Monday, November 17, 2014

Meet us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook!

Hello dear readers,

As you've noticed we've not been very regular at updating this blog. That's because we have been so busy with making new textiles and posting updates to our social media accounts. You can meet us there to see photos, videos and fun links we like, from all around the interwebs. 

Here are the places where we're now focused on:




See you all soon! 


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Activities in the office in January!

The past few months out office has been a beehive of activity. Between adding new people, new work spaces and bidding farewell to a wonderful consultant, here are all the updates:

Our wonderful MBAs Without Borders consusltant Jessica Custer finished her stay with us, shortly before Christmas. We couldn't believe how quickly the 4 months had passed, and were so impressed by all the work we had done together. With Jessica's assistance we were able to streamline a lot of the workflow in our studio, set up concrete plans for growing towards a fully sustainable wholesale model and efficiently co-ordinate with our weaving co-operatives to ensure their growth. Here are some snaps of our pre-Christmas party before Jessica left.

Cake? Homemade wine? Yes please!
Our team made a handmade towel "bouquet" for Jessica!
We were also hard at work on some exciting new orders of Anthropologie, for this spring. They are one of our favorite teams to work with and we're so excited to hear from the each time! This time around, we're adding some new tags to our products so those of you shopping at their stores can also read a little bit about the products, where they are from and how to use them. Here's a peek at the tags going on the towels:

L-R: Anthropologie home tag, Textile Committee authentication tag, our product-info tag
Some of the fun new colors for Anthropologie, getting prepped..

We also hired some new temporary team members to help us out. These wonderful women live in our neighborhood and we were more than happy to hear about their interest in working with us. To make sure there was enough room for everyone, we decided on a fun way to increase our office space quickly: we got another re-purposed shipping container! If you remember ,we had gotten a re-purposed shipping container as our storage space a few moths ago.

To make things comfortable, this container was outfitted with wooden paneling, windows, doors and fans. Additionally we also built a shed over the two containers to keep them cool in the hot sunny weather we have in Kerala. Take a peek:

The outside of the containers, with the new roof

The container, updated to a workspace, all ready for use!

Our wonderful group of assistants who are tying the tassels & checking the fabrics.
While all this activity was going on in the studio, Indu got a call to speak about our work at the TiECon event being held in Kochi this year. It was a two-day conference where more than 2000 entrepreneurs from various professions gave short talks about creating sustainable business opportunities in Kerala. She was invited to speak in the Women Entrepreneurs segment and to say she knocked it out of the park was an understatement! We're waiting for the official video, meanwhile here's a peek at a hand-held video from an audience member (apologies for the quality, but the content is well worth it!)

Indu presenting our work at Kara at the TiECon event in Kochi, December 2013

Well, that's all for this month's updates. Watch this space for more :)

xoxo, Chitra

Sunday, December 1, 2013

After the long absence..

Wooden pre-looming instruments at the Weaving Co-operative
We've been absent here on the blog for a bit, cannot believe the year is ending already! Here's a peek at what we've been working on:

• The wonderful Jessica Custer from the MBAs Without Borders program has been our advisor since September until December 2013. We've been working on a number of things with her, including a marketing strategy, setting up systems to streamline work in our studio and getting our sales strategy in order. As she winds up by late December, all we can think about is how much we'll miss her! :(

• We've been working with the talented photographer, photojournalist and Fulbright scholar Seema Krishnakumar on a small video for Kara. Its still in progress, and more on that soon!

• We were invited to do a brief guest-post about our work on Kochi Post.

• Great new feature about our partner Given Goods Co. and our products on Design Crush.

• Organic yarn!! We've been working on a small sample of organic yarn from Kutch via Khamir. Excited to see where this new direction leads us.

• We've also hired some wonderful new people: Mallika, our textile designer + production lead and Sunitha, our front office co-ordinator.

• A tonne of new collaborations with some amazing people. Notably Ecru in Kuwait, School House Electric in the US, Dune Eco Group in Kochi and a few new ones that we'll be revealing on our site soon!

More regular updates on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram, so catch up with us there!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Updates at the store

We've been working hard to make sure the prices are fair both to our shoppers and to our producers. Due to changes in cost of production and labor at our co-op partners, some product prices are set to revise on July 1st 2013.

Watch our online store for more; meanwhile our current price will be valid till midnight June 30th (EST).

Happy shopping and thanks again for all your support!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Getting personal today

I think Father's Day is the best time to tell you a whole lot about Pulickal Achyutha Menon, my grandfather, and one of our inspirations!
He was a self-made man, as several of his generation are. In the 1930s, after finishing high school, he used to tutor kids from a local wealthy family in our village Kanjiramattom. He used to pass the only newspaper in the village around between some families and got it to a reading club for his friends (that was the beginning of the Village Library and Reading room that exists even today!). One of the members of this local family who was based in Bombay was impressed with his activities and offered to take him there. He got to Mumbai circa 1938, and worked as a help-boy at Richardson Cruddas, an engineering design firm. As he served tea to his bosses, he peeked at the drawings and observed a mismatch of some dimensions in the work. His employers were impressed and offered to pay for his evening classes at the VJTI Mumbai.

