A Global Platform For Indian Weaves – KanakHiraniNautiyal and SindhuHolla

A Global Platform For Indian Weaves – KanakHiraniNautiyal and SindhuHolla 

The connection to their homeland runs deep and while the rest of the country is now chanting the ‘Make In India’ slogan, for KanakHiraniNautiyal and SindhuHolla, the need to stay connected to their roots was a calling they answered more than three years ago. RITZ meets the entrepreneurs from The Netherlands who work with more than 1,000 craftspeople from Northern India creating home and fashion collections for the European market, thereby providing them with steady work and income making a difference to their lives and showcasing their intricate skills to a global audience.

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During a trip to India from Amsterdam where Kanak and Sindhu both live now, they met a family who shared with them their unusual photos of Himalayan birds. At the same time, the duo, who had been touring the northern parts of the sub-continent were riveted by the intrinsic skills of weavers hailing form that region. Impressed with the craftsmen’s skills, but disturbed looking at the poor conditions in which they lived and worked, they decided to offer them an opportunity to showcase their creativity and earn a fair wage. What began as a small project, conceptualised by two far-thinking ladies, has today become a massive business model that the duo are promoting across Europe and soon North America as well. Their two businesses – Pashm and Karigar – strive to connect the Indian artist with conscious global consumers in a meaningful way. We speak to KanakHiraniNautiyal, partner in both Pashm and Karigar.

What exactly is it that you do? Explain a bit about both Pashm and Karigar.

We use design to connect rural Indian artisans to global conscious consumers in a meaningful way.

Pashm was founded in 2013 by myself and my partner SindhuHolla. We both come from India and wanted a way to remain connected to our roots, while living in the Netherlands. We were impressed by the skills of craftspeople in India and wanted a way to give them more opportunities and a chance to earn a fair wage. We work with a network of skilled artisans from India (which we continue to build) and connect them to international brands/designers – basically anyone who wishes to work with the handmade sector in India.

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In 2014 we met a Dutch textile designer JolijnFiddelaers and decided to launch our own brand of Home and Fashion textile products. We called our label Karigar, because it was our tribute to all the skilled hands that create. The Karigar products are designed in Amsterdam and fairly handcrafted in India using natural materials.

We translate the traditional skills (handicraft and handloom) of skilled artisans to create modern, fairly handmade home and fashion products, and by doing so not only do we preserve their craft but we also give these talented artisans a wider reach, access to an international platform, train them on new designs, empower them economically and tell their story through each product.

How did you venture into entrepreneurship? 

I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandfather ran a cinema hall and later went on to start a plastics manufacturing factory. My mother ran a successful beauty salon for almost 40 years. With them I saw how demanding, yet rewarding running your own business could be. I decided that I must have it in my blood and this was my opportunity to follow their path.

How has the progress of your entrepreneurial venture been this far?

A few details on the struggles and joys.

Karigar is close to two-years-old and already retailing across the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and UK at 22 sales points. In October 2015, we launched our Crowdfunding Campaign to reach out to global consumers and we raised €31,368 entirely through pre-orders (223 backers) from around the world (Hong Kong, USA, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, UK, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, India and Australia).

In 2015 we attended the Maisonet Objet trade show in Paris and before that, we got our first big German retail client. Karigar will showcase its products in Milan at the Palazzo Francesco Turati as part of a design event, and in May we will be at Pulse in London. For 2017, we wish to be at NYNow, a popular trade show in New York for handmade products.

But to be honest, those are pure numbers and figures. The real joy is in seeing the difference or impact our works has on the artisans that we work with.

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Take the example of Parwa Devi, who has been weaving for two years. Before that she was a farmer and relied on her land to support the family. Now that she has a steady source of income, Parwa is able to send her son to school. She’s hard working, highly skilled and the bread winner in her family. She’s also our best weaver and loves what she does!

We want to grow our platform of artisans to include skilled, rural talent from across the world, and connect these unsung heroes to the rest of the fashion and design industry.

Across the globe, we want to see Karigar become the preferred choice for those who believe in high quality, handmade fashion and home accessories.

How have you popularised your ventures? What has been the market response thus far?

People love how we use design to translate traditional Indian handcraft techniques into modern textile products. For an international audience, the materials are new and exciting because they are natural and raw, and the colours appeal to their sensibility. What completes it is our story about the artisans behind Karigar. In the past we’ve been asked, ‘do you use child labour?’, or ‘do your people work in fair conditions?’. We thought, let’s tell them how we really do it. So every Karigar product comes with a Talking Tag (a hangtag with a QR code), which when scanned, tells you who made the product, how it was made and where. This is done through videos and photographs, some of them taken by the artisans themselves.

We’ve used technology to reach out to the market and tell them how their Karigar product came alive.

Anything new you are currently working on?

We’ve just launched our new collection of home and fashion products, with lovely natural materials and happy summer colours.

Jolijn and I returned from India recently, where we travelled across the country and met new craftspeople to co-create our collection, which includes plaids, cushion covers, scarves, shawls, stoles and capes.