Monday, December 19, 2011

Conversing about Co-operatives, Kudumbashree and Tagore

Left to right: Indu Menon, Siddharth, Prof. Darryl Reed, Prof. Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, Chitra, Dr. P Gopalakrishnan, Anup Nair
On December 17th we received some exciting guests from York University in Canada. Professors Ananya Mukherjee-Reed, Darryl Reed and their son Siddharth dropped in to visit us accompanied by Anup Nair (whom they were visiting in Kerala for research on Kudumbashree). Over chai, we had a long conversation about the role of co-operatives and independent projects such as Kara in reviving rural artisanal work and economies.

Darryl also gave us some valuable insight on a Fair Trade certification process, which would help Kara Weaves broaden our client base and seek more institutional buyers for a sustainable market. Since we are in the midst of the Fair Trade certification process, this information was so timely! Ananya shared her experience talking with the enterprising and outspoken women of the Kudumbashree network in Kerala where she found women's empowerment translated into income generation and collective farming activities.

Out of a mutual respect, adoration (and a slight crush) on Rabindranath Tagore, our conversation soon veered to the social relevance of the work of this Nobel laureate and poet. Tagore was a strong advocate of co-operatives (read Ananya's article about this here) and hand-weaving, both of which are things we at Kara endorse. We concluded with some wonderful ideas for collaborations and new directions at Kara; big thanks to Anup for bringing by such wonderful people to visit with us!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grad Students + Kara Weaves

At the office: Indu giving a small talk about the Kara Weaves story and process to the students and faculty
Last week, we were really happy to host a group of students from DePaul University Chicago and Kerala led by their faculty Prof Ramya Ramanath and Prof Vinay Raj respectively. The students were a mix of MBA and the Non-Profit Administration graduate program by both the schools.

We were happy to hear that what we had to share was of interest to both the groups of students since we are a business in the progress of registering ourselves as a non-profit organization. We prepared a little slideshow  presentation (shown below) explaining our working process and how we engage with local and international communities.

We were also fortunate enough to be joined by Anup Nair and Tony Jose, the co-founders of Local Economic Development Society (LEDS), a visionary group providing local-to-local networking for micro-enterprises across Kerala.
Anup Nair gives an engaging talk about his work

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Colors in the garden

Here are some images from the garden around our new office space in Kerala. I'm so inspired by these hues for some new prints and patterns for the fabrics. Amidst the mix of bright tones in the images, watch out for some subtle and unexpected colors like soft grays and reds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Block prints at Kara!

The latest addition to our crew of block prints, these polka prints are on 100% cotton table napkins, on sale here!
New prints with a custom-carved linoleum block, on sale soon!
I've been meaning to write about our new block print collection, but have been so busy printing and shooting for the collection that almost ran out of time! So here is the update:

As this past summer drew to a close and our first promotional sale was off to a fabulous start (thank you shoppers!), we got back to the drawing board for some new directions. I've been wanting to work on surface printing for a very very long time, so I decided this was going to be the perfect opportunity to develop a new line for Kara Weaves.
Had so much fun printing this pattern for the festive collection. Printed using custom-cut rubber blocks.
I've kept the patterns geometric, keeping in mind the clean lines that we love at Kara. It obviously keeps the cutting on linoleum simpler, but I also like the textures I'm getting inside the blocks of color. Especially love seeing the natural fabric weave texture through the inks and how the colors of the print and weave interact with each other.
Detail of the print on the ZigZag table cloth, sold out but soon available in black!
I'm so thrilled to say that the first few editions are already sold out and I'm working on some new ones for next week! These lovelies are printed with non-toxic, water based inks that are heat-set for permanence. Here are some more pix of the making and product-shoot.
Some sunny bright stripes on the hair-wraps.

New Weaves!

Candy colored new stripe patterned bath towels on a super-soft new weave
As the holiday season approaches I wanted to keep you all posted on a few new things we have been developing at Kara. More specifically, about this incredibly soft new weave in cotton, that we've created. To say it feels like butter would be an understatement; on sale right here!
Check patterned towels in a soft blue
We've re-worked our all-time favorite bath towels with these delightful new candy stripes and check patterns. The first consignment from the weavers is in and looking sweet.
Candy colored table napkin sets, 15"x15"
The check pattern in black
We've also been experimenting with block-printing, as I've been mentioning on Twitter. Recently I made some prints on the new fabric and its such a delight to work with! Below are some pictures of the new block-prints on this fabric in our Tria pattern, which work really well as table-cloths.
We are still offering free shipping, so happy shopping!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Building our Network a.k.a. Ramesh Menon

In the early days of our brainstorming sessions in Delhi (before we started the online store) we were very keen to work with larger corporate clients for wholesale orders. On one such impulse, we contacted FabIndia: their response was enthusiastic leading to several meetings to discuss possible collaborations. 

Through these meetings was when we realized how unfeasible it was, to take on a mammoth corporation from our perspective. Their needs to sustain and grow as a company were different from our goals (to progress by developing the weaving industry). Considering their large overheads of maintaining several stores all over India, the price-per-item they needed would not have made it worth the while for our specific social objectives. I'm not saying FabIndia was at fault for not understanding us, just that we were both coming from different places and had different goals as organizations. We're still a bit sad that this collaboration could not work out :(

The next direction we looked towards was that of the hospitality industry, notably some big players in the game, who had the impact to create awareness and support for our work in India. Again, the common roadblock we encountered was the wholesale price of each item being not in sync with the operational budgets of the organization. Simply put, our products were too expensive for them and they all sent back notes of regret and dismissal.

