Kavita Parmar is the founder of the IOWEYOU Project which produces unique, handmade apparel out of fabrics handwoven in India. Through this project buyers are able to trace the entire production process right from the weavers who weave the fabric.
This project is especially great because it brings back the focus to the people who make fabrics and helps consumers make conscious decisions about what they buy and how they use it.
Since its conception, the IOU Project has won a series of awards and been recognized globally. It has won the 2012 Luxury Briefing Award for Innovation of the Year in London, 2012 SOURCE Awards by Ethical Fashion Forum, Sustainable Luxury Award Latin America and many more. The project was chosen to be a part of the 2013 Unreasonable at Sea program. Kavita has also spoken at various events including TED Talks.
Kavita was kind enough to take some time out and answer a few questions for us.
Q1. Kavita can you tell us a little bit about yourself and about the IOU Project?
I am a self taught fashion designer and entrepreneur having had the fortune to work from a very young age in three continents with a wide range of people in our industry from major corporations to small artisanal makers. This project grew out of my frustration as a designer with the current fashion system that had turned into a RACE TO THE BOTTOM , to make things faster and cheaper. It did not protect excellent craftsmanship or artisanship nor did it make better quality. The idea to nurture BIG DESIGN- not just making things beautiful on the surface but truly designing the eco system around their production to make it sustainable not only for the planet but for the people involved, was at the heart of our search.
Fabric woven in India
So, in 2010 we started working on the idea as a small experiment to create a collection that was made keeping in mind the needs of the artisans, us the designers and of course the consumer. How could we be sustainable and at the same time create a unique product that would give the client something really well crafted. Give them an engaging human experience which helps decommoditize product.
Q2. Can you take us through the journey from when the weavers work to the finished product?
The first project was to create a collection working with the Madras weavers. There is billions of dollars worth of Madras checks sold on the planet, most of these fabrics comes from China or Bangladesh, a cheap machine made copy of the Traditional Madras patterns. Brands can even call their shirts Madras without them having really been made with Madras cotton.
So, to revindicate their authentic provenance we decided to work with the real Madras weavers who produce hundreds of thousands of meters of this fabric on their hand looms even today. We worked with some of the oldest cooperatives in the area, filmed and interviewed each and every one of the 243 selected Master weavers and added them to our platform.
We buy the traditional hand loom Madras fabrics from them and then take the fabric to Europe to heritage artisanal producers who with their expertise, turn this humble piece of fabric into beautiful contemporary pieces, shirts, jackets, pants etc.
Finished products featured on the website
The idea was to use the best craftsman to give a high quality product to the consumer directly online on our website www.iouproject.com at a reasonable competitive price point.
We have built a traceability tool ONLINE with a corresponding system off line to ensure that each artisan leaves their identity code along the process and the final piece carries the UNIQUE IOU Code which unlocks the human story behind that particular piece. In fact as a customer you can upload your picture to complete that prosperity chain so that the artisans can see who bought their work.
The idea was to humanize products. Once you see who your particular artisan is and the craft behind the process, we believe your relationship with the product changes. it becomes more emotional and less disposable.
Weaving done in India
Meet the Weaver! The Final Product
Q3. What have been the biggest surprises with this project?
Our focus when we built the platform was to connect the consumer with the artisan but it was gratifying to see the PRIDE that the artisan felt in his own work once he was allowed authorship to it. Once they saw that their face was next to the product and that the customer could get in touch with them , the quality of the product immediately became shared responsibility, they wanted to make the best product possible. We have had a couple of cases where customers have actually travelled to visit their artisan in India. Here is a Blog post by one such customer from the UK.
This human connection and this sense of empowerment on both sides has been a hugely gratifying surprise. Knowing the people behind the product or putting a face to the final customer makes people on both sides act responsibly in how they consume and how they produce.
Q4. From your experience what impact has your project been able to create?
Awareness of the human beings behind the products we consume was our main focus in this first experiment and I believe we have definitely achieved that. The IOU Project has been written about in more than 500,000 blogs world wide, we have received numerous awards and a lot of industry recognition which clearly indicates that this is an idea whose time is here.
We believe that when business is carried out with true transparency and authenticity it can elicit extraordinary reactions and foster a shared sense of responsibility from its customers, partners and suppliers towards each other and the environment.
Q5. Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Creating a new business is not an easy road and no amount of planning will take away the challenges and hardships you are bound to face along the journey. So my one advice is to do something that you truly love. That will give you the grit and passion to persevere. Also, the problems that we face as humanity today are not trivial and there are no easy solutions so being brave, taking individual responsibility and building businesses that take a shot at solving these problems is essential.
