As an avid traveller and believer in stories, Madhumita Nath often documented varied practices of craft and this, in turn, helped her gain a perspective on how resources people use for creating products create a solid impact on the environment around us. In 2016, she started her company ‘Ek Katha’, which is a reflection of her interest in craft and her consciousness of her surroundings.
Mumbai-based Nath, through her symbolic endeavours, has taken Indian fashion to the global stage and represented the country’s very own handmade craftsmanship.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Madhumita Nath talks about her organisation, the challenges she faces in sticking to a transparent ecosystem of sustainability, and why going back to our roots will give us the right answers if we aim to protect our resources.
How did Ek Katha happen?
‘Ek Katha’ happened just like an unplanned story waiting to be told, synergising design aesthetics and craft ecosystems. The slow process of hand-made craftsmanship has always been about not just the product but about the people, the artisan creating it; the cultural and geographical influences which have shaped them as humans and the craft that they practice. Therefore, I wanted to explore design interventions in craft systems.
What were the challenges you initially faced in such an integral space and what are the current challenges?
Working in the unorganised craft sector wherein our supply chain is dependent on procurement of the raw material and processes, the timelines for production are tough to manage. Our prints are wax-resist printed in the Batik technique. Batik practised by the Khatris of Kutch is a dying craft. Only 11 families in Kutch are practising it. Like most other laborious craft techniques, the younger generation of families has not adopted it. Besides, industrialisation in the region has also impacted Batik. Revival of the craft is what we are deep diving into in collaboration with KHAMIR, a Bhuj-based NGO.
Fashion is always about perception and the buyer purchases this perceived value. We are in the space of redefining handloom into luxury clothing, elevating the perception of hand-woven cloth from being basic to high fashion and truly luxurious. The shift is underway, but the task is to acquire new customers who understand fashion and value the ethical story as well.
What sets ‘Ek Katha’ apart when we talk about carrying forward a transparent ecosystem where sustainability is not compromised?
Our supply chain is our strength and what we take pride in, despite the many challenges that we face in the process of manufacturing. The chain is dependent on the craft sector wherein we not only engage with bigger NGOs as partners but also the smaller artisan entrepreneurs. The only way for me as a creator to know the authenticity of the claims of organic or handwoven or hand-spun is to have direct engagement with the artisans and witness the work in progress from time to time.
Our take on certification as a proof is that the whole idea of certification many times beats the whole purpose of transparency, if certification is the only means of validation of authenticity then, it is also the means to greenwash the end user. Only bigger fashion agencies creating fashion in volume have the means to certification. And despite necessary certification, they operate in fast fashion mode.
For us, our scalability is low as our supply chain is craft dependent, but creating in small batches is what we are looking at retaining as that is the only way our sustainability parameters will not be compromised.
How do you plan to revolutionise the Indian market with growth plans at Ek Katha?
We plan to expand through omnichannel means, not only D2C by reaching out to our customers through our Brand website but also to expand offline retail through MDOs (Multi Designer Stores) and EBOs (Exclusive Brand stores) going forward. Besides, of course, being present on online designer marketplaces like Ogaan, Aza fashions, Pernia, and Indeluxe.
We are categorising our products based on our buyer reach ranging from mid-luxury casuals and fusion wear to luxury space with ethnic wear.
Our competitors are either engaged in B2B exports or their only claim to sustainability is the use of natural materials. Though there are plenty of sustainable homegrown labels, there are very few craft-led brands in the mid-luxury/luxury category that exist. The Indian Fashion Retail in the luxury sustainable category market is therefore a space for our slow fashion to grow.
Drawing from your experience, how crucial is mentorship, especially at the grassroots level for women?
Mentorship is so crucial for your learning and growth. A good mentor’s presence may help you progress in your journey. Many female entrepreneurs who nurture the idea to start up do not do so in the absence of mentor/s and advisors. Seeking mentors to further your entrepreneurial goals in the various aspects of business is very critical to the growth of the venture. For those of us in the impact sector, it is integral especially because many of us would need pre-seed, the seed of early-stage funding and we mostly find it tough to navigate the funding space.
What more do you suggest countries and education systems can adopt when it comes to sustainable practices, especially on the manufacturing level?
Going back to our roots and adopting traditional ways of living our everyday life is actually the way to bring about change. The activism starts at home, at our workplace and through walking the talk. The change of system should begin with each individual leading a conscious life. Systems and enforcements don’t always work successfully, for example, the ban on plastic bags, despite the ban there are plastic packaging, bags and single-use plastic used and strewn everywhere.
Education institutions here play a crucial role in the change of mindsets by spreading the message through impressionable minds through repeated iterations of the impact of climate change and ways to be part of the positive impact.
What challenges have you faced and what more do you think Indian society can collectively do to keep our traditional art from not fading away?
As a society, we need to adopt conscious consumerism. We need to ask relevant questions before purchasing- what is the need, how is it made, who made it, etc. When we know the answer to that we would value a product made by a real human more than a mechanised product even if it is cheaper. Knowing the story is connecting with your purchase and the product is no longer just a product to be consumed. Handmade and traditional methods of manufacturing, the slow processes ensure traditional wisdom and ecologically aligned methods are adopted and the benefits to the end user are also immense, I am talking of products across sectors.
With the 200 million artisan strength of this country, artisan entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship will get the necessary boost, keeping our rich craft sector buzzing with economic activity.
What is that one piece of advice you would want to give women concerning financial independence and investments?
For Investments, start small, but take the step and reach out for advice. Financial independence can give you a voice. Not that the lack of it should stop you from voicing your opinion, but being financially independent can aid decision-making.
As a leader in business, how do you suggest the Indian market can empower more women in leadership positions?
Why is it that purely women-led enterprises find it tough to get funded? Less than 2% of available funding goes to women’s enterprises. Providing mentorship and opening funding channels for women entrepreneurs and more importantly making them funding-ready and believing in their ability to take it forward is what we need.
Why is it that purely women-led enterprises find it tough to get funded? Less than 2% of available funding goes to women’s enterprises.
What advice would you give aspiring women entrepreneurs in the field as yours?
We need women to believe in their abilities and let doubts be replaced with fervent activity to reach their goals. Pat yourself every time you shatter the glass ceiling, which I realise is also, sometimes, self-created. Every small step towards self-growth and every task that you do to challenge your comfort zone should be applauded.
We need women to believe in their abilities and let doubts be replaced with fervent activity to reach their goals.
Suggested reading: Pallavi Utagi’s Sustainable Solution Search For Diapers Made Her An Entrepreneur