Enter Ramesh Menon, stage left.
Ramesh Menon, co-owner of Dal Roti in Fort Kochi

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Growing Up & Scaling Down

Gold-trimmed shirt made of the sheer kasavu cotton fabric; a trial product we created back in 2005.
When we started Kara Weaves back in 2006-2007, we wanted it all. And like any new found passion, we went a bit overboard with having a vast product range that included not just the towels and robes (that you now see on our website), but also cushion covers, curtains, bedspreads, pillow occurs, duvet covers, bags, skirts, shirts, wraparounds, table cloths, tea cozies, table napkins with several colors and patterns for each. At the time we thought the best way to plan the inventory was to let our shoppers decide what products worked and what did not. Did that strategy work for us?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A north-south collaboration: Khamir + Kara Weaves

Design of our invite for the show together with Khamir
In 2008, a year after our collaboration with the Banyan, we got in touch with Khamir, a non-government organization from the northern state of Gujarat. Through a chance re-connection with some of her earlier collaborators while in Ahmedabad (the wonderful Sushma Iyengar), Indu heard of the wonderful work of the Khamir resouce center as a way to revitalize Kachchh's creative industries. She contacted the director Meera Goradia and learnt that they was seeking to do a sale & exhibition of their work in Bangalore with a collaborator. Upon hearing what we do, Meera asked if we would be interested: and of course we said yes!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Banyan + meeting the President of India

left-right: Revathy, Sreedevi, Vandana of the Banyan, Surya and Indu
We love to meet people who share our world views and what we love even more is the opportunity to get to work with them. In this post I wanted to briefly cover an endearing collaboration we did in 2007 with the Banyan via our co-founder Revathy. At the opening ceremony, we also got to meet the (ex-)President of the nation, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam! From collaborations to meeting inspiring leaders: how did this all come about?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Handmade drawings

A bit of a flashback: after Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge wrote about our work in July 2008, things at our small home-office in Kerala got pretty hectic, as I mentioned in my previous post. It was in this crazy moment that I felt like we needed a unique way to thank those first few shoppers who placed orders with us.

I started sketching some handmade thank-you cards to add to the first shipments that left our office.
It was so much fun making them that it quickly turned into an obsession: before long we had sent out over a hundred cards! Basically it turned into a side-project where I tried to find as many ways to illustrate the words "Thank You"; above and below are a few:


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Meeting The World: Online

The first test of our branding strategy came about on the morning of August 2008, when Indu casually logged in to look at our email. Our e-commerce site had launched a few weeks ago and so far, the site had floated along in relative internet obscurity. All of a sudden that morning, the inbox was almost at maximum capacity with orders from new clients, pouring in by the minute! In a few days we cleared our first stock of fabrics and soon our site boasted the banner: Sold Out! How this this happen?

Designing the identity

As we started discussing the idea of setting up Kara Weaves, back in 2005 and 2006, we often went back to the reasons why this fabric was little known outside Kerala. It had nothing to do with the quality of the weave or the softness of the texture or the strength and durability, all of which it had. It came down to how people perceived the fabric: as dowdy, old-fashioned, dysfunctional, with lackluster colors and patterns. 
One of the basic premises of graphic design is to work with altering a sense of perception in the viewer/consumer. I was using this theory ad infinitum as I worked for a high-end branding agency in New Delhi, making it work its magic for clients in real estate, fashion, restaurants, storefronts and more. As we pondered this question in handloom, I decided that was precisely what we needed: some smart branding.

Starting a Start-Up

Folks often ask us about how we started Kara Weaves; so here's the whole story:
Indu, myself (Chitra), Sreedevi and Revathy
We are a small hand-loom weaving project run primarily by Indu Menon and myself, Chitra. Our co-enthusiasts/ co-partners are B. Sreedevi (a hand-loom expert and dearest supporter) and Revathy Menon (a noted Indian film actress and director who is one of our most enthusiastic motivators). We did not intentionally start it as a women-only organization; the fact that we are is purely co-incidental. :) 

A constant source of encouragement for our work comes from Lakshmi Menon, who steps in as a catalyst for our brainstorming sessions, travel to the weaving centers, photo shoot, product design and our invaluable sounding board. Celine George, the Delhi-based HR professional is also someone we connect with, when developing new ideas and strategists. A.R Sathish, an entrepreneur and business professional in Kochi, was also instrumental in providing us advice when we initially started our partnership firm with a lot of insight on managing our finances and paperwork. Our spouses (Indu's and mine) have also, over the years, provided a lot of feedback and objective criticism to help our brand develop and are an integral part of our core advisory group.
One of the weavers at our local handloom weaving co-operative in Kanjiramattom
But current stories aside, how did our brand really come about to be?


Welcome to our blog! We hope this is a place for you to discover a bit about the people who run Kara Weaves with some behind-the-scenes stories. This is also a place we write about the things we love. The picture above is from the fields behind our little office in Kerala, a space we look towards for inspiration!
My name is Chitra and I am one-half of the main team at Kara Weaves. In this blog, I will be writing about how we started, the fun adventures we've had over the years at Kara and the things we are working on currently. Happy reading!
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