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