Guest blog-Kara Weaves-A Social Enterprise
US/Indian based company Kara Weaves have kindly contributed a guest blog telling us some more about their social enterprise company and the techniques they use to help improve lives in Kerala, India.
What is Kara Weaves?
We are a social enterprise that works with local handloom weaving co-operatives from Kerala to sustain the weavers of a fabric called locally as the "thorthu". We make a small but constantly evolving line of bath/beach towels, bathrobes and table linens with small weaving co-operatives across the state.
The name Kara means "border" or "edge" in Malayalam, the language of Kerala. It’s also the moniker used to identify the various fabrics by the color of the kara: do you like the fabric with a yellow Kara or a blue Kara? It can also mean the edge of the water, the edge of land. We like to think of our brand as embodying the elements and people that make up this beautiful tropical state we are from.
Indu and I approach Kara as an experiment, at any given day. We were willing to take on an industry that had nothing to loose, as it was in a really desperate condition. All this only because we loved the fabric and were not willing to see it disappear, like many age-old traditions. And having no model to work with, we initially launched Kara as a trial to see where we could go with handloom, a broadband connection and some good ol’ graphic design. We’ve come a long way since, with a Fair Trade Certificationin the pipeline, repeat orders from stores like Good Earth and Terrain as well as a wonderfully supportiveonline shopping community. More about our story can be found on our blog.
All our products you see in our collection were created over repeated trial and error, tested out first within our homes and like all things experimental, is continually being edited and modified. A lot of this was possible as we work closely with the weaving communities and produce small batches to run our experiments with.
How does Kara help the Handloom sector in Kerala?
Since social enterprise Kara is entirely self-financed and self-initiated by our team, we decided to pitch in to help the existing network of Government Weaving Centers by creating a line of products that merged this ancient weaving craft and a contemporary lifestyle. By taking up e-business, we are so glad to be able to reach out our small list of products to the far corners of the globe. This in turn creates the much needed awareness and patronage that any art-form requires. Having worked with several of them, we welcome inquiries for collaborations from stores, eco-hotels and any other organization that shares our values!
Handloom’s unique quality is that of the yarn which is of pure cotton variety suitable only for slow speed spinning and weaving process. This preserves the lustre, colour-holding capacity, absorbency, softness and durability of cotton products. It was this finesse and feel that made Indian cotton fabric so famous in earlier times.
Who is on the Kara Weaves’ team?
I am a graphic designer with an MFA from the Cranbrook Acedemy of Art and from the ESAG Penninghen. My co-founder, managing partner (and my mom) is a Social Anthropologist with decades of experience working at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad and at the Department of Community Medicine in Kuwait. We also have a cheer team with Revathy (a noted Indian film director and social activist), Sreedevi (a handloom enthusiast) and her daughter Lakshmi (a talented entrepreneur).
Although on paper the team is 4 members (Indu, myself, Revathy and Sreedevi), Kara is truly a product of endless enthusiastic conversations we have had with our friends and family, and we love them for it!
What has been Kara’s impact so far?
On the weavers: We are gradually seeing our local weaving community get excited about the scope of their work by seeing us come back to them for more and more orders. We also make it a point to take all visitors at our studio to meet the weavers at the co-operative to give both shoppers and weavers a chance to learn and inspire each other. In the long run, through a sustainable marketing strategy, we hope to set up a weaving learning center at the currently disused parts of the local weaving co-operative. By introducing more people into this wonderful tradition we hope to continue its existence over generations.
On the fabric itself: People from Kerala recognize the thorthu fabric anywhere as it is so built into our lifestyle in Kerala. Which is why it fills our hearts with so much pride when we get queries from people who see our fabrics at stores around the world and ask us "is this the same thorthu towel fabric we use at home in Kerala?" To see the same weave reshaped and up-cycled into bathrobes, table linens and beach fabrics is giving a new direction of products for these talented communities of weavers and in turn keeping this tradition very much alive!