When we think about fashion and the textile industry, we rarely consider the pollutants created while making our favourite brands. Fibres, yarn, fabrics generate solid waste in manufacturing units, and cones, looms and cardboard reels that hold fibres and textiles during the manufacturing process add to the solid-waste pollution. This pollution is known to deplete groundwater and contaminate soil.
Amit Jain and Amey Alshi, both of whom came from a textile background, were familiar with this fact. Having come from a traditional family saree business, they decided to bring sustainability to the industry. Even early on, they had a clear focus and USP for their startup: A sustainable fashion label that carries forward ancient Indian art forms, an idea that came from their appreciation for traditional Indian art.
“Our art forms are getting extinct slowly in the wake of fast fashion products. After understanding the issues of current fashion industry, we thought of starting our own sustainable fashion brand in which the products will have one or other ancient Indian art form as its USP,” Jain said.
With the concept in mind, Jain and Alshi began their work in June 2016. They then travelled extensively across India in December of that year, starting with northern and western parts of India like Delhi, Kullu and Manali in Himachal, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan and Ahmadabad, Bhuj and other remote areas in Gujarat. They even finalised on the art forms that would be adapted in their first collection.
Their travels however also revealed the grassroot problems faced by local artisans. “The main issue we identified in the whole chain is that the artist, who is the heart and soul of what we were about to do, is not compensated adequately for their efforts as the maximum margin was going to the middle men in the whole chain,” Jain said.
Jain and Alshi decided to tackle this problem, and try to eliminate middlemen from the process and ensure artists were directly benefited.
Their startup, Funky Kalakar, was launched in 2017. Production started in January, and Funky Kalakar launched its first collection in the United Kingdom on March 10.
Funky Kalakar has three product lines – shoes, leather bags and accessories, and games — with a sustainable twist. Vegan shoes are made without leather and board games, like chess and snakes and ladders, are produced with leftover fabric. “Our vegan shoes have no leather in them. [The] upper sole is made from cotton and canvas and the prints on upper sole are made using Ajrakh technique and using vegetable dyes. So no synthetic colours. The sole is made from discarded tyres,” Jain adds.
Currently Funky Kalakar gets its products from artists in Mumbai, Naggar (Himachal Pradesh) and Delhi. For shoes, Funky Kalakar, along with its business associates, has employed four struggling cobblers. The women in Naggar are paid three times more than what they earn locally, Jain proudly explained. The startup is also in the process of launching a woollen line, with 15 women in Naggar crafting these products using 100% local wool and natural colours.
These women work from home and are paid directly. And how that works is that there is one woman per group who manages the orders. The whole amount is paid to her and then shared with the other women in the group based on the number of products made by them.
The products are collected by the company’s logistic partners. Jain adds that the procurement is flexible, with different models based on each artist’s preference.
Since launching operations in January, Funky Kalakar has touched the lives of around 23 to 25 artists so far.
Funky Kalakar makes money by selling its products in the UK through various channels. In addition to having their own website, they are also featured on UK’s Ethical Market. It also recently began working with a global consultancy firm in London for corporate orders.
In India, Funky Kalakar has a retailer in Thane, Mumbai, and is in the process of tying up with more stores and is looking to participate in flea markets across the country. Sales in India have also been coming through queries on their website, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Since Funky Kalakar launched its first collection a little over a month ago, it has already clocked in sales of around Rs. 125,000, including wholesale and corporate deals in the pipeline. Jain and Alshi have invested around Rs. 700,000 into the business so far. This has been self-funded.
The differentiating factor
What sets Funky Kalakar apart from other Indian brands that promote local artisans is its target audience and the adaptation of design. Funky Kalakar offers global exposure to artisans as 75% of the company’s business currently comes from the UK.
To make sure the brand has global acceptability, Funky Kalakar combines traditional art forms with contemporary ones. The name Funky Kalakar too, comes from this idea – a fusion of art from India and modern sense of style.
“We promote Indian heritage and take it to a global platform by inculcating these arts into contemporary forms which are globally accepted while retaining the sustainable and ethical characteristics of the brand,” Jain said.
The road ahead
Apart from a woollen range, the startup is looking to launch its own range of apparel for women and men. It is also working on making most of its products vegan by replacing leather with cork in its handbags and accessories.
On the business front, it is in discussions with the Indian arm of a leading international consulting firm. And once business stabilizes in the UK, it plans to expand to other European countries like Germany, Sweden and Norway.
Aside from the two founders, Funky Kalakar works with just two interns. It hopes to turn profitable by late 2018 or early 2019.