Impacted by the spotlight being on the Asian textile market for the wrong reasons, Kara Weaves produces high-quality textiles that are made from ancient local fabrics, with the worker being the focus of attention. Read their fantastic story below, or view their category of products made from the ancient art form of weaving.
What drove you to start your business?
The need to give our local handloom industry a much-needed impetus. As we are not formally
from a business background, we decided to pool together our knowledge of graphic design,
sociology, research, and community-based development to start this business.
Who are your employees or your artisans?
Being a Fair Trade certified organization we work only with certified government weaving and tailoring
co-operatives in Kerala who work under subsidies and social security schemes from the government.
Products are hand-stitched by certified co-operatives and independent local tailors in Kerala, India.
Each artisan member of the co-op has a vote in how things are run at their co-op in addition to
healthcare and retirement plans. By partnering exclusively with the co-ops we are ensured of a fully
transparent and ethical supply chain to create all our work.
How did you find them?
In the 1960s the Indian Government set up a vast network of rural co-operatives that support rural
economies. As part of her research for a book about women weavers, our co-founder Indu Menon, in
a previous career as a social anthropologist, had interviewed several members of our local co-ops.
When we re-visited them in 2005 in our hometown, we were appalled to find their facilities in disarray
and an overall professional gloom they were in. This was the main impetus to us to form Kara
Weaves in 2007, as a business-driven way to support and promote this ancient, traditional art form.
What do they mean to you?
They mean everything to us and are in fact the core of why we do what we do. Supporting artisanal
co-ops in rural areas helps to preserve this traditional art form from disappearing, in addition to
motivating more people to learn this beautiful skill. We hope that by providing a market-based solution
to their skill, we can empower them to continue to innovate with their craft.
What made you decide to start producing ethically?
Manufacturing, especially of textiles, from Asia, has always been in the spotlight for the wrong
reasons. When we started thinking about the idea of developing our business, working with the
co-operatives was an integral part of our strategy. Not only are the weaving co-operatives spread
across in many rural communities in our home state, but they are also one of the highest employers in
the region and their skills are legendary. By supporting them, we knew we would participate in
rural employment, financial stability in addition to craft-preservation (by motivating the senior
master weavers in this community to teach this skill to the younger generation).
What impact has your business had on your community?
With the response we’ve had to our products, we have been able to ensure that our small group of
weavers are never in short supply of work or proper financial remuneration. Also, the weavers are happy
to have got recognition internationally.
What was the most difficult part of starting and running your business?
The most difficult part of getting this idea off the ground, in the beginning, was to share our vision and the ways we had re-imagined this workhorse textile into the beautiful home textiles collection it now is in. We used the core principles of graphic design to design, re-brand, photograph and develop this collection into what it is now which is a very far place from how the community (including the weavers themselves) thought about this textile. Once we had some of the top design blogs and media publication share this with the world, the market welcomed this work and this has always exceeded anyone's expectations of how we can support artisanal craft.
What has been the most rewarding outcome of your business?
The most rewarding outcome has been to see the motivation of the artisans re-emerge after years of professional lethargy. We see the pride they take in the work, and the ways they have leveraged our long association with them to secure additional loans and infrastructure to develop the local co-operatives. It is also very very heartening to see the pool of candidates who apply to work for us, from the top design and business programs nationally and internationally. We feel these are very insightful indications of creating a positive social change through design and ethical trade.
What is your company’s mission?
Kara Weaves is a Fair Trade and WBE certified social enterprise working with co-operatives to create fair-trade handwoven textiles in south-west India. We try to bridge the gap between this traditional weaving art form and a contemporary lifestyle.
Our mission has always been to create long-lasting practical textile products that are made with pride by people who love this craft. We also believe strongly in creating multi-tasking textiles that fit into a variety of lifestyles, to tie into our ethos of creating quantitatively-less but higher quality products.