When we were first throwing around the idea for Radio Ock Pop, Joanna “Jo” Smith, OPT co-founder, immediately brought up Kavita Parmar. Founder and creative director of I OWE YOU Project, Kavita leads a revolutionary brand that envisions a new design ecosystem that tackles how we can change the way we make and buy clothes.
What I love to do is under threat…the problem is not with the people, it’s with the system.
Jo had just returned from Mexico City, where she attended the inaugural edition of TEXTO, an annual gathering of artisans founded by Kavita Parmar and Maria Echavarria. TEXTO brought together 45 artisans from 23 countries for five days of conversation around the challenges facing artisans and artisan businesses globally and ways to move way forward. More importantly, it created space for artisans to tell their stories in their own voice and to offer their experiences and solutions. It wasn’t necessarily grassroots, and absolutely not ‘top down’, but something altogether revolutionary. And, what stood out most for Jo was the energy and conviction that Kavita brought to the conversations.
Let me tell you a bit about Kavita’s trailblazing work. Currently based in Madrid, Kavita hails from southern India where her family has ties to the region’s textile industry. She started her own design studio while still in university and went on to open 14 stores across India for Oshkosh B’Gosh, a children’s brand. Subsequently, she designed and worked alongside top European and American brands while living in London, Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.
The I OWE YOU Project is about … leaving no one behind.
Entrenched in fashion’s business-as-usual trajectory, Kavita soon understood that this was primarily an industry based on quantity and not quality. Disillusioned with being complicit in a system largely devoid of accountability and transparency and affording proper financial and artistic recognition to artisans and makers, Kavita decided to create something altogether new and inspiring.
In 2011, Kavita Parmar launched the IOU Project (the initial spelling of her brand) as a traceability and accountability platform. Kavita stressed the importance of approaching the designing, making, buying, and selling of clothes as an “ecosystem”, one that properly compensated artisans, emphasized relationships and espoused responsible consumerism. At the same time, she pioneered the hashtag #whomademyclothes. The project had a rocky start, however, so Kavita took matters into her own hands.
I think Gandhi has never been more relevant …. [so if I had to choose a hashtag for our time]…it would have to be #bethechange
Today, the original IOU Project is called XTANT, and its intention is to be “Wikipedia of Artisans”. And, Kavita created a new project, called I OWE YOU Project, to demonstrate exactly how one can go about making clothes in a holistic design ecosystem. Drawing on Kativa’s Indian heritage, her connection to Madras’ dynamic community of weavers and her insider understanding of how “fashion” and “consumerism” work, I OWE YOU Project advocates responsible consumerism and reimagines the supply chain as an “ecosystem”, where the process and relationships are as important as the final product.
But, I OWE YOU is not just another brand. It stands apart as an example of how things can and should be done. Clothes are made in small batches. Each item has an accompanying document detailing provenance and authorship. Stories and images connect the relationships between designer, artisans, makers and consumers. Her platform offers beautiful handmade garments and shoes and gives plenty of food for thought through stunning visuals and narratives.
We use technology to give artisans authorship for their role … the right place at the table
What is wrong with how we produce and buy clothes? What is right with it? Is changing how we make our clothes insurmountable? Or, can we do it? Where do artisans fit into this mix? How can each of us “be the change”? In this episode, I talk with Kavita Parmar: a designer, activist, a revolutionary thinker and doer.
Radio OPT is a conversation series on all things artisan moderated by Rachna Sachasinh, long time OPT collaborator.