On the sofa with
Janjri Trivedi is the founder of Re-Wrap, a Fair Trade social enterprise for sustainable textile products established in the UK in 2002. Its two women’s co-operatives in India incorporate traditional skills with contemporary design, and produce ethical cotton accessories for big British brands. Re-Wrap was one of eight UK-based design studios chosen by Friends&Co to create a bespoke product for the Makers for Selfridges homeware collection.
Q: Congratulations on the elegant Re-Wrap Organic Cotton Grey Tote Bag for Makers for Selfridges. How important are high-profile commissions like this for promoting your brand? Do you notice a surge in traffic to your website and a spike in commissions as a direct result?
A: We are fortunate to receive such high profile commissions periodically – they tend to have a very definite impact on our brand and also boost the income levels and confidence of our members in India. There is a definite surge in traffic to our website, and social media plays a positive role. We are definitely taken even more seriously by high-end clientele as ‘hand-crafters’ for ethical textile products, and seen as competent to take on a challenge.
Q: When you were sent the brief and brand guidelines from Selfridges, who created the designs for the bag? Do you have an in-house designer?
A: The story around this project is quite magical. As an admirer of Selfridges, we were working to create an exclusive line of tote bags and fabric gift wraps to present as we see them as a niche ethical client and a perfect partner for our line of products. We were then approached by Friends & Co as they believed in our products and introduced us to the Makers of Selfridges project. The design was created as a collaborative effort between the minimalist Selfridges brand and Re-Wrap’s own designs. I am a big believer that this project was just meant to be for us!
Q: Your product range extends to slippers, suit carriers, laundry bags and weekend bags – what else is in the pipeline?
A: The re-usable fabric giftwrap Knotpaper is due to be launched for sale directly through our website next year. This will improve our wasteful culture of gift-wrapping to revive the traditional art of Japanese Furoshiki – with two simple knots on a square piece of cloth, this wrap transforms a gift into a double gift- a gift wrapped in a gift. This can be re-gifted for wrapping or used creatively as a scarf or mat as well.
Q: Your two co-operatives in Mysore train and employ almost 100 women who are sole earners for their families and their income has risen by 40% since 2009. Is your ambition to employ more women, open more co-operatives or further increase the wages of your staff?
A: It has been a journey of nearly 15 years to get from 13 in year one to over 150 women who have had to struggle to survive – be it because they are single earners, suffering abuse or other hardships. They are taught to save money as a group through our micro-loan scheme where every rupee they earned was initially matched four times by us. If our business with ethical-minded clients continues to grow in the way that it has, we may add on a few more co-operatives to meet the demand.
Q: Do you teach the women in your co-operatives about modern, Western design sensibilities as well as traditional craft techniques?
A: Our members are well exposed to the range of products we create for a variety of industries globally. They recognize the high standards that our clients across the board demand, they meet our clients who visit us in India and are also regularly shown websites of our clients to gain a better understanding of the western sensibilities and aesthetic. We are aiming for complete traceability for our clients so they can connect products to the hands that have sewn them.
Q: Re-Wrap’s mission statement is ‘recycle, reclaim, reinvent’. You have a very admirable commitment to using organic, chemical-free cotton, Azo-free dye and recycled cardboard for packaging. Is sustainability a growing concern in India, one of the most densely populated countries on the planet?
A: It is our aim to gradually move to offering only organic cotton and other more sustainable products within the next two years. Historically India has always had a tradition of recycling to preserve scarce resources. Unfortunately this culture has waned due to the pressures of consumerism and globalization. Hopefully, through our very young population, lessons will be relearned and we will turn back to our roots to discover only we can be held responsible to effect real change.
Q: Are you making any festive products for Christmas? Is there a tradition of giving gifts in India for Diwali or is it just a festival of lights?
Christmas tends to be one of our busiest seasons! Our festive gift-wraps and bags are everywhere. The tradition in India at Diwali time is mainly distributing homemade sweets and lucky money to the youngsters. Our co-op members are given an extended holiday break to celebrate the festival, lighting lamps in the true tradition of Diwali to brighten their lives for the New Year.