Monday, September 14, 2009

Style Talk: One Thread Fair Trade

One Thread Fair Trade Mayura_inoffice

In the world of design, there are very few times when you read about someone who is using the power of design to make social change.  It was such a privilege to be able to interview Mayura Kona from One Thread Fair Trade, an amazing company that's using textile design to improve the lives of women in India.

Mayura is a true visionary.  If you are wondering how you can use your business to do some good in the world, you will be truly inspired by Mayura and the wonderful women that she works with.

One Thread Fair Trade Installationshot_one

What is the inspiration behind One Thread Fair Trade (OTFT)?
The plight of battered and disadvantaged women is an issue that has deeply concerned me since adolescence. During my visits to India over the course of my childhood, I have witnessed the horrors that women in my native country face, from being beaten by their husbands to being sold off as sex workers. I saw many women who worked in my relatives’ houses, women I knew personally, go through experiences such as these. To read about these stories in the paper is one thing. To see it happen to women you care about is a staggering, painful experience that changes you forever.

Three years ago, I was inspired to take action against this reality when I met Sandhya. She ran a non-profit, Vijay Foundation Trust (VFT), and an orphanage in my mother’s hometown, a small town called Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, India. Upon finding a severely beaten woman left for dead in a field near her home, Sandhya began to take in destitute women and train them in textile arts. I saw the immense potential in combining my design skills with the women’s tailoring skills to both improve their lives and create a successful business.

I had been working as an Art Director at a major apparel licensing company and although I loved my job, I did not feel fulfilled. I simply didn’t feel that I was using my education and design skills to do something good for humanity, to improve the world in which we all live in. It was from my encounter with Sandhya that the idea was born. I have spent the last two years developing the fair trade unit in Kadapa and now the organization has finally reached the launch stage.

One Thread Fair Trade Mayura_withartisans

How did you choose this community of women to work with?
Our artisans are a very special group of women that come from the Kadapa District of Andhra Pradesh, India. Andhra Pradesh is a state in Southern India that is rich in culture and tradition, but also rich in poverty and domestic violence. According to the World Bank, rural women in Andhra Pradesh live in a state of extreme destitution, with 6.2 million women living below $1.25 a day. Moreover, it is estimated that 70% of married rural women in Andhra Pradesh are victims of battery, rape, or coerced sex. These statistics are simply jarring and unacceptable. Beyond domestic violence and extreme poverty, young rural women in India (estimated 20 million) are being forced to enter the flesh trade, which in many cases leads to the contraction of AIDS and early deaths. For all of the above reasons and more, we have chosen this community of women to empower.

How does OTFT help these women support themselves?
A problem like poverty has a multitude of root causes. In the community we work in the main root causes of the problems the women face are a lack of skilled workers and resources needed to attract industries or jobs in the rural areas; and a widespread ignorance about female education and lack of successful female role models in rural society.

OTFT seeks to eradicate these root problems by providing vocational training, in tailoring, and providing jobs that pay fair wages that allow the women to support themselves. We are working to bring industry to the rural areas that have simply been ignored. More importantly, we are also working to create successful female role models that can become agents of change in their own villages. The women in our Kadapa unit have become strong, independent females and have caused their rural villages to reconsider the potential of a woman and ultimately the potential in educating a girl. Most girls in the area are pulled out of school at Grade 5. We are trying to change that mentality.

One Thread Fair Trade Pillows

Have you seen a change in their lives?
We are still a very young company and have only really been in the market for less than a year. However, our artisans have definitely seen change in their lives since beginning to work with them. All of our artisans have a savings account now and have stopped living from day to day. Every one of them is able to feed their families and are not dependent on their husbands to live their lives. Many of the girls who used to do low-paying agricultural work have become skilled tailors and are learning new skills everyday. More importantly, their self-confidence levels have skyrocketed. When I first began work, most of the women were afraid to speak out loud. Now, the women are confident and proud of who they are. That is the most significant and life-long change. I cannot express the joy it brings me to see smiles on their faces, it is the most incredible feeling in the world.

Culture has such a wonderful place in the world of design. How does OTFT bring a more global style into people’s lives?
I agree that culture holds a very special place in the world of design. We try to capture the vibrancy and energy of the Indian culture in our designs and we do this mainly through color. We choose colors that are rich in tone and very reflective of Indian textiles and traditional sarees. Also, most of our products are made using gorgeous Indian raw silk, which is a material that is not commonly used on our sphere of the earth.

