Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Notes from the IBM visit

From L-R: Lou Martin (IBM Spain), Elke Heilemann (IBM Germany) and Jennifer Williams (IBM United States)
It has been two weeks since our encouraging and motivated collaborators from IBM left. Since their departure, Indu and I have not ceased to pour through their detailed reports and have endless Skype conversations (Indu is in Kerala and I'm here in Boston) about our next steps to grow our project. Here are some images and notes from their trip here (all images and videos, except the Skype screen shots, are taken by the IBM team).
Skype, with the Cotton Ladies (Jennifer,  Lou) and Indu in Kerala with me in Boston.
Even though I could not physically be present there when the IBM team were at our studio in Kerala, we regularly communicated via emails, Skype and telephone. They adorably called themselves the Cotton Ladies and made T-shirts to commemorate, with extra ones for Indu and me!

During the four week long project with IBM, our consultant advisor Rajendra Menon also stayed on to work with Indu for the various documents that were shared with IBM. Pictured below, he was also game to get dressy, for the group shot! :)
The IBM team dons the Kara spirit, literally! (l to r: Elke, Jennifer, Lou, Rajendra, Indu and Sandhya)
One of our biggest on-going concerns with Kara is to capture a sustainable market, so we have more to promise to these talented yet grossly overlooked communities of thorthu-weavers. Our goals to set up a weaving learning center are all hinged on creating a viable business model through Kara. To start, Indu took the team to visit with our local weaving co-operative and meet the weavers who are the nexus of our work at Kara:
Indu took the team around to explain the various processes for pre-looming and yarn coloring
Indu and Sreedevi speaking with Mani-chettan, the master weaver at the local weaving co-operative in Kanjiramattom

The elaborate and non-mechanized pre-looming process, at the weaving co-operative unit
Several members of the co-operative prefer working from their homes, so Indu took the team on a home-visit too!

Back in the office, the team continues discussions as the IBM team understands the process of work at Kara.
Elke, Lou and Indu, in the midst of some more analysis and work-flow discussions
The IBM team primarily concerned themselves with an in-depth understanding of how we work, before setting out to assist with anything. Although this seems obvious, I was impressed with how thoroughly they prepared a case-study on us. While one half of the team busied themselves with creating sustainable marketing strategy inputs, the other half took on the Fair Trade certification process.

Alongside learning more about our work, the Cotton Ladies were also curious about the place we live in and the people we interact with on a daily basis socially. I hope that accompanying us on our various business and family commitments gave some insight to our life here and by extension, the story behind our brand.
l-r: Indu and Nazreen (owners of the store A Few Good Things that showcases our work), Elke, Jennifer and Indu
The festival at the local Kootekaavu temple: and yes those are 5 decorated elephants in the back!
Running into Mani-chettan, the master weaver, at the temple festival.

Back at home, Indu shows off the pepper on the vines that grown on trees surrounding the Kara studio :)
Jennifer's daily routine involved greeting Chotu, the most energetic member of our household!
The Cotton Ladies with our office assistant Sandhya (center), and her adorable kids, who often drop by the studio.
Its hard to talk about something if you've never tried it: Lou does just that with our Blue Bathrobe
Jennifer, trying on the super absorbent hair wrap
On the last day of meetings, the team prepared a comprehensive presentation that took into account and addressed each of our needs. With a new marketing strategy and WFTO application initiated, Indu and I have our guides in place, as we continue the work initiated by the team. Here are some images from the last round of presentations and talks:

l to r: Kabi Sherman of CDC Solutions with Jennifer from IBM and our consultant Lakshmi
Elke during one of the sections of the talk
I get to sit in, via Skype, on the final presentation made by the IBM team in Kochi
From l-r: Rajendra Menon (advisor), Sreedevi (partner), A.R. Sathish (advisor), Suryakala (ex-partner), Lakshmi (consultant), and Indu (partner). And yes, that's my face via Skype on the screen!

IBM, Kara Weaves and the Tata Nano that ferried them all around!
After the talk came the hardest part: saying goodbye to this team who had so seamlessly become such a part of our lives! I like to think that we have a friend in Germany, Spain and the United States each, who for a brief 4 weeks, shared our goals and aspirations in the most genuine way possible! A heartfelt thanks to Kabi Sherman of CDC and the IBM CSC without which we would never have this wonderful opportunity to work with the talented Cotton Ladies!
xoxo, Chitra.


  1. Thanks so much, Chitra, for this special summary of four wonderful weeks at Kara and with your family! Miss you so much!

    1. Thanks Elke! Would not have been possible sans your wonderful documentation of the trip. We miss the team a lot too!


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