This was the beginning of his engineering career. He went on to work for MECON, and in 1954 he was one of the 13 engineers sent to Germany to prepare India's first public sector steel plant in Rourkela. He loved saying that the Indian steel industry was born in his hands and was genuinely so proud of that!
My grandparents, my uncle Rajan and my mother Indu
After he retired in 1973, he decided it was his turn to serve the community around him. So he got into a number of welfare groups in the many places he lived in. When my grandparents moved in with us in Ahmedabad to take care of me (since both my parents had full-time jobs and day-cares were not too common in India at the time) was the first time I saw his activities first-hand. He set up a Malayalam class each Sunday morning, where children from the Malayali community in our neighborhood were taught the alphabet. He felt that if you could not read/write/speak your mother tongue, well then you were illiterate! So yes, I have some amazing memories of being dragged reluctantly on Sundays to learn the alphabet. But now, each time I'm at a bus-stop or restaurant in Kerala, I silently thank him for having taught me my language! 
My grandparents and me (in the 90's of-course, faux-animal print and all!)
He was involved with the rural community around our area when we lived in Ahmedabad,  setting up a school for the village children, sanitation facilities and several such initiatives. Much later on, when he moved to Kerala, he was an active member of the Senior Citizen's forum in our neighborhood. Through this he also did a lot of data collection on the lives and welfare concerns of the elderly in our area.

In my years as a college student in France and when I worked in Delhi I used to spend all my holidays with my grandparents. Most of my days were spent making drawings, taking pictures and reading books on design. Almost on a daily basis he asked me: What is the point of this education? What can you give back to this community, one which has supported you to be who you are now? Does a French/American education in Graphic Design have any relevance to the lives of people in this rural part of Kerala?

At the time Indu and I had not yet started on Kara. And I used to return his question with a pretty blank stare and tell him I made great work that made things look better. He asked me (with an urgency in his voice that was lost on me at the time) on how making things look better actually helped anyone? And then I would usually get irritated, lose my temper and leave the room.

He died a few months before I graduated from Cranbrook in 2009. The last few years of his life were in and out of awareness, and he slowly withdrew into himself. It was in these years that Kara was starting to happen and as I started to write my graduate thesis at Cranbrook I finally had my answer for the "daily question" of design's relevance that my grandpa asked.
So on this beautiful Father's day, as always, I remember and thank my Appupa for having asked me those direct, blunt and sometimes painful questions about relevance. And to have taught me that "comfortable" was not a good feeling, if you ever want to create something meaningful.

xoxo, Chitra

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Collaborations

We've been hard at work with some new people; here are some updates:

Over the next few days, we're doing a limited edition sale with for their Outdoors Pop-up shop, here are some images from the event:
A month back we had done an exclusive event with them, our first ever, and it was amazing to see how well the products were received:
We also did a quick event with their European segment and had a pretty good sell-out event:
 In retail, you can find our new work at MUHS Home, Anthropologie and Calypso St Barth:
The Planet Access Company store in Chicago and the Bear Foods Market in Chelan,WA stock our work, as does the SipSip store on Harbor Islands in the Bahamas and Ecru in Kuwait. 

Few days ago we just shipped out some of our products to the Austin-based retailer Sound and True; looking forward to seeing them here too! 

More updates on our Stockists page and via Facebook; stay tuned!

Friday, May 24, 2013

(Marketing, Activism, Art) v/s the Audience

Yesterday I had the fun opportunity to sit in at a talk by Steve Lambert at the MIT Center for Civic Media, via Denise Cheng. I knew a bit about his work and was looking forward to this discussion on creativity, activism and the public.
He spoke about ways to engage with an audience without alienating them; how providing lots of facts about an issue can more often than not, disempower people and turn them away from engaging with you. On how narrative storytelling was one of the most powerful strategy to draw in audiences and create action.
One of Steve Lambert's most famous pieces was this "edition" of the NY Times.
These questions are something we've often thought about at Kara. I realized that we were intuitively doing some of the things mentioned in the talk. Here's how:

We care a lot about reviving and supporting the talented work of the thorthu weavers; we also care about handwoven fabrics and this long-standing tradition in our community that is quickly disappearing. 

But here's the thing: If I came to you and told you about our cause and how scary it was that this centuries old tradition was going away; you might feel some empathy towards me, but you'd be like "That's awful! But now I've gotta go walk my dog/feed my kids/go to work, etc"

On the other hand, if I came to you with our beautiful textiles and told you about how incredibly practical they are, how fun the design is, and how it is preserving a centuries-old tradition, you'd be like "Yay, I totally want some fun table linens and beach towels!". 
At the beach later, you'd think to yourself: "Oh man, this towel is so amazing! So happy I could help out these ladies with their social cause..." 