One Thread Fair Trade Pillows

Please tell us about your different pillow collections?
Currently, we are selling our launch collection, The Rama Collection. The inspiration behind our launch line is leaves. I believe that nature is the one thing that all human beings find to be universally beautiful and I wanted to design a collection that captured that beauty in a modern way. Every pattern in the leaf collection represents different views of a leaf. For example, the Linear design is clearly based off the basic shape of a leaf. The Leaf design is a closer view of a leaf, highlighting the veins within a leaf. The Jewels design is an even more magnified view of a leaf, highlighting the actual cells that make up the leaf’s texture.

The most extraordinary thing about our pillows are definitely the artisan labels. Each pillow comes with a specialized label that contains the name of the artisan that worked on your pillow, a statement of what she believes in, and an artisan number that you can use to find her profile and picture in the ARTISANS section of our website!

One Thread Fair Trade LABEL

Does OTFT have an environmental philosophy as well?
Our pillows are eco-friendly specifically in the type of silk that we use. All of our pillows are produced with hand loom raw silk. The benefits of using hand loom silks are many. First, hand loom weaving is vastly better for the environment than power loom weaving. Basically, a power loom is a huge machine that automates the weaving process and requires little human labor and emits a significant amount of pollution. Hand loom weaving is all done by human hand and involves no machinery. As a result, handloom fabrics produce ZERO carbon emissions.

Hand loom weaving supports up to 9 times more families as all of the work is done by hand. In India, there are hundreds of villages that survive on the art of hand loom weaving alone and many of these villages are facing dire poverty as the demand for hand loom fabrics has dropped significantly in the shadow of the quicker, cheaper power loom option. We are trying to support these hand loom weaving villages and their dying art, as well as have a better effect on our environment.

What is next for OTFT?
Our next steps are to expand our Kadapa unit, training and to bring in more rural women and artisans. We would also like to eventually expand into other product categories and reach out to as many people as we can. We are truly excited about the change we can make and hope you are too!!

For more from One Thread Fair Trade, and to support the work of these incredible artisans, click here.

{Images from One Thread Fair Trade}

10 comments:

  1. I am so inspired!! No matter what career path we choose, there is always a will and a way to give back to help others!!

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  2. Oh Gosh!! amazing story and such lovely prints, thank you for posting :))

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  3. I love these and havewanted one for a while, but the price....uhhh

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  4. It's not just a great concept, the products are amazing too! Great article.

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  5. These colors are so rich and vibrant...lovely article.

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  6. truly inspiring and very beautiful cushions too!!

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  7. The growth of fair trade textile is such an exciting development!

    Check out this blog entry on the emergence of fair trade cotton, which may soon lead to clothes being fair trade certified!

    Fair Trade: USA vs. Europe

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  8. Beautiful pillows and a better story. Unfortunately, price is an issue for me. I am not sure how they will do with the current state of economy (and the fact that you can find great pillows for a lot less), but I hope there is a market for these as I think One Thread is a doing a great service. I do understand that paying fair wages will drive price. Needless to say, I wish Mayura and her company sucess.

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  9. Tamstyles and Anonymous, you both commented on the price of the pillows, and I totally understand where you're coming from, but I wanted to add some things here.

    As I'm about to enter the pillow business myself, there are a few things to note. To make a high quality, eco-friendly pillow like Mayura is making is not cheap. The cost goes into using high quality silk, making sure the designers get paid fairly and having environmentally friendly inserts. For all that she does, I think the price is reasonable.

    For the cheaper pillows you pay for - one, they are likely not environmentally friendly or sustainable; two, the companies that make them contract out to China and other countries,to pay low wages; three, larger companies can order 1000 pillows, resulting in a lower cost, and a loss of originality and handmade craftsmanship.

    Even for my own company, our pillows have what some would view as a high price tag, but everything is made right here in my neighborhood, supporting the local economy, ensuring jobs, and lessening our environmental footprint.

    As for the state of the economy, pillows are the least expensive way to make a significant change in your interior. A $140 pillow is cheaper than a brand new sofa, and can have a big impact. To me, it's the most cost effective way to transform a space.

    And with Mayura's pillows, you can transform your space and do a little good in the world too.

    I would love to hear other's thoughts on this.

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We look forward to hearing what you have to say!

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