House of Wandering Silk is a social business based out of New Delhi that has added a new chapter into the rich story of silk.
Founded by Human Rights champion Katherine Neumann, House of Wandering Silk partners with carefully selected NGOs, cooperatives, women's groups and artisans to design and produce unique and sustainable products that are as ethical as they are beautiful.
House of Wandering Silk is completely committed to continuing the journey of the most beautiful vintage, upcycled and handloom textiles to give fair employment to the skilled artisans who need it the most.
Once aptly described as having the "feet of a wandering calf", Katherine is a serial traveller having visited 65 countries and counting! You can marvel at her wanderlust-worthy travel updates on her blog and be transported to some of the remotest places in the world. For the crafty amongst you, make a masala chai and get completely lost in her colourful #textilewanderlust feed on Instagram.
WE CHATTED WITH KATHERINE FROM HOUSE OF WANDERING SILK AND GOT SERIOUSLY INSPIRED:
What motivated you to start HOWS?
I worked in the humanitarian sector for 10 years and became quite disenchanted with it. I felt there must be a better solution than pouring money into aid that often acted more as a band-aid than providing any real solution. Micro-credit and fair trade appealed to me as possible alternatives that would have a much more sustainable and lasting impact and so, after years of dreaming and scheming, I decided to set up my own fair trade business and see where it would lead. The motivation is the same as when I began my NGO work: to make a small change to what I see as simply unacceptable inequalities.
Can you talk us through the design process?
There are two ways in which we work on design. We started off with our own designs, identifying women’s groups who could do the handwork we require - this is the case for all our products made from recycled saris, our khadi collection, our clothing and homewares. As the business grew, along with our network of artisans across India and Asia, we began to source finished products directly from the artisans - this is mostly the various styles of scarves and shawls we sell. The criteria these products need to meet is that they are sourced directly from the artisan or ethically produced by our partner companies and that they are of the highest quality and represent some of the various skills of weaving and embroidery found across the region.
What do the values authenticity, respect and beauty mean to HOWS?
Authenticity: We are story tellers. We believe the people, processes and history behind each product is just as important as the product itself and we work to be as transparent as we can in telling these stories.
Respect: Our work respects people and planet. The use of vintage, recycled, upcycled and handmade materials is the foundation for our designs. We partner with a careful selection of women's groups, cooperatives, NGOs, Self Help Groups and directly with artisans. This ensures we're offering livelihood opportunities to the women who need it most and that our artisans are fairly paid and treated.
Beauty: We exist to create beauty - beauty in the lives of our artisans who are respected and valued for their skills and work, and aesthetic beauty in our products, each of which is handcrafted with great care.
What bit of your job do you most enjoy?
I’m fortunate in that I enjoy almost every aspect of my work - even working on the dozens of excel sheets required to keep the business running smoothly! My favourite would have to be: when I have the chance to spend time with our artisans, working on new designs, and seeing those designs as finished products.
Why do you think it's so important that people support independent designers and ethical production?
Ethical production: I believe if consumers know the full story of the production behind the stuff they buy, 9 out of 10 would choose products which are produced ethically. Why would anyone purchase a product that brings misery to another human? The counter argument goes that however poorly producers or makers are paid or treated, no one is forcing them into their jobs and at least they have some form of employment. But it’s simply exploitation - unethical production exploits the maker’s poverty, desperation and absence of rights. So we believe in transparency - inform consumers about the stories behind their products and they’ll choose ethically production.
Your upcycled sari bead necklaces are incredible. What do you love so much about upcycling?
Upcycling and recycling will become a mainstream concept in fashion at some point - they have to. How much more of the world’s resources can be sucked into making new "stuff"? But it’s the second hand saris we work with that really inspire me to upcycle. They’re simply stunning, and I love that they’re so rich with stories - they’ve had this whole other life before they come to us and are re-invented as scarves and jewellery. I think these stories add to the richness of the products.
You've lived all around the world. What's been your biggest adventure?
The adventure that stays with me was my solo trip from Pakistan along the Silk Road to China and spanning Tibet. I’m writing a blog series on this - have a read here!
What's in the pipeline at HOWS that we can get excited about?
My problem is that I love to create - so we’re always juggling new ideas and new products. It’s a problem because we should probably be a little more focused on one thing at a time! In the pipeline for AW16: our new collection, Korakohl, a range of clothing and a new range of bags.
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