I started by career in various roles at several corporates before starting my entrepreneurial journey and I completed grad school in Finance. I grew up in the southernmost state of India, Kerala where sustainable living is a way of life, which is also where I found my early inspirations to sustainability.
My earliest memory for practicing true sustainability is when my mother gave up silk. Being a south Indian, Silk sarees are a major part of any weddings or festival. Yet my mother giving it up taught me about making strong choices that affect your lifestyle and others, and how conscious they should be. Sustainable choices soon became a part of my life and I have always been mindful of decisions that I make that affect those around me, leading me to my current career choice. I recently became a Fellow at the Earthwatch institute and studying carbon and water footprint of sustainable fashion.
Fairkonnect was founded on the basic principles of Fair Trade. It was started on a purely bootstrapped budget. Our initial goal was to be a bridge between the Fair Trade artisans and global buyers. But we started this at a time when Sustainability was still at the early stages of gaining popularity which worked to our advantage. Our Slow Fashion weekend pop-ups gathered great responses, and before we knew it, Ethic Attic was a full-fledged first of its kind Sustainable Concept Store. We are the only Fair Trade certified Sustainable Concept Store in India. We started with just the in house line of Apparels and Accessories, but right now we have collaborated with over 20 brands from across the country.
Being a Sustainable brand, our choice of textiles to work with was always Organic, Natural or Sustainable. Our first collection was featured at an exclusive Sustainable trade show in Frankfurt, Germany. The collection featured women’s garments made of the Lotus fabric. The collection was received well and we have since been part of various such platforms across the globe. Over the next few collections, we gradually moved to Natural Fabric Dyeing. Knowing how harmful pigment dyeing can be for water bodies and even air quality, we chose to go the natural way. Natural dyes using natural products like Onions, Marigolds, Pomegranate, Indigo on natural textiles were the highlight of the collection.
There’s a reason for the sayings, ‘A well Paid job’ or an ‘Entrepreneurial Life’, because when you’re an entrepreneur, your business is your life- what you breathe, your passion. In my experience, there has never been a dull moment, it is either exhilaratingly, exciting or exhausting, sometimes both at the same time. Personally, what has been most challenging to me is staying focused on our primary goal. It is easy to change your path, new ideas will emerge, and thoughts will evolve into something else. But knowing that you started this with that one primary goal in mind and if you tread towards it without losing focus, you would get there.
be flexible enough to evolve, yet rigid enough to achieve.Rema Sivaram
Since the craft sector is highly unorganized, another challenge that the business constantly faces is communication. The skilled sector is technologically challenged and to make them cope with changing trends require a lot of conversations, training and development. We constantly update our clusters and help them achieve the quality and finish required by global buyers. At the same time, there are geographic and cultural challenges also which requires transparent communication with clients to help them understand the vulnerable situation under which most of the clusters function. We have so far been successful in keeping the communication transparent and seamless, which has taken years to achieve in training.
For example, the cluster that makes our Cashmere & Pashmina Shawls are from Kashmir and constantly face unrest and complete shutdown of services. For close to a year, they would not be candid with us about it assuming we would not understand the situation back there. But once we explained the client pressure and once they understood the supply chain, they felt comfortable being open to us which in turn helped us build the trust with our clients. Now, our clients are proud to work with them and feel they have shared the journey with the craftsmen.
What I’ve learnt from my career choice is that you need to be flexible enough to evolve, yet rigid enough to achieve.
For more on Rema Sivaram’s projects, visit FairKonnect’s Ethical Attic.