Photos by Amanda Coen for Ecouterre
Socially-driven accessories company, Thread & Loom introduces itself to the world with a line of handbags that make for the perfect spring and summer carry-all item. The resort-meets-urban collection is defined by classic shapes that draw the eye with neon accents. Founder Gargi Agrawal personally oversees production in India to ensure that artisans are paid a fair wage and that materials are sourced responsibly. A strong supporter of women’s educational initiatives, Agrawal donates all profits to Kranti, an organization that rescues and empowers girls of the red-light district of Mumbai.
What began with some sketching after work and a lot of dreaming, has now turned into a reality. Agrawal is no rookie to the game and has taken the time to think over her line and what she hopes to accomplish through her work. She draws on over a decade of experience in the fashion industry as a junior ware designer in both Los Angeles and New York for companies such as XOXO and DKNY Jeans. Deciding she wanted to work in a more intimate manner, she stepped away from her corporate job and ventured out to find inspiration in the world. She explains that from the start, “It was all about crafting and making things with my hands, which is what I missed in the corporate design world.”
Agrawal began her tour volunteering as a designer for Awamaki, a Peru-based NGO that works with women’s textile cooperatives. Working side by side with indigenous weavers, she received a glimpse into their two-thousand year old craft and quickly learned some of the many design challenges that arise when not working in a corporate setting. From that experience she crossed the ocean to discover the wild, western coast of Portugal and the delicacies of the south west of Spain before returning to her native India.
Thread & Loom is inspired not only by Agrawal’s most recent adventures, but also by a childhood surrounded by traditional textile techniques, her life in California and her corporate experience. She stated, “I think it’s very California. Sunny and bright feeling, very springy. I wanted to keep it classic with just a hint of pop color.”
Upon returning to India, she re-discovered a community of craftspeople who had converted their homes into workshops from which they produced beautiful goods. “[India] is where I first studied fashion,” explained Agrawal. “That’s where I first studied the craft, the poetry, the needlework. Going back after 12 years, it was almost going back as a tourist because I was kind of a stranger to the way they work. Even the culture in some ways. The most rewarding thing was being able to reconnect with them.”
Agrawal took the bold move to enter the male-dominated world of Muslim leatherworkers to find the artisans who would help produce her line. Gathering hand-woven and basket-woven cotton for the neutral base of the bags and brightly colored jute for the interior and trim, she took her materials from the market to the craftspeople that would convert them into products. Skilled artisans who practice traditional techniques such as Aari stitching, beading and hand printing add the final touches that have come to define the line. Agrawal described the personal significance of the experience to Ecouterre, “The final craftsmen who did the bags, I was very close to them. It’s like a family thing. Their wives and kids were playing around and we’d be fiddling with the crafting tools and I could see them with each and every bag, the way they do it… I pay the workmen myself. It wasn’t through a middle person so I know the wages are fair. I sat right next to them.”
After four months of on-the-ground work, Agrawal returned to the United States with prototypes in hand, ready promote her line. She had visited Kranti and felt confident that the budding organization was worth her efforts. With 30 girls currently in the program and three having already continued on to college, it is Agrawal’s hope that she can work closely with one of the students so that in two years time that girl will be able to independently oversee production in India and join Thread & Loom as staff.
Agrawal has taken a very personal, DIY approach to getting her bags into the world. Choosing not to hire a marketing or sales guru, she personally takes her bags across the United States to select cities where she meets with boutique owners who share a similar, socially-driven mission. It is the personal aspect that Agrawal brings to all levels of her company that make Thread & Loom stand out, leaving customers assured that the bag they are purchasing is high-quality, made responsibly and contributing to a worthy cause.