Q6. What is your dream for yourself and for the iouproject?
We have just started on this very exciting journey, the dream is to add many artisan communities and excellent makers from all over to the platform and hopefully create a working Wikipedia of artisan communities and great craftsman around the globe to help preserve these rich traditions. Of course personally to get a chance to make real change happen and to be able to tell my children a good story about this incredible journey is good enough reward.
To find out more about the IOU Project log on to http://iouproject.com/
Watch a video that introduces their work and vision :
On 10th February our team conducted a DreamCatching workshop at the Kumaraguru College of Technology (KCT), Business School in Coimbatore. KCT is a leading college with great infrastructure for its students. This business school is always busy with a variety of talks, conferences and workshops aimed at adding value to the management students.
We had visited the college last year and gotten a great response from them. A few of the students from KCT were even invited to our Dream Camps. This time, joining the DreamCatching session were students from Karuniya University, Bishop Appaswamy, Karpagam University and RVS College.
Around 132 students were taken through the methodology of DreamCatching after being introduced to the world of entrepreneurship and its importance in relation to the youth of India. The students captured dreams during the workshop and were given feedback and tips on how best capture an entrepreneurial idea.
After the workshop our team was introduced to a group of students who had started clubs and small businesses at KCT. Several interesting clubs and student initiatives are present at KCT which are supported by the college. These students have a great range of innovative ideas and we look forward to their dreams.
If you or anyone you know is currently around Coimbatore and has an entrepreneurial idea, message us on facebook and we will connect you to one of the Dreamcatchers to capture your dream :
You can see more pictures from the workshop here:
Aruj is an upcoming entrepreneur in Bangalore. A graduate of NLSIU, he started his journey by setting up a campus café in his college. He shared his dream with us and was the first entrepreneur to have his dream DreamScaped with us. He attended our Dream camp and spent time with our team and our mentors.
He shared his journey and plans in this short interview.
Q1. Aruj, can you tell us about you and your food-start up?
I graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore in 2013. Bhukkad was started in 2011 while I was in my 3rd year. At that time, there were mainly two reasons why I started Bhukkad. I did not think that the food options inside or outside campus were adequate and secondly I was not inspired enough in the classroom. I got encouraged by reading various books which chronicled stories of young entrepreneurs (most of them were Rashmi Bansal’s books). I also got in touch with Ankur Singla, who is also an NLS alum, and runs Akosha. I interned with him for a month and that cemented the thought that this was something worth giving a shot. There was no plan, it was an urge to do something more creative and challenging at that particular time. So almost for a year, it was about selling food and making some pocket money from an outlet at the National Law School campus.
Q2. How did you make the jump into taking this forward?
Around the middle of 2012, when a call had to be made on whether this was something which could be full time or whether I should be looking for a job, is when the real analysis and the planning started. The final decision was made around the beginning of 2013 when it was clear that there was an opportunity out there which could be explored. The opportunity arose from that fact that most students I interacted with told me that they did not like the food which was being served to them in and around colleges. Using this information and discussions with various mentors, I came to the conclusion that there was a scope of a student friendly campus food brand. It had its challenges but this was something which could be scalable and profitable.
Q3. How has the process been? What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
So I will divide the process in two parts-before graduation and post graduation. Before graduation there was no tension. The only major challenge was to balance college and Bhukkad. It was difficult in the beginning, but the fact that I really wanted to work on Bhukkad made me manage my time effectively and I was able to devote enough time to the course requirements. Post graduation, the planning and the discussions were brought into practice. A company was incorporated and work began on understanding how the model will work, how can it be made scalable etc. Finally it was decided that we will follow the central kitchen model to keep costs low and to keep track of inventory. Now challenges have been completely different. Dealing with government authorities, banks etc, pressures of making this your bread and butter, keeping employees motivated and happy and constant internal strife of whether this is workable, whether I can make a living out of this etc.
Q4. What are your plans for the future?
So all this while, the plan was to make it a campus based food brand. However, as I spend more time understanding the business and interacting with people who have spent considerable time doing this, I am beginning to realize that it cannot just be a campus food brand. Though the segment is attractive but it may not be sustainable over the long run. I am yet to take a call on what the future holds or which direction Bhukkad will go. Again, it is an internal battle I am fighting. To convince myself that what I believed for such a long time, may not be true.
No matter which segment we finally decide to target, the plan is to open another outlet in another 1-2 months.
Q5. What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?
Patience. I guess this sums up all what I can advise somebody. Any kind of enterprise takes time. There will be exceptions, however the adage, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is true for most things we do and certainly applicable when you are setting up a business/company.
