Reclaiming Leisure Time

Reclaiming Leisure Time

A characteristic feature of our modern societies is the constant state of urgency and restlessness that permeates everything we do. Because of the fast-paced and result-oriented nature of most occupations, any attempt to savor the process itself becomes nearly impossible, while work often gradually comes to be experienced as mechanical and distasteful. Consequently, when we are not working (and are ‘free’), we are plagued with a compulsive internal mandate to ‘enjoy’ ourselves, lest we miss out on happiness entirely. While this may seem positive enough, it is complicated by the cultural frameworks that dictate our methods of enjoyment and shape our patterns of consumption by stimulating us with unfiltered content, frequently laced with agenda.

The entertainment industry also routinely manufactures desires – for products, services, and templates for whole lifestyles that are presented to us as necessities for a life well lived – which owing to their frequency and excess are internalized and accepted as essential. So while we work, we fret and obsess over what we can generate, do and deliver, and as we ‘rest’ we seem to challenge ourselves to see how much we can get, what can happen to us, and what we can consume. We are never really able to relax and merely nurse the illusion that we do.

In the rare moments when we are privy to this clarity, we find ourselves so steeped in these narratives of work, production, enjoyment, and consumption that any endeavour at a radical departure is only a tangential pull back into this intentionally constructed, circular and self-perpetuating system. It is so enticing to surrender to it as the desires it convinces us of tug on our very real and human needs for connection, growth, novelty, and expansion. But it habitually promises us their fulfillment while only widening our feelings of lack and longing. The desire for more has become the backbone of our modern consumerist societies, where we, the subjects of this ideology, are systematically trained to constantly desire. Further, these wants are rather insatiable, (like fast food that manipulates precise quantities of certain flavors to keep us consuming yet never feeling fulfilled). Unbeknownst to ourselves, we start demanding a perpetuation of our desires, and eventually, we not only have an excess of things but also an excess of mental clutter. The leisure time that could have nourished us with deep relaxation, time after time leaves us depleted, empty, uncomfortably chaotic, and alienated from ourselves.

A holistic and more considerate society would reflexively imbue us with meaning, peace, and contentment. In the meanwhile, it may be healing for us to reclaim our leisure time and ground ourselves in the present. Chasing away our restlessness and anxiety (that stems from not knowing ourselves and being out of alignment with our innermost needs) with distractions, rather than being with it to understand it, means we will never really know the depths of our personality but only its contours. Much of the stimuli and the emotions it generates in us is simply the residue of what we allow ourselves to absorb unconsciously through the day but is of no real personal value. As these emotions are not arrived at through contemplation, the stake that they have in our lives is too large for what they contribute in return. (Those of us who have ever found ourselves staring exasperatedly at a cupboard full of fast-fashion garments, feeling like we have nothing to wear and wondering how we got here, would be familiar with this quandary). Rather than personalizing and identifying with this passively consumed stimulus, we could take out time for activities that truly help us unwind, make us happy, and alight with joy.

This paves the way for self-awareness and insight into our values, sense of meaning, the kind of work we resonate with (so we feel ‘free’ most of the time), and the things we need in order to feel truly rested and relaxed to reconnect with ourselves and the world. At the same time, we don’t have to continually engage in self-work and enjoy ourselves minimally. Instead, cultivating these conscious practices shows us how to enjoy ourselves (mind)fully. By meeting ourselves anew through introspection and gentle inquiry, we can know sincerely the life we want to live and let it guide what we allow into, and spend, our energy (time, money, emotions) on. In a world where the demand and desire to perform is woven into the very tapestry of our lives, living authentically must become one of our quietest yet boldest acts of self-love.

CREDITS

SLOW WORK

SLOW WORK

Connecting Deeply with our Practice(s) of Work

Working slowly and thoughtfully can accentuate the rewards inherent in our everyday work, and enhance our felt affinity with it in meaningful ways. Our work encapsulates a significant portion of our time each day, making it a partially defining factor in our experience of it. The many gifts that are endowed within our work – learning, empowerment, joy, novelty, capital, discovery, comradeship, and others – can sometimes become buried under the rush of the many objectives that we want to (or need to) meet and attain. We’re exploring here with you some ideas and practices that we think can support kindle these qualities, both at and beyond our workplace.

1. Contemplating what ‘slow work’ would mean and look like for you

The slow movement does not comprise any specific definitions, and this is true for ‘slow work’ too. Slowing down can have many meanings and categories, conceptually as well as practically. It can mean consciously decreasing the volume of work we are doing, or completing work in more time, thereby splitting it over different hours. Other practices can include slowing down emotionally and mentally, to take on only one thing (or a few) at a time and go into them thoroughly. Incorporating these approaches of being with our work can allow us to experience a certain timelessness, offering profundity with it. Analysing which forms – amongst these and many others – are most valuable to your own routines are ones we encourage you to experiment with.

2. Understanding the natural rhythm of our energy 

Our uniqueness extends in and to every aspect of our lives, even in the way we channel our energy and the way our environment directs it. Some of us are attuned to working consistently for long hours, while some of us are more responsive to work for immersive yet shorter periods with even (and perhaps lengthy) intervals throughout the day. A few of us find pleasure working under disciplined schedules and others with greater freedom. While for most of us it is a compounding of these different patterns that yields most contentment and growth, it is of salience to observe our natural rhythms to feel comfortable in our diurnal responsibilities. At the same time, our energy may be subject to variation each day, and molding our styles of working in congruence with that knowledge can welcome much calm and slowness into it. For instance, if as someone who typically likes to do more concentrated work in the mornings, you find yourself occasionally wanting to do something else (or rather unable to do much) in the early hours, go into the experience gently to see what you feel called toward doing in that moment – to take a calm walk, stay in bed for longer, write something, spend time with the family, look out the window, or be with yourself. These unanticipated disruptions to our routines can pleasantly refresh us, and direct us anew into our work.

3. Making rest a committed practice

Something that can escape our consciousness amidst the pull of work is the critical contribution of rest in polishing our capacity and connection with ourselves, and consequently with our work itself. Bringing movement to a pause, rest carries seeds of inspiration, breakthroughs, freshness and clarity that nurture and balance our being. Rest too can take many shapes – playing a game, watching television, sitting in silence, speaking with a loved one, drawing or painting, reading, meditating and certainly, sleeping. Principally, with the brisk pace of our lives, rest is a part of our lives we must commit to, one that can serve us in kind and beautiful ways when we uphold it.

4. Slowing our mind 

Our mind is an innately busy and inquisitive space, and tempering its pace or involvements can relieve our processes at work. Planning our work or making maps by the week and/ or month can create mental and psychological space. Interacting with phenomena short of our linguistic means too instinctively slows the momentum of our thoughts and gives our mind the room to moderate or quieten itself. Small grounding practices at work, such as sitting empty during a break, meditating on a blank page, watching an artist make a painting, counting backwards from 50 to 0, watching the leaves dance or simply being with ourselves are customs that can equipoise our minds. Concurrently, understanding  ourselves and moving from a space of authenticity and presence is a further key that can allow us – and our minds – to feel safe and composed working through the day.

5. Being where our values can be honored 

We all have some personal values that form the premise and foundation of our lifestyle and health – even with our work. From integrity, order, and simplicity, to growth, understanding, and excitement, we come with our individual needs that we need to honor and develop. Observing our feelings and thoughts at work, and identifying what is essential for us to change or receive can aid our mind into being at leisure. If this looks like moving jobs or cultivating specific practices – as leaving work at a particular time, taking mindful breaks, working with tables or maps to bring in greater order and understanding of our unique style of working, beginning the work day with the most interesting (or effortless) assignments – at our present position to work with repose, it may be instructive for us to chart out and execute how we want and need our conditions at work to be.

