Kara Weaves is re-born every summer. I am not sure how, but it seems to be the case. Let me backtrack a little to explain.
I am based out of Michigan, where I've been a grad student at Cranbrook for the past two years, and am now on the design faculty at the GVSU in Grand Rapids. I keep track of the online store, its design and code, the design and photography of the products, the company branding and also look for new places and methods to tell more people about our work.
The rest of the team includes my mom, my aunt and our dearest friend Surya. My mom, Indu, is the managing partner and is the anchor for all things Kara. We all check back with her on all sorts of things. Surya and my aunt Sreedevi keep a sharp check on our inventory, our planning and co-coordinating with the weaving co-operatives. While I'm typing this out, I feel like I'm lying. Because everyone on the team does their share and more. The boundaries blur and the tasks overlap; we just do stuff till its done! (....part of the thrills of a small organization)
The main team is based out of our beautiful state of Kerala where we work with several weaving co-operatives to make our products. We function on a non-profit basis, where all of the profits made each time are plowed back into the weaving units to keep them and the project afloat. We hope to some day make enough to be able to adopt weavers into our own fold and be able to introduce the art form to a younger crowd and as a viable profession. For now, being small as we are, we work with the Government Weaving Co-operative Societies sprinkled all over the state. Some units have pulled themselves out of the slump that Kerala handloom is in, but a lot, like the one near our hometown, is in a dire state of professional depression. We hope that by re-channeling our profits back here, we can help it to achieve its full potential.
My mom, Indu, came up with this idea to start Kara, during one hot summer afternoon in Delhi. ...Or was it over the course of a few hot summer afternoons? I was living at home at the time, and were having a long chat on why we never saw Kerala handlooms anywhere, except in a few government stores, or the odd Onam party. We casually draped a few pieces we had over as window treatments and experimented. We realized the potential of the idea we were sitting upon: here was this fabric that had withstood the test of time for centuries. It lasted through the years, survived all kinds of home washing and still looked crisp and radiant. Somebody needs to tell everyone about this!
It was an uphill task initially: to convince people of the worthiness of the fabric, to even consider it in a different way than the homely and casual thing they had grown up with. But we were met with a few cheers, notably our friend Celine George (a leading marketing and HR consultant) and our greatest fan Revathi. She loved the idea so much that she decided to join our project!! Revathi, better known throughout India as an ace film director and actor, makes sure that Kara gets a showcase wherever possible. It was through her that we met and did a show and a collaboration with The Banyan, which is a non-profit that works to provide shelter and rehabilitation for mentally unwell women in the city.
While Kara continued to reach out to collaborate and work with organizations within India, our online presence slowly picked up. I tentatively put up our first online store in July 2008 (last year). It was my first attempt at setting up an online store from scratch, and the very first time Kara was appearing on the web. Grace Bonney from design*sponge (www.designspongeonline) was very excited and supportive of our work and wrote about it on a quiet day in August. Our team members and myself were so thrilled to see our work up on her lovely site but little did we know what it actually meant. Within hours, our inbox was packed with orders for our products!! At first it was overwhelming, then slowly a slight euphoria hit us which progressed into a whirlwind of hyperactivity for the rest of the summer, as we furiously worked to pack everything off and reach it to our new customers in time. I'll never forget how crazy and exciting our office was in those first few weeks! And to realize that what we knew for so long was finally being vouched for and appreciated by people from all over the world! Thanks Grace!!
The orders slowly ebbed into a more manageable flow after that. The slowing economy towards the end of last year and the ailing health of my grandpa who lived with us, brought a lot of work at developing Kara to slow down. This summer, my grandpa passed away, and I was home again to wander, to wonder, to ask what was going on. With my mom, we picked up the threads, and decided to give Kara a full re-invention. We spent most of the days re-designing the website and meeting with the weaving units to re-design new products. There seems to be a new kind of energy in our approach off late. We are not hesitant or tentative anymore, we know what we're doing is good and so it needs to be continued.
We have finally launched the new line of Table Linens and have a new discounts section, along with all the existing range of products. Shipping is still free of cost (thanks to very reasonable rates with the Indian postal service) and we're often told we have great follow up customer service!
And true to itself, Kara is reborn this summer too!! With a shiny new set of products, more discounts, a bright new website and transacting through PayPal, we are ready to work it again!
To support us, shop online at www.karaweaves.com
Lots of love, Chitra.