You can watch Aruj share his Dream here : http://www.dreamin.in/dream_page.php?id=7
Jordan Kaplowitz is a filmmaker from Los Angeles who is currently working in Chennai. He has been involved with DREAM:IN for a few months and even made a short film for us. Here is a short interview with him.
Q1: Jordan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself , your background and what you are currently involved in?
I’m originally from Los Angeles. I studied Live Sound Engineering at Full Sail University down in Orlando, Florida. For 3 years I toured around the country doing live shows almost every night when I was on tour. I loved that because I love live music, I love to travel and I got to see almost every part of my country. After that, I came to India and I worked as an asst. director on the Tamil Film Mariyaan. After 3 months on the hot set on the southern tip of India, I came back to Chennai and I started working with an online media/Vedic Astrology company working as a audio/video editor for them, which was great because I’ve learned so much about Indian/Hindu festivals, holidays, cultures, practices etc. Living in India has been such an amazing experience and I hope to continue living here for many years to come! What an amazing country!
Q2: You have visited the DREAM:IN office and the DREAM:IN Tumkur office. How have these experiences been?
I love the office! It’s so modern, colorful, has such great energy, what an amazing place! You feel inspired just by walking through the doors!
Q3: You recently shared your dream with us on our portal. Can you tell us more about the idea?
My dream is to open-up a lounge/restaurant where you would come out with your friends, there would always be world/lounge music playing, but at the same times, it would raise money for charity. It would be a place that celebrates all corners of the world, all cultures, promoting unity & oneness while you’re out enjoying with your friends.
I was very lucky that my father had such a great taste in world music. I remember when he was living in Miami, he used to take me to see live salsa/latin jazz at small clubs, and it blew me away how beautiful it was to see this music live. And when he brought me Brazilian music back from his trip to Brazil, I listened to it nonstop. And even on top of that, my father took me some incredible lounges around the country, my favorite being the one in Washington D.C. which is co-owned by one of the members of my favorite group, Thievery Corporation. And they are the ones who inspired me to DJ world/downbeat music in Los Angeles. Lastly, I was very lucky to be born and raised in Los Angeles, which has so much diversity & culture, people from all around the world, so many different types of food and restaurants. So after you throw that all in together, you have my big interest in world music and cultures of the world.
So this is how I got the idea: When I was touring with the band, I’ve been in so many concert venues and bars all around the country and I’ve seen how many people go out each night. And when you think about it, there are hundreds of bands in the US that are currently on tour and even more that are just local. Just alone in Los Angeles, you can see a live band every single night, and think about other major cities like San Fransisco, Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. Every single night, 365 days a year, there’s people in bars, all for different reasons. So bars and drinking are very much part of our culture. Now I have no problem with going out to drink, and I think it’s important for our social lives to go out with friends, and even better, music goes with it perfectly. But at the same time, it doesn’t change the fact that drinking is and will always be a leisurely expense. It’s something we never really need, just want. There’s also a group of vegan restaurants in California called Cafe Gratitude. They have a signature dish, which cost about $7. But the cool thing is, if you feel generous, you can pay for two plates, and if someone doesn’t have any money and they are hungry, they can come in, and eat for free because some people have purchased double orders. The idea inspired me, the changing of consciousness in the restaurant business.
It is said that Americans alone spend $100 Billion on alcohol A YEAR. What about the world? We’ll surely be in the trillions. So when you think about it, it’s a little crazy that people of the world spend trillions of dollars on alcohol a year, when there are so many people who can’t even afford a meal that night, rather than worrying about buying themselves a rum n’ coke.
So I wanted to start a trendy lounge that would change this, and also spark up a conversation. So I wanted to open up a lounge, where there would be world music playing from all corners of the world, preferably DJs & Bands, celebrating all cultures, all people. And at this lounge, a % of your bill would go back to the world. So when you’re having drinks with your friends, you’re also helping to feed some people. Or if the environment is your big concern, a % of your bill will help fight deforestation, protect animals on the endangered list. This way, you would continue to help people all around the world, while you’re still having your outings with your friends. It’s just one small way we could give back. If club & restaurant owners just gave back a small % of their profits, it would make a huge difference. Imagine if every bar, restaurant, lounge did this? Well, we all know that’s never going to happen anytime soon, so that’s what I’m trying to start here. Just getting a small % of those trillions of dollars, euros, rupees, to people, animals, environments who really need them.
Wouldn’t that make you feel so much better about all that vodka you drank last night?
You can watch Jordan’s Dream here: