What do you get when a social anthropologist and a graphic designer team up together? The answer – a social enterprise that works towards reviving the handloom weaving industry in Kerala, a lush, green, southern state in India.
Let us introduce you to Kara Weaves, an enterprise that embodies everything we love about the handmade industry. Check out their awesome products here on Coopita.
How it began...
Many moons ago in 1982, Indu Menon, a social anthropologist, was studying the handloom weavers of Kerala, to understand the perception of women weavers. At this point, she realised that there was much that could be done to develop the fabric by making contemporary products that could sustain the industry by making it relevant. Years later in 2008, Indu teamed up with graphic designer Chitra Goplakrishnan, who is the branding and design backbone of the company.
The company has two goals, namely to boost the local economy of the state of Kerala, by reviving the traditional handloom industry and to bring more young people into the fold so they can keep the industry going.
Creating measurable impact
Kara Weaves intends to achieve these goals by partnering with local weaving co-operatives to design contemporary home textiles. Each product is made from very ancient local fabrics that are woven on traditional wooden looms. Kara Weaves is also a member of the Fair Trade Federation of India
Starting with 2 women weavers in 2008, Kara Weaves has 14 women weavers under its fold today, a number that is still growing. Additionally, what started as a project with two cooperatives now involves 5 local cooperatives in Kerala. As Kara Weaves is able to give a continuous series of orders to these cooperatives, they firstly don’t have to spend resources on finding markets for their textiles and secondly incentivizes the youth of the community to join the local handloom industry.
Kara Weaves collaborate with the women weavers to create their textile patterns. Whenever they come across weavers who are interested in designing or innovating the weaving technique, they are also able to provide a platform for these women to continue their research.
Cut from a different cloth…
To a native of Kerala, Kara Weaves’ textiles would be as familiar as the coconut trees and the winding rivers that characterize the landscape of “God’s Own Country”. The towel fabric of Kerala known locally as the thorthu and the sarong fabric known as the mundu are the two primary textiles that comprise Kara Weaves’ products. These breezy, sturdy fabrics can be styled into any use around their home and outdoors.
Right from baby blankets, picnic mats, beach towels, kaftans, lounge wear, bath robes, bath towels, scarves, wraps, kitchen linens and infinitely more ways to use this multipurpose textiles. Kara Weaves re-worked the structure of the towel fabric minutely to make it more absorbent yet hyper lightweight. They are all woven on traditional wooden looms from pure cotton yarn at co-operatives across the state.
Zero-waste, off-the grid process…
Weaving is a slow and off-the-grid process, requiring minimal electricity as pre-looming, dyeing and weaving are manual processes. In fact Kara Weaves designs its home textiles or stitched garments in such a way that there is minimal fabric waste from the construction of the products. The negligible fabric-waste scraps always get repurposed as decorative items around their studio.
A love letter from Kerala to the world…
“We love to share our production process on our Instagram feed, as a way to highlight our fair-trade and handmade processes. Consumer awareness is very high these days especially in the ethics of global manufacturing; we feel this is a great time to be promoting a transparent supply chain of handmade textiles that tell the story of the people who make them and the place it comes from. In a lot of ways our textiles are love letters from Kerala to the world!” – Indu Menon
What the Kara Weaves team really loves about their work the many ways in which we can transform the thorthu – an underdog fabric - and being pleasantly surprised each time by the new uses for it. What keeps the team going is hearing from their global community - social media/email enables the team to hear from buyers all over the world about how they enjoy the textiles. This is a story the team loves to share with their weaving co-ops, so the weavers understand that their skills are unique, valuable and appreciated in places far away from the sleepy little state of Kerala.
Explore the wonderful textiles at Kara Weaves right here on Coopita!