Ecouterre is the official media sponsor of DIY With IOU. Enter now at Source4Style to become the IOU Project’s next ethical designer!

The IOU Project isn’t just another fashion label; it’s also a revolution, an experiment in rethinking how goods are produced and sold in a way that benefits both people and the planet. Summer Rayne Oakes, co-founder of Source4Style, sat down with Kavita Parmar, IOU’s founder and creative director, to learn what goes into the creation of an IOU garment, why complete traceability is the core of her company’s mission, and how social networking is bringing artisan communities closer to the developed world.

Kavita Parmar, IOU Project, interviews, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Summer Rayne Oakes, Source4Style

MOTHER OF INVENTION

You’ve been designing your own collections for awhile. Could you explain why you came together with your partners to create the IOU Project?

This project grew out of my frustration as a designer with the current fashion system, which is focused on creating a lot of product with very short life span and with little regard to the way it was made. The idea was to rethink the entire chain: to create a new one that allows goods to be produced and sold and serves everyone involved. It is sustainable for the artisan, the designer, the final consumer and not just a few at the top end. We like to call it the prosperity chain.

The idea was to rethink the entire chain: to create a new one that allows goods to be produced and sold and serves everyone involved.

What is involved in the creation of an IOU garment?

We had to go talk to everyone involved to understand their craft and their business model so that we could work with their skills and their needs so we could build something that worked for everyone involved. We traveled extensively in India and met every one of our 246 artisan families; talked to each and everyone of them about their dreams and aspirations, frustrations, and limitations in order to understand and to explain the project to them.

We did the same thing in Europe with our craftsman groups who are sometimes organized as either factories or as cooperatives. Our entire information system was built with these parameters to ensure that we allowed everything to be completely traceable. We felt that without guaranteeing full traceability we would not foster real collaboration.

It must have taken a long time to complete that task!

It involved many sleepless nights, many travel miles, many idealistic dreams and discussions, and many pots of coffee (laughs)).

Kavita Parmar, IOU Project, interviews, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Summer Rayne Oakes, Source4Style

GAINING TRACTION

How has the project been received by members of the artisan communities in Spain and India?

With a lot of enthusiasm, which I believe has been a big reason for its success. Ours is not just a simple, new way of producing; we had to undo a lot of methods built over the last few decades where emphasis had been on making more stuff, more cheaply.

We had to undo a lot of methods where emphasis had been on making more stuff, more cheaply.

Our needs were the opposite sometimes: making things unique, well-crafted and, of course, we wanted to make sure there was full traceability. But they understand our goals and completely share our philosophy. Once we explained our reasoning, they were willing to go out of their way to make things happen as they themselves saw the need to change things.

How have customers, who were previously far-removed from the production process, responding to the philosophy of the IOU Project?

The response has been incredible; really warm, emotional and personal. It is clear we have touched a chord. The IOU Project has had over 250,000 blog entries worldwide in the three months that we have been alive.

Have you been satisfied with the outcomes of the project?

Overwhelmed and humbled at the same time. We have been alive since mid-May 2010 and we have received thousands of emails from individuals, organizations, and companies all very supportive and very interested in seeing this initiative flourish. Some have completely surprised us, like an 8th grader from San Francisco who offered to work for us for free, or an invitation by the UN to present the project to their directives from various UN agencies at the UNSSC conference in Torino.

There are so many artisan groups around the world with beautiful things to offer.

I am happy with how things have turned out, but as a perfectionist I still have things that I would love to tweak and, without any doubt, we have a long way to go. There are so many artisan groups around the world with beautiful things to offer that I would love to work with.

We had always envisioned this to be a open platform where other designer and brands can get involved and create by keeping our goals of using design and technology to provide transparency and traceability in a product to the consumer.

CONTINUE READING >

Kavita Parmar, IOU Project, interviews, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Summer Rayne Oakes, Source4Style

MATERIAL WORLD

Where are the materials used for the pieces made through this project sourced from?

The base materials are from Madras, India for the madras checks, the denim is dyed with authentic indigo from Kohzu, Japan, and the organic twill is from Hellenic in Greece. We are now working with cashmere yarn from northern Nepal and tweed from England for winter.

We do not interfere with their traditional weaving or design processes, but take the fabrics they make and then design the pieces.

And the unique and traceable madras will be available online on the Source4Style marketplace come March 2012 for all designers to access.

