Meet the fashion entrepreneur in Amsterdam who works with weavers in rural India

Kanak Hirani Nautiyal, who has also partnered with the United Nations, says her brand is an amalgamation of traditional skills and modern sensibilities.
Kanak Hirani Nautiyal
Kanak Hirani Nautiyal

Kanak Hirani Nautiyal was a writer for the Times of India before moving to the Netherlands in 2006 for a stint that included working for an online education company. But things changed for Kanak in 2012 after she  travelled to her husband’s hometown, Garhwal in Uttarakhand, and met Mahesh Chandra Bisht, an artisan who learnt to weave as a part of a rural village development and employment scheme. 

“The shawls I bought from him were of good quality and they were beautifully made. This prompted me and a former colleague Sindhu to start our first venture Karigar,” she said. The two women paired with a Dutch designer who taught the weavers how to produce shawls that were contemporary while they weaved the garments traditionally. 

Five years after that initial venture, Kanak decided to go solo and now runs her own brand — Julahas — to promote sustainable fashion while highlighting the work of artisans in rural India 

In an interview with TNM, Kanak, who is based in Amsterdam but travels to India frequently, talks about her journey, how a chance meeting with the artisan in her husband’s hometown led her to start her own brand that promotes fashion with sustainability while helping artisans based in rural India showcase their skills to an international audience. 


In the year 2017-18, Hirani Nautiyal decided to start her venture Julahas (weavers), continuing to create scarves, capes and other garments made with European design aesthetic, traditional artisanal craftsmanship. Kanak firmly advocates that the fashion industry must change and her brand, which sells free-size products, is her way of making little changes she wants to see.

Responsible, sustainable and fun is how she describes Julahas.

“See these little imperfections, this is what makes the product more beautiful. It’s a testament to the effort, affection the craftsman put in. The humanity makes it more beautiful,” she said excitedly as she showed a cape made by artisans.

“My passion for environment and empowerment is at the core of the brand. The materials that we use are naturally sourced. If a weaver is based in the Himalayas, they will weave woollen garments which in turn will reduce the carbon footprints. I usually collaborate with producers in India which requires me to do my own research before as well,” said Kanak. 

Stories of the artisans

A feminist and believer in equal pay, Kanak vouches for the empowerment of women in the rural regions. She believes empowering them will also help the communities flourish.

“If you make a woman self-reliant and financially independent, you facilitate change in her community. When a woman is economically empowered, her children and community thrive is what I believe in,” says the entrepreneur.

In line with her beliefs and values, she partnered with Devabhoomi that works with artisans in Himalayan regions, Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra in Karnataka, and Dhonk Crafts of Rajasthan — organisations that promote the traditional craftsmanship, and produce garments with locally and ethically sourced materials, says Kanak. Most importantly, the major part of their workforce includes women.

Despite the commonalities, the work produced by them is very distinct.

The multi-functional woollen products are handwoven with their attention to the smallest detail by the women who work at Devabhoomi. The women of the Lambani tribe, who are skilled in weaving intricate patterns with threads, create a beautiful range of modern yet bohemian belts for the brand. Simultaneously, the artisans at Dhonk in Ranthambore, Rajasthan, masterfully create the kimonos. Rajasthan is famous for block printing, and those working at Dhonk still use the technique in the creations.

Upon being quizzed about the work environment of the weavers, she says, “I wanted to not only start a brand but also create a bridge that will uplift artisans living in abject poverty and give them a chance of earning a living in a dignified manner with the talents they possess. I wanted to thrive but I want the same for the artisans. It is ensured that they are paid handsomely for their work every month.”

Kanak also works with the United Nations. Five percent of every purchase made on their website is donated in support of UN Women's ongoing programme. The funds support UN Women’s implementing partners Manjari Foundation and PRADAN to provide 50 women from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan with vocational training, upskilling, design exposure, access to quality raw materials and a market for their handcrafted products. 

Kanak, before signing off, said that she wants to work with many more talented artisans across the globe and be able to translate their traditional craft into contemporary designs, connect them with a larger market, and help them find their voices through their craft. 

Visit their website here.

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