’s ever-conscious of its eco-footprint, we are encouraged when we realise the positive impact of such decisions, no matter how small.

Every day, multiple times a day, there are commuter buses that depart from the bus stop not far from our weaving centres. Typically, a petrol-fuelled van that travels 10 to 12 km (or 6.5 to 7 miles) adds 1 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the environment. If we wish to transport our products every single time from our weaving centres to our fulfilment centres, we would add an extra 10kg of CO2 to our carbon footprint.

By using a bus that will make the journey anyway, we might increase the risk of our bags going missing, but what we get is a reduced environmental impact.

Here’s how we see it: either way, this story has a happy ending.

Text: Kanak Hirani Nautiyal
Photo: Marloes van Doorn