Founded by NIFT graduate MEGHAVI SUTHAR in 2017, Kala is an accessories brand that claims to empower artisans by offering an array of made-in-India, fairtrade artisan pieces. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion, Suthar discusses how Kala is trying to elevate the issues of artisans through its various initiatives and its endeavours to remain afloat in the current pandemic situation.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted footwear designers like you?
The covid-19 pandemic continues to dominate the news and affect small businesses in a way that's difficult to comprehend. In this unpredictable and challenging season, for indie designers like me who have just started out, this pandemic has been a huge blow. From the supply chain to inventory and physical spaces, everything was shut down. Work plans have been derailed. For us, it's about trying to stay afloat and not lose faith, even when there is no demand.
How has the sourcing of raw materials been affected? What kind of hardships are you facing?
The entire supply chain has been disrupted. However, in our case, after the lockdown, we had massive stock sitting around. We launched our new collection of footwear after the shutdown because we had everything ready. We've been struggling to deliver our products in a timely manner considering the restrictions. For now, the emphasis is on building momentum on social media, increasing engagement, working on the creative process. We'll get to the production side of it in a couple of months when the situation gets better. And that will be just the first step. After which we'll be collaborating with models, stylists, makeup artists and photographers. All of this involves a lot of steps and requires us to take the necessary precautions and be more patient than ever.
How have consumer preferences changed in the current scenario?
The pandemic has changed consumers' shopping behaviour drastically. Now that they have to spend more time at home, away from stores, it's a no-brainer that brands need to come up with a unique digital marketing strategy that aligns with their customers' needs. In the absence of exhibitions, pop-up stores, and conventional fitting room experience, consumers aren't getting to explore brands like they used to. Therefore, building that connection with them digitally through a strong brand voice, imaginative photography, social media campaigns and collaborations can help in a big way, in terms of building a community. One relatively good thing has been the #vocalforlocal initiative. This has led to a shift in the consumer's mindset, making them support small independent local brands.
Based on consumer preferences, how is your business going to get altered?
To ensure that our business goals are aligned with the changing customer preferences, we are working on developing a strong digital plan, so that we can adapt to this challenging time and lay a strong foundation for growth in future. Design-wise, we're going to primarily focus on comfort, whilst not compromising on the aesthetics.
How did you initially get in touch with the artisans? What was the groundwork you had to do?
The harsh reality of the fashion industry is that the artisans and garment workers are some of the most marginalised people. It was during my internship at the time of my undergraduation that I was in Madhupura; that's when I became a lot more aware of the pressing issues. I was working closely with them, understanding the nitty-gritty of their craft. These craftsmen have mastered their craft over years of working-an art that's been passed from one generation to the next. And they were the first ones who bore the brunt of this pandemic. With looming joblessness and non-payment for orders, it's high time we press the reset button-and put an end to exploitative practices.
What are you doing as a brand to ameliorate their condition?
Our artisans have brought our brand to life. We are transparent about the role they've been playing in shaping our brand. We are emphasising on the need for fairtrade practices. Our social media series #KalakarInFrame aims to highlight their hard work and how they are connected with our brand. Through our newsletters, we'll be shedding light on their involvement. The bottomline is to create as much awareness as we can while simultaneously helping them provide a dignified living.
This article was first published in the October 2020 edition of the print magazine.
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