Yes, absolutely. We all felt it necessary to involve all designers in the process as part of the DIY with IOU sustainable design competition. It’s a great way for everyone to participate in transparency along the supply chain.

How does this collaboration affect the traditions and ways of life of the artisan weavers and the communities involved?

We are helping them open up another market. They have been struggling to compete with machine-made goods in their traditional markets. We do not interfere with their traditional weaving or design processes, but take the fabrics they make and then design the pieces and the final garment in Europe.

They have been struggling to compete with machine-made goods in their traditional markets.

This converts them into beautifully crafted pieces that can be modern and classic at the same time and easily find a place in today’s wardrobe. This is also a new lease on life for our European craftsmen as they have shut down factories since production was being moved to the Far East to save on cost. This collaboration allows them to produce unique pieces and still be at competitive price points.

Kavita Parmar, IOU Project, interviews, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Summer Rayne Oakes, Source4Style

TRADITION AND TECHNOLOGY

With consumers increasingly wanting to know where their clothes and shoes come from you, do you think that interest and appreciation for artisan objects, such as these, will grow?

I have no doubt about that. I think the search for authenticity in this world that is full of mass, machine-made product offers is what causes consumers to increasingly ask those questions. They have the tools available with the technology of today to find out and share things they like within their sphere of influence. That is very powerful.

The only way forward is to ensure that the uniqueness and authenticity of a well-crafted piece is preserved.

How have the artisanal communities in India and Spain ensured that their skills and products do not become commodities and are truly cherished for the labor and knowledge put into them?

The only way forward is to ensure that the uniqueness and authenticity of a well-crafted piece is preserved is by adhering to the highest quality standards that any real artisan who has pride in his work has always followed. Using technology and social media to tell the story truthfully helps create awareness in the consumer without doubt. Our products are made with a very different goal in mind, to not be mass-produced but in fact to create millions of unique pieces, which are difficult to turn into a commodity.

It is fundamental to bring forth the people and the time it takes them to make each piece.

How has the online platform created by IOU impacted the world of artisan work and handcrafts?

It has highlighted the work of the artisan. In fashion, the most the consumer knows is the brand name on the label or the shop they bought it at. It is fundamental to bring forth the people and the time it takes them to make each piece in order to foster responsible consumption. We make a lot of videos, films and, of course, take pictures of the entire process to share with the consumer through our site.

Each piece can be tracked back to the particular artisan who made it. There is an emotional link created which I think turns it into an experience and not just another piece of mass-produced clothing. The consumer is encouraged to take a picture and put it up on the site to complete the story. Then the artisans can see who bought the piece made by them.

We believe that clothes should be made in a way that is responsible towards the environment and the people involved.

This is the basis of our social-network platform. We believe that clothes should be made in a way that is responsible towards the environment and respectful of the people involved. We believe in consumer right to verify authenticity and we believe consumers enjoy meeting other people who think like them.

CONTINUE READING >

Kavita Parmar, IOU Project, interviews, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, Summer Rayne Oakes, Source4Style

FUTURE PLANS

What is on the horizon for the IOU project?

Currently, I want to increase production from the 246 weaving families to the 20,000 weaving families that are part of the same cooperative. We are also in various stages of research and development with other artisan groups around the globe that we intend to launch products with in the near future. The plan is to truly turn this into a mass-market revolution so that it can affect the lives of many and not just a few.

The plan is to truly turn this into a mass market revolution so that it can affect the lives of many.

Do you let fashion trends influence the collections that you present?

We do not follow trends. My focus is to create an authentic, beautifully crafted product. We are putting up new products on the site nearly once every two weeks and we do not follow the traditional market logic of trends or seasons as that would enslave our artisan communities to work by time standards that are unreal and have repeatedly failed in the past. However, here is no doubt that hand-crafts are a big trend at the moment, which makes us very glad.

We do not follow trends. My focus is to create an authentic, beautifully crafted product.

What does the future of artisan communities and handcrafts look like in your opinion?

I believe that we can use technology to help preserve these incredible craft traditions that are struggling and disappearing. I notice that this worldwide crisis has slightly awakened us towards realizing that we live on a planet with finite resources, we all affect each other, and hence we have to be very aware of each other and act with respect. That is the only way forward to some sort of equilibrium that we desperately need. The good news is that there are a lot of young people who are once again interested in learning these crafts and carrying this forward.

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