See what I just did? Got you to take part in my social cause, but without overwhelming you with the uphill task we face. You're going to need new towels and table napkins at some point; but by getting ours you not only get some stellar stuff, but also contribute you $$ meaningfully.

Its one part capitalism, one part socialism and lots of parts of ethics, love and commitment. That's our simple, un-freaky activism strategy; welcome onboard!
I chatted with Steve Lambert after the talk and the most valuable question he asked was "So say you've achieved this goal of preserving this culture, empowering this community, providing them financial stability and everything else on your list. What's next?!" 

In the past 6 months or so, we've been so caught up with new things that we haven't had time to think about this. Thanks Steve, for jump-starting our brain with this!

I'll now leave you with this amazing poem he read out:

“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia? 
It is to cause us to advance.”  
-Eduardo Hughes Galeano 

xoxo, Chitra.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Kinfolk Flower Potluck

Kinfolk Mag in partnership with Eva's Garden and Beacon Hill Bistro hosted an afternoon of garden tours, flower gathering and a beautiful meal at Eva's Garden near Dartmouth MA.
I had a chance to meet some wonderful people, learn a bit about how things grow (I have the world's worst gardening skills) and just be out in the sun a bit!
I couldn't get over how beautiful the table awaiting us was. The decor consisted mainly of fresh flowers, branches, simple white dinnerware, brown paper with a d.i.y. stencil print and a lot of sunshine!
After the week that was in Boston, it was nice to be out and see nature work so beautifully. The little green plants pushing through the as-yet cold ground was not a lost metaphor on all of us.
I think I just stood and stared at the ground at them when I found this!
 My mother's well-loved Jawaja bag found itself full of flowers on our foraging adventure.
I was loving the subtle colors on the table too!
Josh Lewin (of the Beacon Hill Bistro and one of the co-hosts) works his magic with roasted veggies!
While Josh and his crew were prepping for dinner, the rest of us spent some time putting together these flowers:
This is Diana, my wonderful friend, who told me about this event and is usually a gateway for me to discover amazing things about my neighborhood!
Diana introduced me to Rebecca (who offered to do the long drive from Boston, thanks so much!) who was a delight to talk with. So incredible when you meet a new person and feel like you've known them forever!
As the weekend approaches, I do hope yours is filled with friends, nature and simple well-crafted meals! xo, Chitra

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

University of Hawaii visit

Pretty excited to share with you the details of my trip to Hawaii; I was invited by the Department of Architecture at the University of Hawaii to do workshops on design as well as present my work at Kara. I don't think a blog-post would do justice to this experience, but here's a short photo-essay:
I stayed on a quite part of this spectacular coastline in Waikiki.
Sunrise over the beautiful Kapiolani park and Diamond Head Crater Park
Monday started bright and early at the Dept of Architecture at the Univ of Hawaii
They're working on a small project in branding I did with them over the week.
Loved seeing their stuff lying around; reminds me of my studio desk most days!
We divided them into small groups for reviewing each other's work.
I'm getting ready for my talk here; was super thrilled to see the turnout and the Q&A afterwards!
Maria Simon (l) and Erin Yuasa (r) were kind enough to take me on a tour of the University; Maria teaches in the Dept of Architecture; Erin teaches in the Ceramic Dept. Both are fellow alums from my grad school, the Cranbrook Academy of Art.
Beautiful textures in remnants of a clay piece by Phoebe Cummings
This tree, outside the art department, was incredible to look at!
Erin makes beautiful work about re-purposed clay stepping stones, made in the shapes of found containers
These beautiful stemware by Erin's boyfriend Mark Mitsuda, a talented glass-artist and educator
Erin and Mark in his office at Punahou High School. They were kind enough to take me on a tour of this amazing institution!
This beautiful school is also where President Obama went to school at!
This is the Glass and Ceramic workshop areas of the school; loved the airy spacious space!
Here are some other fun things I did:
Lazy Sunday breakfast underneath the lychee tree with Aki (l) and Maria (r)
En route to Bellows beach, near the historic air force station with the same name
Nomoola does some incredible work on sustainable food practices; found their stand at the lunch-stop.
The sunken warship USS Arizona at the Pearl Harbor memorial; the colors are from the oil seeping out of the ship.
I also did a solo road-trip to the north shore of O Ľahu; the landscape was spectacular!
This lil dude was sunning himself on the coast when I got there; hello Sea Turtle!
Did I say how incredibly simple and delicious the food was? :)
Some life-truths I picked up:
Nature is the best pedicure, ever!
All food tastes great, if you're at the beach with friends! (with Tim & Maria)
Traveling in an open jeep can can make your face & hair happy! (with Aki & Maria)
Our fabric works with any lifestyle, any part of the world! (here Aki confirms it with the Infini)
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