 

As most of us are accustomed to a fast(er) pace of living and doing, slowing down can take time and entail some trial and error. But, in our experience, once we start learning and adopting slow practices at work, we do begin to feel the many ways in which they bring us balance and health. We hope that the invitation of these slow and small rituals can seep into other aspects of your day, extending further comfort and ease to them as well.

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THE CHALLENGES OF SUSTAINABLE BUSINESSES

THE CHALLENGES OF SUSTAINABLE BUSINESSES

Conversations on Steering Alternative Models of Design

As a movement committed to the balancing and re-designing of our ways of living, sustainability has come to bear marked significance in contemporary commercial ventures. From innovating with new materials to working through old goods and waste, sustainability and sustainable development objectives are transforming business practices across different industries. But prerequisite to each advancement in this sector are many untold challenges which underpin their inception and engineering. To understand the challenges that can encompass the establishment and operations of sustainable businesses, we had a conversation with Kriti Tula, Creative Director and Co-Owner of the ethical fashion label Doodlage. Speaking about her brand, she discusses with us the ways in which the state of the industry propelled her work, the degree of ad-lib changes and responsibilities in the field, the key(s) to ushering success in a sustainable business, and the value of observing the linear and fast fashion space to identify complexities and reconstruct the course of the fashion practices.

1. Could you tell us of your background and your relationship with fashion and design in your early years?

I am a trained apparel designer from Pearl Academy and studied Design Management at the  London College of Fashion. Very early on in my career I got more inclined towards alternate material and upcycling. My first internship was in a large export house and it was appalling to see heaps of fabric waste, rejections, fast moving garment production – there was no appreciation for the art of making clothes. I wasn’t sure if this is the kind of industry I want to be a part of. So I spent my time researching more about sustainable fashion and the need for it after I graduated.

2. How did you come to start Doodlage?

There were limited options in sustainable fashion in India during the time we started Doodlage. Most sustainable brands were working to convert  trash like juice cartons into wallets or brands like Anokhi or FabIndia working with natural fabrics, Indian-wear silhouettes and supporting numerous artisan clusters at scale. But none of them catered to the millenials and their changing style statement as they travelled more, who were born with access to computers and fluidly adapted social media. It was around this time that Doodlage was created and started looking at alternatives like upcycling large quantities of fabric wasted in factories into short desirable collections. Our aim was to start conversation around the need for sustainable fashion and explore alternatives to fast fashion.

3. What does sustainability mean for you?

Looking at things holistically keeping the end of its life in sight and how you can prolong the life span of what you make or buy.

4. What were the kind of challenges you experienced when setting up the business?

I had no idea where to start and since I started the brand quite early in my career I had limited vision of its potential. There was also no brand with a similar vision that we wanted to follow in the footsteps of. From figuring out our own raw material to training the artisans to upcycle and not waste resources were challenges unique to what we were doing. Other more common challenges were finding the right places to sell, managing funds etc.

 

5. Doodlage is one of the widely known brands in India to create recycled fashion and clothing. Could you share with us why it was/ has been of significance to you to establish this concept in the Indian market?

It resonates with who I am as a person and as I matured as a designer it became more clear that either I would work with a sustainable and ethical  brand or create one.

 

6. Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process? Where do the materials come from, and how are they designed to create the unique pieces you make?

We work our design process backwards. It starts with first collecting raw material and then creating designs around it. Each material and every lot comes with its own defects and have to be checked and handled at every level. We collect wastages in larger lots from bigger factories to be able to replicate styles but each piece might have details that vary.

7. What has your experience with marketing for an ethical business been like? Have there been any specific aspects of sustainability or messaging you have needed to focus on more to encourage people to buy sustainable wear?

We were not so aggressively communicating what we did when we started. The market was young and we were still working to build awareness for the need for sustainable fashion. A lot has changed since, people are a lot more – not enough, but a lot more aware than they were six years ago. We promote three key areas of our work – made from factory waste – mainly our upcycled collections; made from consumer waste – recycled garments; made to be zero waste – everything made from our waste. We focus on building conversation around working with material that is already created and the importance of creating better paying employment.

 

8. Did you face any challenges when putting together your messaging and communicating it to an existing audience or while building your audience. If so, how  did you navigate them?

Not so much. Our communication has mostly been received well by both old and new audiences. There are always some people who would come back to question what we do and why our products are expensive or is it sustainable to create etc. The best way is to communicate to the best of our capacity. We don’t claim to know it all, and most brands are just working hard to learn themselves and provide solutions through their products while creating better employment.

9. Is it costly to produce recycled designs over fresh pieces? If so, have you seen if that plays a role in the kind of production choices businesses tend to make?

Recycling and upcycling are labour intensive processes and when you work with fair wage vendors to create these pieces and fabrics, it all adds to the cost of production.

 

10. Do you think there is a certain (social) stigma in the Indian fashion industry to work with recycled waste, materials and fabric?

Certain segments of the society still look down upon hand-me-downs, repairing, recycling. But many millennials and generations after are quite open to the idea of doing what they can to support a more sustainable lifestyle.

 

11. There is often some skepticism in people’s minds toward sustainable fashion brands. In your experience, what are the things consumers are typically liable to feel wary about with sustainable and ethical fashion? And, what do you think conscious businesses can do to change this?

In my mind this skepticism is usually around green washing and sustainable brands being unaffordable. In both cases the only thing has worked for us is communication.

12. What have been some of the greatest challenges for Doodlage as a slow business since the Covid 19 pandemic?

Things have gotten slower, operations are more difficult, logistical delays, fashion is not a priority product so people end up spending less and several other challenges. We have spent this time testing many new things including trials for brand collaborations.

 

13. Despite the challenges that come with running an ethical business, what are some of the most rewarding and inspiring moments of being in this line of work for you?

Working with social enterprises to create happier places for artisans to work and knowing that you have been able to inspire more brands to work on sustainable fashion has inspired us to keep working.

 

14. Is there any word of guidance you would like to give to emerging sustainable brands and entrepreneurs?

Research more, don’t start a label too early, spend enough time working with the linear fashion and lifestyle industry to know more about the problem or circular fashion brands to understand better the solutions before you start.

CREDITS

BUILDING A CONSCIOUS WARDROBE

BUILDING A CONSCIOUS WARDROBE

Mindful Ways to Cultivate our Relationship with Fashion

For our friends who wish to recreate their wardrobes as part of their conscious lifestyle, or who would like to transition into a mindful lifestyle through the insightful and creative space of ethical fashion, we have noted below some maxims to support you initiate and continue the practice. In our intention to live meaningfully, one of the foremost domains that many of us now feel naturally called to modify, are our wardrobes. And being so elementally attached to our body, our clothes connect viscerally with our being and human experience and hold an inexplicable influence in our everyday lives.

1. Reflecting on what a conscious wardrobe means or would mean for ‘you’

If you feel you would like to build a conscious wardrobe, we’d like to encourage you to think about what having or creating a ‘conscious wardrobe’ means for ‘you’ personally and how you feel connected with the idea. Is it that you would like to be more environmentally and socially just, or that you would like to make more informed decisions about (buying) clothes, or you would like to treat your clothes more mindfully, or that you would like to learn an alternative way to your existing practice? (Maybe all of them, and more). Deciphering our underlying inspirations for making a shift in our way of being with (our) clothes and fashion can guide us in adopting ways that would be authentic to who we are and to our own intentions. It also allows us to start viewing and thinking about how we would like to re-organise our wardrobe hereafter.

2. Beginning where we are

We feel that going through what we have in our existing wardrobes is a good place to begin the journey. Looking at our less sustainably and ethically made clothes, and thinking about how we can treat them ethically and with care can be an insightful step in the process. We would not want you to feel that you should do away with your present clothes and replace them with new mindfully made clothes. In place of solely buying sustainable clothing, we think being ethical with our current clothes can give a lot of room for creativity, learning and engaging with our clothes. Learning to make mends and small fixes (such as sewing buttons or patching a tear), washing with care, wearing clothes till their shelf life, repurposing them, cleaning our shoes in the right way and passing on clothes that may bring comfort to another are all small, yet vital ways in which we can begin having ethical interactions with our clothes, accessories and shoes.

3. Understanding the role fashion and dress play in our lives

Fashion and dress can mean different things and carry different influences upon us. They can be a medium through which we express ourselves and our individuality, a space of creative exploration, a recreational or formal occupation, a political and social tool, an art form – and more. Understanding in which ways we dominantly relate to them, would support us in visualising what kind of designs we would like to assimilate into our ethical wardrobe and the role they (would) play in our quotidian sphere.

 

4. Budgeting

Whenever you feel that you need to or would want to buy new clothing, it would be valuable to think about the funds you would like to allocate to it. We feel that some good ways of making budgeting decisions for our clothing are to think in terms of the price we would be paying for a particular fabric, silhouette, or item and in terms of the purpose the garments may serve for us (What occasion do we need them for? Everyday, work, gatherings, formal events and the like). This way, when you begin looking at clothes and shopping, you could have clarity on what you want to spend where, and keep with your intentions and concerns. A further thing we can be mindful of is the cost-per-wear of each garment we may purchase. Cost-per-value considers the value of a piece in relation to the number of times it can be, or is, worn. An instance is if we buy a dress for Rs. 4,000 and wear it 4 times a year, it’s cost-per-wear is Rs. 1,000 per wear. If we wear it 10 times a year, it’s Rs. 400, and so on. The price we pay for an item should be reflective of its functional value.

5. Researching for conscious and ethical fashion brands mindfully 

When building a conscious wardrobe, it is constructive to keep researching and studying different ethical brands, and understand who they are, what their notion of fashion is, what kind of packaging they use, their aspirations with their brand and work, their materials and their story. These processes help to see and select whether their values align with ours and how we envision our wardrobe to be. They can also be very educational and offer inputs on how we can transition not only to ethical fashion practices, but also to ethical and mindful living. This would also give us the agency to observe the level of transparency, inclusion and diversity a brand offers, and to hold them accountable as consumers to make reforms – using the power we have through the internet and its multiple communication channels.

6. Balancing our present wardrobe with a vision of creating a conscious one

As you add new and conscious selections to your wardrobe, it can be meaningful to keep revisiting your existing and older pieces. Taking out our clothes, seeing what we like, what fits us well, why we purchased them and from where, can stir past memories that highlight our process of purchasing and the emotional connections we have created with them till now. This gives us the chance to integrate our collections, style varying silhouettes, and curate a holistic relationship with our clothes (and possibly with ourselves).

 

Our wardrobes evolve as we do, and we’d like to encourage you to build your conscious wardrobe one step at a time. Read from reliable sources, magazines and journals as your interests develop and try to incorporate practices that resonate with you. And as you make individual changes, it would be rewarding to also try to be involved in larger organisational changes at a pace which you are able to go at.

CREDITS

With Mianzi

For Sustainable Development

Conversations with Mianzi on the Potentialities of Experimental Design

As a form of creativity and contemplation, design has become a central instrument in disentangling complex social and environmental crises of our age. In the last decade, it has come to play a particular progressive role in augmenting ethical and sustainable production practices. Industrially, artists and conscious businesses are ushering a social revolution with sustainable design through two key areas. One, at the foundational scale of designing, that concentrates on the innate possibilities and impact of a design and object at the level of its inception. The other, at the technical scale that centres on the practices, materials and modes of production of a design.

 

Innovating on both these aspects, Mianzi is a pioneer in designing superior sustainable home furnishings using a simple and natural material – bamboo. Questioning deleterious models of production and translating experimental materials into novel wares, they are heralding new ways of understanding design and products, and our relationships to them. At IKKIVI, we had a conversation with the co-founders of Mianzi, Shashank Gautaum and Ananta Varshney, on their journey into the venture, and the conceptual, material and social features that underlie their (sustainable) design initiative.

 

Could you tell us of your background and interests through your foundational years? How did you come to feel connected with art and design? Have you been pursuing them for a long time or has it been a more recent initiation?

S: Since a young age, I developed an interest in the engineering aspect of a simple design, when I used to accompany my granddad to his cycle repair shop.

While designing a building with a Zero Carbon Footprint, for a design competition in 2009, (which later got awarded by Indian Green Building Council), I realized the true potential of Bamboo. I then designed a bamboo bicycle and prototyped several bamboo-based furniture and accessories.

After my Bachelor’s in Architecture (from SPA Delhi & Masters in Industrial Designing from IDC, IIT Bombay), I established MIANZI with the desire to revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used in today’s world.

A:  During my graduation as a Bachelor of Architecture,  I became more and more fascinated with product design and how sustainability can be more than what it is believed as. Being associated with “going without” sustainability is always belittled, so we came up with products that attain both competitive edge for similar wood or plastic-based products whilst reaping benefits for the environment.

With a drive to build green products, I co-founded Mianzi, to manufacture products that are not only sustainable or aesthetic but economically viable. I reckon that every raw material has a story with nuance and complexity, which, if translated right can bring the most unique products.

 

What does design(ing) mean for you? Is there something, in particular, you like to showcase through it?

We believe that designing in its essence is a polygamy of different elements to accomplish a particular purpose, in a sustainable eco-friendly approach, and with futuristic minimalism.

 

MIANZI is a unique home furnishing brand with bamboo as a base material for almost all its products. Could you tell us how you realised that the material would become valuable for experimental design?

Bamboo, as raw material, inspires and challenges us to bring forth products that go beyond the accepted parameters of product design and bring life to fresh ideas that previously seemed improbable with bamboo. 

That sense of exploration and giving back to the environment has always been a big influence and inspiration behind Mianzi.

MIANZI is one of the foremost brands in India to exclusively offer bamboo-based furniture and accessories. Could you share with us why it was/ has been important in your view to introduce this idea in the market?

India has a rich cultural and economical tradition of artistic craftsmanship with Bamboo as a raw material – a material that is sustainable, futuristic, and has a vibrant cultural heritage. Despite this, the Bamboo craftsmanship is dwindling and is almost extinct in several tribes.

With Mianzi, we sought to redefine and exhibit the contemporary, elegant, and chic front of traditional craftsmanship. We need to understand that sometimes the greater good can be achieved economically by sticking to your roots.

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process? Where the materials are extracted from, and how they are molded together to construct the intricate details on the pieces?

While experimenting with bamboo, we have and are still in the process of discovering it’s different inherent properties. With a distinct fascination to observe probable design possibilities, we created our own methods by tweaking existing industrial machines and integrating the traditional hand-craftsmanship of adroit artisans. 

To make the process as realistic as possible, we developed a few industrial machines dedicated to the work of bamboo bending and molding. The machine is based on existing industrial technology; it is an assembly of different systems to create an efficient tool.

 

Are there any challenges encountered in marrying together ethical, artistic, and business practices through the design process?

Working with natural material is always challenging especially when we compare it with similar existing products in the market that are made out of wood or metal or plastic. These raw materials have been available commercially for a longer time and a lot of research has been already done, in terms of design and manufacturing. In comparison, Bamboo still needs to be explored more to discover its several properties and innovate. Further, finding a balance between aesthetic freshness, quality, and affordability is quite challenging.

 

Are there any specific intentions MIANZI holds to generate an impact for the wider Indian and design community – both its artisans/ workforce and consumers?

As we were discussing before, we want to expand Indian craftsmanship and give it its deserving centerstage by proactive collaboration with local craftsmen, bringing high-tech industrial advancements to them, and to substantially increase productivity and nurture their skills. We can introduce substantial growth in this industry on an artisanal and economic level, and at the environmental front.

What are your subsequent aspirations with, and for MIANZI?

With a deliberate and equal focus on expertise research on bamboo, we want to competitively revolutionize the way bamboo is seen and used by the masses, introducing it to the construction and mobility industry, discovering its resilient composition with a breakthrough through an economically viable and sustainable approach.

 

Is there anything you would hope for, or expect, clients, to discover and take from MIANZI?

In general, people consider sustainability as the latest trend rather than considering it as an imperative choice for our environment and future. Understanding the consumer demand we need to make a conscious effort to market products that are contemporary yet sustainable.

Mianzi with its fresh designs and functional approach expects that more and more people and designers understand that the purpose of sustainability is not to greenwash with yet another eco-friendly material, but rather to rethink industrial production and product conception in a realistic way.

During the last one and a half years, Mianzi has been recognized and awarded by esteemed design fraternities. The acknowledgment of their work from both practitioners in the field and their clients has lended them working opportunities with renowned architects and interior designers across the country, inspiring them to continue to experiment with bamboo and sustainable design.

If you would like to explore and shop their designs, you can visit their catalogue on our shop.

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MEET our MAKERS

MEET our Makers

Reformations in the Social Production of Fashion

The economic and foundational issues that have long permeated fashion have been the source of much division, discrimination and delinquency in the fashion system for over nearly two centuries. The industrial and technological progress that advanced (access to) our means of production – the material goods needed to create fashion, such as natural resources, tools and techniques – have often come at the large cost of neglecting the social relationships, people and environment involved in the production of these goods. Much of our mass market clothing and furnishings are made in conditions and countries where labor rights are minimal to nonexistent; and where artisans are almost always divorced from the creative processes of production. Some of the most pronounced problems in the fashion industry have continued to be those of poor wages, endless working hours, prohibition of workers’ unions, unsafe health and working conditions, and child or forced labor. The catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza Factory (24th April 2013) in Bangladesh that killed over 1130 garment workers manufacturing clothing for several major fashion brands revealed the vast complexities prevalent in the system, and has become a caveat for the fashion industry in the last few years to take measures towards the betterment of the working conditions of its people and within their factories.

The industry’s complex value chain and systemic inequalities compelled us to be(come) vitally involved in working to reform its structural practices and building awareness about sustainable and ethical fashion, and we began IKKIVI to encourage the conscious consumption of beautifully and mindfully made products that would create minimal negative impact on the environment and its people. Since our inception and the employment of specific (values and) means of production in 2015 – handcrafted, organic, fair, vegan designs, local or traditional technique and minimal wastage – we have seen that a conscious shift in one strand of the supply chain can ripple consequent shifts in its entire scheme and mode(s) of production, particularly at the level of everyday lived experiences and practices. With Fashion Revolution Week this week, a time where brands and producers are urged to give consumers an insight into their production processes – what goes on behind the scenes at their brand – we interviewed the makers and designers of our sustainable brands to understand their ethical fashion practices and the corresponding effects these have had (and are having) on their artisans, the environment and the market.

Fundamental to our designer’s experiences with their artisans in their studios has been the understanding of their shared need to engage with work meaningfully, such that artisans can exert a certain creative influence upon the garments or designs they work with. Our designer Neha, from Maati by Neha Kabra tells us, “our artisans love creating, but the most inspiring and enjoyable part for them (and for all of us) is when we are sampling and exchanging ideas. The actual process of designing can become a little monotonous, and ideating together breaks it and makes our artisans feel included in the project, which brings meaning to the everyday work”. Mahima, the designer of our label SUI iterates another aspect of this attribute with her own artisans. “Something we’ve noticed is that our artisans really love the kind of garments they make and are always interested to learn about new fabrics and embroideries; the printing we do and their complexity.” 

In tandem with this facet of meaningfulness that we see come forth is that of the connections and associations artisans are able to build with each other, with the designers and with their work. Our designer at Core, Sayesha, says, “we find it very valuable to work with a small team and group of artisans. In a big team, a lot of times you don’t even know who you are communicating with. Here, none of us or our artisans are restricted to only one job role in a very strict sense, which helps us discuss ideas and see what we’re all talking about. We [our artisans and design team] want to care about what we are doing, not only produce and deliver alone, and being able to work in a small team really allows us to do so.” At an analogous end, Kanchan, from our label Ahmev says, “our artisans want to work. It keeps them excited. They want a proper environment and space to work, as well as to be treated respectfully. And small (yet obvious) things such as paying their salary on time, asking them if they need anything, matter. It makes the relationship reciprocal – an actual give and take between two parties.” But the value of connections is not limited to the artisans alone. Our designers express that they receive much comfort from their partnership with their artisans too. “While we generally get to learn from each other, I have learnt a lot from them. They have given me the confidence to go ahead, to work and to not worry – particularly since the pandemic. To not glorify our problems or go very deep into them, but to acknowledge them and move ahead”, says Neha when discussing the kind of influence her artisans have had on her work. In parallel, Sayesha affirms that “If you treat them [the artisans] well, they really go above and beyond for you and your business. It becomes a win-win situation.” 

At the same time, these connections have created a fluidity in the bounds of the professional relationships and support shared between the artisans and designers. Our Vintage collection co-curator and If You Slow designer Purnima tells us “We work so closely, that for us, it is a family like environment. We even named our master tailor’s son – Tahir.” A similar social dynamic is discernable at Core where, says Sayesha, “we all gather together in our tea breaks and discuss something new our artisans have learnt or any issues they are facing that we can help them resolve, both personally and professionally.” These revisions in the relations of production also show the potential impact ethical and conscious businesses can have on the lives of artisans in the long term. Detailing the story of one of her artisans at Core, Sayesha shares “our master tailor Guddu had initially come with nothing. He had a wife and three children, and worked with us as a finishing man. He upskilled with us, and from being someone with minimum skills to consulting for other brands, he probably now earns the most in our company.” Acknowledging this importance of offering accessibility and a developmental curve to karigars, designers Shashank and Ananta from Mianzi explain their methods of manufacturing. “We have put a lot of thought into designing our moulds. The way we design and think of manufacturing our products is such that anyone can do it with very basic training.” 

The protraction of such space and social relations between designers, artisans and team members has further led to the nurturance of a certain felt responsibility towards one another. Arshia, our brand Rias Jaipur’s designer states “We do as many things as we can together. That way our artisans get more experience and evolve in their craft, which helps them get more work elsewhere as well.” Elaborating on the same lines, Kanchan shares that “they learn new things with us at Ahmev. They have the skills they have practiced all their lives. But till the time they don’t experience new things and crafts – and we don’t give them the chance to – they won’t be able to do it. And we try doing things each other’s way. I give our master tailor space to work and explore, and he also gives me his ideas on how we can make or modify a design.” These commitments to growth and change come to extend beyond our artisans to include internal team members and practitioners. “Our Production Manager worked for a fast fashion corporation before joining us mid pandemic last year. And in the beginning, it was a little hard for her to integrate with our ethos seamlessly because of the fast fashion practices she was familiar with – such as using petroleum in place of natural cleaning agents (to clean any stains) and plastic for packaging. All of these seemed to be more practical and economical ways of running a business to her then. But being with us, she too is swiftly moving toward sustainable sensibilities – now telling us about which conscious materials we can experiment with and use. In turn, she has brought in much discipline and efficiency to our brand from her previous experience – something we very much appreciate.”, informs Sayesha when speaking about how everyone at Core has been learning to create and give more consciously.

But even as our makers have been engaged in earnest and purposeful modes of production, some systemic challenges remain recurrent in economic and empirical matters. Reflecting on the prime difficulties faced in the sustainable sector and inevitably by industry workers, Arshia notes that “we are small designers right now, the big players have the money. As entrepreneurial sustainable brands, we also need our businesses to float for we are not externally funded. Ultimately our artisans need more money to keep their tables running, and so sometimes they do work for fast corporations. They prefer working with small ethical designers like us and tell us that they don’t want to or like working with fast fashion enterprises, but that they also don’t have any other choices in front of them.” Thus as revisions at the grassroot level in sustainable spaces do elucidate promise and headway for garment workers, a systemic revolution at present stands equally contingent on the reformation of institutional and market values.

The object (garment or design), means of production and the work undergone to create it mediate the social relations of production between artisans and designers. We believe that to be involved in the making of a product, but not in its creative or social processes is bound to alienate one from their creation, as well as from themselves in the process. And this degree of involvement or affinity in the creative process rests on the essential social relations of production, governed often by a patron or the institution. For us, at IKKIVI, the nuances and care taken in the professional practices and everyday experiences of our makers by our brands form the genesis of an honest, progressive and powerful fashion revolution at the micro, and eventually, macro scale. This Fashion Revolution Week, we wanted to show with our labels and designers, that fashion and design, when practiced ethically and mindfully, hold the means to herald positive development in the lives of its creators (our artisans) and consumers – and to change the widely held belief that to make (mass) interests businesses need to exploit, dehumanise and coerce their makers or come at the cost of their integrity. 

 

What kind of socio-economic action we can take to propel these shifts further is what we now need to contemplate and examine together as a collective.

CREDITS

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ON SWITCHING TO A MENSTRUAL CUP

Switching to a Menstrual Cup

Conversations On the Intersections Between Menstrual Health and the Indian Social Structure

In the last decade, collective conversations around menstruation have been diversifying, connecting dialectically with a range of related subjects. Along with women’s health, dialogues on cultural taboos, gender inequality, inequity, discriminatory social norms, poverty and climate change have become central themes from which to understand many aspects of menstruation. Menstrual products are one of the intermediary (re)sources through which activists and brands are educating us on the wide ranging impact of our choices and the alternatives that the market now offers to us. At IKKIVI, we partnered with ‘Hiccup’ to help share their message of making menstrual cups the norm for all menstruators. We spoke with Meenal Velani, Founder of the menstrual cup brand ‘Hiccup’, about why she started the enterprise, and about the scope of impact that our everyday choices can have on intersecting problems. Sharing with us her insights and experiences, she describes the importance of being mindful in selecting and working with menstrual products, and in learning to become more conscious both as brands and consumers.

 

Could you tell us of your background and interests through
your early years?

I come from a city called Jamshedpur. As a kid I loved Literature, hated Math and was a phenomenally curious being. Being brought up in a middle class joint family in a small town meant that I was always instilled with the values of not being wasteful and thinking community – first. My family is predominantly women – all of them strong, willful and fiercely independent which I gained from them in inheritance – something I am most proud of.

For my education, after schooling locally, I did my Undergraduate in Literature from Kolkata and moved to Delhi to get my Masters in Advertising. Since I was in school, I was working towards becoming a copywriter in an Ad agency. However, actually joining the workforce quickly disillusioned me about the real nature of advertising. I felt very conflicted working for organisations that were actively and negatively affecting the lives of people and the quality of the planet.

I still really enjoyed the work I did which is why I left my first job to start Oddity – a marketing agency that works exclusively with small and medium businesses that are actively working on making the world a little better. We work with businesses that are just starting out (eg: a sourdough bread brand, an organic cold pressed oil company, an EdTech firm) to help amplify their voice. This was more aligned to who I was as a person. Somewhere in this journey, my partner and I had a realisation about menstrual cups and decided to start Hiccup – a step that was made easier to take because of my background in advertising.

There’s a lot to be said for forces aligning in my favour, at least in this case. With my background and immense passion for the environment and my partners’ background in Gender Studies, it was like starting Hiccup was meant to be for us.

How did you come to the idea of starting a brand dedicated to selling menstrual cups? Could you tell us the influences and inspiration(s) that led to the inception of Hiccup?

We started Hiccup to provide awareness about the single most sustainable menstrual product and allow people to have access to high quality care. We encourage a market where all menstruators can decide for themselves which product they would like to use, for example, reusable cloth pads, period underwear – while not harming the environment.

When I personally started using a cup is when I realised how useful it was in the larger context – for the health of menstruators as well as for the environment. I belong to a city called Jamshedpur, that is in one of the poorest states – Jharkhand. We directly saw how inadequate Menstrual Health Management affected people in every aspect of their lives. Working in Delhi for the past 7 years also brought to light the problems surrounding waste management as we’ve all seen the mountain of trash and foamy Yamuna in the middle of the city. As someone who is also passionate about the environment and takes active steps to live a more mindful life (plastic free purchasing, no fast fashion clothes, reusable everything, composting) it was a joy to discover that simply using a menstrual cup can help us work towards the Sustainable Development Goals set by UNDP. We can achieve Climate action – SDG13, Good health and well-being – SDG 3, Gender inequality – SDG 5. All of this led to the birth of Hiccup.

 

Hiccup is one of the only few brands in India to exclusively offer menstrual cups. Could you share with us why it was/ has been important in your view to introduce these in the market? Were there any connections between your own experiences with menstruation and with launching Hiccup as well?

It took us almost a year of research into the Indian cup market to decide that we wanted to start Hiccup. There are a few menstrual cup brands in India that sell cups for really cheap that are low quality and made using hard polymers. This means that first time users have a bad experience and cannot completely shift to cups. I personally tried some of India’s most popular brands before realising that the current solutions on offer weren’t good enough. We had to be able to do better!

Since Day 1, we have been very clear on the fact that while menstrual cups are phenomenal for the health of menstruators, the environment was a big part of why we were doing this. There are some companies in India that sell cups but also sell single use sanitary napkins – which goes against the very ethos of Hiccup. We knew we only wanted to sell cups despite the fact that pads get picked up faster and have a repeating customer base because otherwise we wanted to stay true to who we were. We have also noticed menstrual cup companies distribute sanitary napkins to the underprivileged as a part of their CSR programs. This makes me so sad – it’s like going one step forward and five steps back.

At Hiccup, we stand against the concept of “poor solutions for poor people”. This is why while we do understand that not everyone can pay for a cup, our Buy 1 Donate 1 program allows us to create education around cups and donate them to those who can’t afford them. Systemic problems require long term solutions and not the band aid of solutions that are effective only in the short term. In the coming years, we see hiccup becoming a catalyst that brings together governmental organisations, NGOs, foundations and feminist researchers to provide all menstruators regardless of their social capital, with a
cup as an alternative.

How did you come to select the name ‘Hiccup’ for the brand? Does it signify something in particular?

Before we came up with the name we knew the word “cup“ had to be part of the brand since most of our users are being introduced to the product category itself. We didn’t want to add another layer and make it more confusing. We spent a few weeks dismissing a lot of names before Hiccup came to me while watching an animated film that has a character by the same name (How to Train Your Dragon).

I loved the name immediately because it worked on so many levels! There is so much stigma around periods that they are almost considered an abnormality – a hiccup in daily life and we wanted to take back the word and make it mean something positive. Plus, it sounded so fun and we didn’t want a brand that takes itself too seriously.

 

Could you tell us a little bit about your design and creation process of the cups? What materials are used, and how the cups are made?

Sure! So, menstrual cups that are available in the market are typically made with two materials – either TPE or silicone. Hiccup is made with medical grade silicone at an FDA approved manufacturing unit. Silicone is an inert, non-reactive material which essentially translates to it being completely safe for long term internal use. In fact, using menstrual cups is safest when it comes to risk of infections, disease etc.

Our cups are made of soft silicone that is easy to insert and remove, making it great for first time users. We’ve also made sure to add a stem at the bottom that makes a cup easier to locate for removal. We spent over a year figuring out the perfect firmness, size and colours for our cups since we knew that a majority of our customers would be first time users and we wanted them to have as seamless an experience as possible!

 

Are there any challenges you encountered in starting the brand, given the cultural stigma toward menstruation? Or even, since the start of the business? If so, what have your experiences been with it thus far and how do you/ have you respond(ed) to them?

To be very honest, starting Hiccup was the least challenging part of the journey. When I used my first cup, years before there was so much information around them in India, I knew I was a menstrual cup evangelist. Starting Hiccup to fill this gap seemed like the most natural, almost necessary thing to do.

Once we started up however, there were definitely operational challenges. From trying to figure out which tax bracket menstrual cups fall into (there is absolutely no clarity on that even today) to explaining what the product was to delivery partners comes to mind. Our team aims to be very patient and transparent in all conversations but we have often faced awkward silences when it comes to collaborators who are not from this field. On the contrary, the conversations on our social media and DM’s have been a revelation to us. The questions usually come from a place of curiosity rather than hate. This is in part due to the safe space we create in all our interactions. The stigma definitely persists but we do not expect to undo intergenerational ignorance and conditioning. We try our hardest, remain patient and strong in our convictions.

Since the incoming of Hiccup, what kind of responses have come forth from consumers? What kind of appreciation and apprehensions have you seen them carry toward menstrual cups?

In India, a majority of the people who reach out to us are first time cup users. A few questions we get very often are how using cups will affect their virginity (it won’t), will it hurt (it doesn’t) and why they should buy a Hiccup and not some other/ cheaper cup. Since it is a comparatively higher upfront payment, a lot of people tend to pick the cheapest option available. Since there is a difference in quality, they end up having not the best experience and then we’re faced with the challenge of getting them to try another cup.

On the flip side, those who use the cup and get used to it, absolutely rave about it! We get messages every day from users about how it has changed their lives or the different conversations they had because they use a cup. That is absolutely gratifying. We also get a ton of appreciation for being an open, inclusive, honest brand that spends time on education about the climate crisis, gender, sex positivity and of course, menstruation.

 

We notice that educating consumers and the public is a significant part of your work through your social media channels. Could you share with us why you think that is vital, and what kind of dialogue you have seen unfold(ing) – about menstruation, womens’ bodies, health – through it on social media?

Making menstrual cups mainstream is a goal we cannot accomplish in isolation. Asking someone to move from a pad to hiccup isn’t as simple as asking them to shift loyalties to a new brand but rather, is a lifestyle shift. When it comes to menstrual cups, the personal is political. Using a cup means unlearning everything we’ve been taught about how to interact with our bodies. It means feeling empathetic and proactive about the future of the planet. It means recognising the inequality in menstrual care, it’s correlation with poverty and trying to find equalizers. It is a big ask to make. We acknowledge that and don’t take it lightly. So when someone trusts us enough to make that shift, we owe it to them to arm them with as much knowledge as possible.

The Hiccup social media channels are therefore spaces of inclusive advocacy that promote education and awareness around menstrual health management, body neutrality, sex positivity, gender and climate change. We do this because using a cup genuinely lies on the intersection of these issues and there is an abysmal lack of education or awareness surrounding these topics. We aim to fill this gap and increase accessibility to this information as much as possible.

Making a transition from conventional utilities – such as sanitary napkins and tampons – can feel intimidating and invasive (as the cup needs to be inserted inside). Could you offer some guidance on what someone who would like to try it could do to make the experience easier?

I completely understand that using a menstrual cup for the first time can be really intimidating. Even tampons are barely used in our country and there is such a taboo around insertion!

My first suggestion to first time users would be to get familiar with your body. A lot of us, even if we are sexually active may not be familiar with our anatomy. When you’re not on your period, use your fingers to find your cervix. Insert a finger and move it slowly to familiarise yourself with the area. When you’re comfortable, insert multiple fingers. You’ll see that the vaginal walls are flexible and inserting a cup will seem less daunting now.

My second suggestion would be to use a cup for the first time on a lighter flow day of your period (ideally the third or fourth day). This way you get the natural lubrication of your period without the worry of potential leaks. You could even use a pad along with the cup the first few times if you’re really worried. That way you’ll be more confident to wear it by itself.

Lastly, choose the right cup. A soft cup will make both insertion and removal easy. If your cup has a stem, you’ll be reassured that the cup will be easy to locate. (Hiccup is a soft cup with a stem).

Finally, trust that the cup cannot get lost – it is anatomically impossible for it to vanish. Converting to a cup isn’t a one time thing. It is a slow gradual process so be patient with yourself. It will take 2-3 cycles to get used to it but I promise that once you are comfortable with it, you won’t change back!

Are there any specific intentions Hiccup holds to generate an impact for the wider Indian public and consumers?

Our goal with starting hiccup is to make menstrual cups mainstream. When we talk about period products or simply when we teach young menstruators in schools about what their options are – we want the thought of menstrual cups as an option to come as easily as pads. Along with this, we want menstrual cups to be easily accessible. Anyone, across the country – whether they stay in the capital city or in a small village, should they choose to use a menstrual cup, should have access to it.

This is something we cannot do alone. To create a deeper and more meaningful impact, we aim to work with the State, private corporations and foundations to do intensive research on the Indian menstrual space factoring in the well-being of both menstruators and the environment. This will help us keep researching and developing better and more effective period care solutions.

 

What are your subsequent aspirations with, and for Hiccup as a brand and as an enterprise carrying a collective voice to show menstruation as a healthy and normal process of our bodies?

Our aspirations for Hiccup as a brand that is Activist not just in words but in nature, goes beyond normalising conversation around menstruation for us. That I think is what we want to tackle as our first step. Not only do we want people to be comfortable talking (and listening) about periods, we want to be able to extend that normalisation towards uterine diseases, mental health, sex education, body neutrality, the gender and sexuality spectrums; among a hoard of other things.

We do this the best way we know how – we talk about it normally without making a big deal about it. We amplify the voices of those who have lived experiences, we try to be as open and inclusive a space as possible and creative vetted and responsible education around it. Currently we do this through our social media but our plans extend to working with NGOs to make this information available for those who are underprivileged and working with Governments to make accessibility easier.

Is there anything you would hope for, or expect, clients to discover and take from Hiccup?

So many things! First and foremost, we want menstruators to feel free and comfortable during their periods. Cups are outwardly invisible – letting you do all things you would on any other day. You can do headstands, swim, even scuba dive on your periods with a cup. I think that’s a special kind of liberating. There is also a different kind of comfort knowing that there aren’t any chemicals touching your body or that there won’t be any rashes after a few hours of having your period.

But something most people don’t talk about that becomes a crucial part of the menstrual cup experience is self awareness about the body. Using pads or tampons gives us a very misleading view of how and how much we bleed. Using a cup showed me that it is way less than we are led to believe by the stark, sterile white of other period products. Not just that but the simple act of inserting something safely and non-sexually into the body is intimate in a way most of us might be unfamiliar with. I expect (and hope) cup users get more comfortable with their body and have a more mindful understanding of their periods – the colour, the texture etc.

Lastly, it is an amazing feeling to not have to dispose of something every few hours!

 

Could you describe how your experience of working on this venture since 2019 has been?

The experience of founding and running Hiccup has been challenging but also very rewarding. Convincing people to consider menstrual cups as an option isn’t easy. We battle stigma, myths and disapproval every single day. However, when someone uses the cup and comes back to us with how much they enjoyed using it – it is a victory for us. When people DM us asking us personal questions – it is a victory for us. When mothers buy a cup for their child – it is a victory for us. When we get orders from small cities we have never even heard of – it is a victory for us. We know that somewhere, someone is taking control of their own body and being climate positive which makes it all worthwhile. We understand that we are a far cry away from making cups mainstream, but we’re in it for the long haul.

CREDTIS

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Colorism in India

Colorism in India

Reformulating Institutional Conceptions and Rhetoric

The subject of colorism in India is vast, and its prevalence, both within different regions of the country and in society on the whole is extensive. Color inequality has ensued from historical views of privilege as well as contemporary discrimination, with light-skin and fairness having held (and still holding) symbolic meanings and associations with feminine beauty, class privilege, spiritual purity and cultural superiority, and dark-skin with primitiveness, inferiority, and unattractiveness.

As a consequence of beliefs about skin color determining one’s status and value, and individuals with darker skin tones having experienced persistent disadvantages (with regard to education, income, opportunity, health, and marriageability), many people have taken recourse to “whiten” their skin over the centuries. The formulation of skin-lightening practices draw ascendancy from notions of skin color as being a form of capital, such that fair-skin is garnered as economic capital, social capital, and even symbolic capital. Colorism and the stratification affiliated with it have been further complicated by the influence of ideas about light-skin, success and better life outcomes, and the aesthetic model transplanted by the skin-lightening and cosmetic industry. Fairness and light-skin have since been commodities that are acquired for a price and traded for access to goods and services, such as social forums, romantic partners, education, and employment. 

The acquisition of capital and status through such practices elucidate the acuity with which colorism continues to affect people and the rhetoric of whiteness that the multibillion-dollar skin lightening industry capitalises on in exchange for monstrous profits. Colorism and racial prejudice, as well as shaming and ‘individual preferences’ for light-skin have long been displayed in Indian advertisements – ranging through hair removal creams, intimate washes, facial creams and cleansers, matrimonial features, ‘white’ electric lights and bulbs endorsed by esteemed personalities, and indoctrination at the grade school level with images of fair(er) people to explain ‘beauty’ and of dark(er) ones ‘unattractiveness’.

 

 

The fallacy of color is evident in lands like India – which have great regional heterogeneity and whose people are culturally diverse – impacting almost all the public. The fact that ‘color’ remains relevant for advertising agencies to influence sales – whether in their branding, in the chemicals utilized, in their story-telling, or in them all – has only reinforced misconceptions and distortions of, what should have been, an authentic self-concept amongst consumers (and non-consumers). Impacting young girls and adults alike regardless of how “educated”, “successful” and “accomplished” they may (have) be(come), skin tone biases have also been imposed on men over the years with the introduction of similar lightening and fairness products in India – with light-skin signifying “attractiveness” and dark-skin “manliness” and “muscle”. 

The systems from which colorism originates in India are those that explicate some of its fundamental religious, cultural, and social features – namely, the concepts of caste, class, (arranged) marriage, and status. The divisionary models that found their genesis in fear (of unworthiness and (social) ostracisation), erroneous scriptural and mythical interpretations, patriarchal structures, dowry systems, classism, division of labor, colonialism, gender roles, cultural conditioning, and shame, have played principal functions in systematising colorism across regions and communities. The practice of applying homemade ‘uptans’ (beauty packs) – with turmeric, milk malai (cream), egg, besan (gram flour) and other natural ingredients – to retain fairness or lighten skin has moreover solidified these perceptions in place. Such arbitrary conceptions that (have) give(n) base to, and are entangled in stratification, are correspondingly iterated in like advertisements that obscure the dynamism of one’s being – whether in the form of colorism, sexism, objectification, ageism, ableism or other analogous prejudices.

 

 

The hierarchical ordering of human differences through these contrived categorizations of color have propelled activists in the nation-state over the past several decades to cogently protest against and dismantle the inequitable system. The Black Lives Matter movement in the West has of late catalysed the issue in the Indian context, with Hindustan Unilever having renamed its prominent fairness brand ‘Fair and Lovely’, Johnson and Johnson deciding to cease sales of all fairness products in India, and Matrimonial website ‘Shaadi.com’ removing its skin color filter owing to public outcry. These changes, while could have been (seen as) a sign of progress(ion) in one sense, now raise the question about what it means for brands to revise their messaging and story-telling, and what dogmas they represent.

With ‘Fair and Lovely’ historically and thus far showcasing women as achieving success and happiness only when turned fairer, it has become crucial to explore whether such rebranding is an admittance at the end of large corporations that skin lightening products were and are a falsity, and that dark-skin is not something to be repaired or corrected, and if so, why they are not discontinued altogether; and how rebranding would absolve the colorism that underlies it. Strategic changes in messaging being (and having been) adopted by the now, ‘Glow and Lovely’ and by other beauty brands with substitute terminologies such as ‘brightening’ and ‘radiance’, may alter the rhetoric but retain the same overtones and meanings, providing marginal changes in the schema.

 

 

At the same time, disputes arise as to why brands require such an outcry from the public to amend their practices – and why even then these amendments are merely cosmetic; why at this stage, multinational corporations and brands not only ‘be’ better, but also take responsibility for how the ideology embodying their advertising and products furthers and perpetuates problematic beauty ideals, fostering insecurity, emotional turmoil, and in some cases mental trauma. More so, why profit generation not be based on unfeigned values in place of deceptive and misleading premises, and sensitivity consultants involving activists not share space with their advisory boards to direct reform? 

Though the problem of colorism and the exploitative business model that has flourished on its basis is so compounded that an adequate understanding of it will require the synthesis of a number of concepts and disquisitions in diverse fields, historical conditions do unveil how densely tied colorism is – and continues to be – with our traditional practices and ideologies. The neoteric developments and calls for social change that have been prompted into our conventions by activists and citizens, and through social media, have been proving influential in collapsing (and reformulating) systems that inhibit the diversity and equity inherent to life, but a shift in economic, cultural and emotional ethos remain particularly limited in the country.

 

 

 Much less is still realised about how the commodification of beauty and color is deployed to, and by men, and the degree to which they serve as consequential in their lifestyle. The chronic ‘preferences’ for light skin will require closer studies to interpret the contemporary interplay and meanings of skin color with(in) psycho-social, spatial and global contexts, and to observe whether the changes in branding, while strategic ploys at present, will gradually play any notable part in moving toward more inclusive story-telling and truthful representation of who we are.  

We collaborated with model and illustrator Namita Sunil for the illustrations in this thought piece.

CREDITS


	

with Small Businesses after Covid-19 

Conversations with Small Businesses after Covid-19

Cultivating New Dynamics and Trajectories

At IKKIVI Zine, we spoke with a few small business owners from India on the state of commerce, their individual experiences and the business reorganisations apprehended by them.The sharp declines in economic activity with the spread of the novel Coronavirus have commenced unprecedented losses across industries over the last several months. Having impacted all businesses and commercial undertakings profoundly, the economic deceleration – and in many instances, closure – that has extended with the onset of nationwide lockdowns has had an especially exaggerated effect on small businesses. With capital in its various species varying for small businesses depending on the particularity of their reach and concentration, more clearly, depending on the peculiarity of their field, on the state of development of their advancement and on the individuality of the products, small businesses are needing to retrace their steps to ensure business continuity in the present economic climate.

Discussing the impact that the pandemic has had on small businesses, Surabhi Chauhan, Founder and Director at the communications agency LoveStruckCow notes that “the immediate effect has been quite disruptive. Starting from a sudden drop in business activity, stalling of on-ground projects, breakdown of vendor supply chains to deferral of marketing activities and product launches, all these factors have come together to force a major relook at our yearly plans and projections.”

Traversing through similar arduous conditions, Anushka Sani, Founder of Thought Over Design, a user-centric design studio, mentions that they’ve learned that one can’t always trust people on their word or contracts. “Since it’s a sensitive time and we’re mindful of that – we’ve been understanding of delayed payments – but when it gets out of hand, as a small business – it’s really difficult to work around this when our work is based on mutual respect / trust.” Such multifaceted strains have also presented halts and delays in business activities and production processes, leading to indefinite defferals of many projects at small business firms – specifically of offline events, commercial campaigns, new product launches and installations, and a shift in business strategy.

Corroborating on the consequences of the lockdown on managing business, Rahul Singh Yadav, Founding Member and Design and Curatorial Head at Floating Canvas Company, an art-on-subscription service, outlines that one of their “biggest challenges has been the nagging sense of uncertainty about how things might stand a week, a fortnight or a month from now. Restarting operations on a full-fledged basis and aligning all teams, vendors and stakeholders is not a one-day affair. And in the face of directives by authorities at different levels – sometimes in conflict with one another – the challenges just multiply manifold.” 

Reflecting further on these experiences and their influence on focus in the face of these sudden adjustments, he states that “the initial days were quite crazy. Coming to terms with the pandemic, its health implications, wading through all the information, misinformation and instructions, managing household responsibilities and facing new business realities on a daily basis; it all felt quite overwhelming to be honest.” However, being able to spend more time at home and around his family, he says, has also provided him the mental space to closely consider the things he should be focusing on, in both business and in the personal domain.

In developing conditions congruent for conducting business through this unpredictable period, Anushka emphasizes a revision in strategies to garner new business practices. “We’re actively considering a leaner model with lighter costs. One of our biggest expenses is a beautiful and large studio space in the heart of South Bombay. We’ve been discussing this as a team and are exploring what a #workfromanywhere model would look like.” Speaking of the alterations and shifts in their business trajectory moving forward, she adds that they want to be mindful of what projects they take on moving forward. “It’s become increasingly important to evaluate the businesses we work with. The focus on local is very interesting for us at Thought Over Design…so we’re excited to see how we can help build better, more meaningful homegrown brands.”

Elaborating on the same lines, Shakti Swarup Sahu, Founding Member and Strategic and Marketing Head at Floating Canvas Company considers it essential to diversify revenue sources and ensure that the financial shock from such occurrences is minimised henceforth. Matters that largely remain overlooked due to mainstream and competitive business dynamics – including unnecessary commute and travel in many sectors of the economy, and the subtle yet discernible effects of extended work hours on mental health – have also gained heightened attention amongst professionals during this period of economic lag.

Surabhi shares that “with the enforced pause, we were all encouraged to be home and do nothing at times. This is not all rainbow and sunshine, don’t get me wrong – there are phases of laughter, arguments, frustrations, and warm meals. It’s good to not plan too much…it’s great to think of who you are and how to nourish yourself…Now with more me-time and time with family (who also are homebound), I am able to connect with myself more while being productive at work as well.” Interconnected with these aspects have been developments in the personal realm brought forth by the pandemic. Anushka explains this to have become a time of strengthening personal relationships – “If anything, this has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with people both personally and in cohorts…I’ve also found conversations are so much more meaningful and you get to know people a lot better through a time like this.”

Contemplating the macro economic changes that have been fuelled by contemporary affairs, Aagam Mehta, Founding Member and Business and Finance Head at Floating Canvas Company believes that there is going to be a shift in how and what we perceive small businesses to be (doing) and the power that they (will) have in terms of driving ethical changes in the larger market structure with the rise of this global crisis. “There’s this narrative that has been developing for quite a while that transitioning into a mega corporation is the natural endgame for any business, that every small business is just a ‘way bigger business in the making’.

I think this narrative has taken a beating with the onset of this crisis. During peak lockdown, it’s our neighbourhood kirana (grocery and general) stores that kept us going, not mega malls and marts. And I sincerely hope more people appreciate this, that how crucial a role small businesses play in efficient decentralisation and distribution of capital and resources. Small businesses are sustainable, rooted in community, and – as this crisis has shown – downright essential.”

Echoing the same truth Surabhi thinks that only small businesses will have the liberty to bring about ethical changes from this crisis. “Small businesses are usually formed with the notion of doing things differently from how big companies function. They tend to be more sustainable and ethical in their functioning. It’s my belief that we will see new names emerge as stars who were able to think and act differently in the coming times. There will be completely new products and services which will become very relevant in the near future and the small businesses would be the ones who find them.” Considering reforms on the consumption spectrum, Rubeina Karachiwalla, Founder of Ruby’s Cosmetics, suggests that “people will be looking to spend more wisely, and on less…Conscious consumerism is about to become the future and we (as a small business) want to be that choice for people.”

“One of the biggest business learnings for us from this pandemic” reflects Aagam, “has been to look at everything we do through two crucial lenses: Resilience and Diversification. In the wake of the new normal…we have tried to relook at and reorient every business activity: starting from where and how we source a vendor to where and why to hire an employee. The key is to build a business that stays resilient even if a certain location or city goes under lockdown” These shifting directions in business practices indicate a refocusing primarily of, and on, values and emotions. Surabhi highlights this period to have encouraged her “to think of how to still genuinely connect with people/entities without physically being present.” On handling present dynamics, she adds that businesses should not rely on spending more money to work well. “Invest in people and businesses you connect with. It’s the connections you form and how you impact the world.” Speaking of their reform in terms of focus in business, Rubeina counts that “we want to focus now on creating more value for our customers and working towards creating an emotional relationship beyond the transaction.”

These shifts and reformulations are extending from business ideologies, merging into cultural and collective practices and support. On how we can partake in contributing as a community to the sustainable enterprise that small businesses are, Rahul points that “it would be great if more people start considering small businesses as their first choice when it comes to opting for a product or service. But there are many other small yet significant ways of showing your support as well. Follow small businesses on their social channels. Like and share their content. Spread the word about their offerings in your circle. Or just drop a mail or give a call to say Hi. Sometimes just knowing that you are listening and that you care are all that it takes to keep it going.” Advocating for greater revision in these areas, Anushka proposes that we “look to support not just homegrown brands and local businesses but those that are going one step ahead and looking into the entire ecosystem in which they exist…And I believe if as consumers we don’t change, we will only be fuelling the same system that brought us here today.”

From becoming involved in understanding the production and supply processes of small businesses by thinking of where our products and services are coming from, whom they are supporting and the means through which they are distributed, to engaging in mindful consumption, she appeals that we also prioritise taking care of those directly dependent on us. “Please do what you can to pay your drivers, peons, domestic help and other people dependent on you. We need to care for those who rely on us for their livelihoods.”

The development of emotional and symbolic relationships are now burgeoning between networks, small and independent local firms and individual consumers. Even though distinctive paradigms around emotions, personal values and the economy have not yet developed completely, as ideologies are refined and business frameworks renewed, the nature of these relationships and changes may in due course culminate into a model that is formally based on socio-cultural dynamics and exchange. While largely commercial and profit-bound business systems have governed the concerns of economic institutions andlarge businesses, it is the systematic engagement and adoption of more conscious, mindful and ethical operations grounding small businesses that are most plausible to affect analytic frames, generating advances in economic and social behavior in the global economy.

The founders of the companies featured in this article, Floating Canvas Company, Ruby’s Organics, Thought Over Design and Love Struck Cow were interviewed for this thought piece.





    

CREDITS

With Fatimah Asghar

With Fatimah Asghar

Conversations On the Versatilities of Art

Art as an expressive and symbolic system is often positioned toward itself (the art object), the artist (the maker), actualities (the world) or concepts (as ideas or possible states of being). The cultural and individual insights, of both makers and viewers, in works of art continually reveal to us the range of possibilities – of form and detail – that lie inherent in each art form. At IKKIVI, we had the occasion to speak with Fatimah Asghar on the various emotional, artistic, and intellectual processes and experiences that (can) underlay works of art. Discussing the characteristics and significance of different artistic mediums, she shares with us the particularities that influence and embody her poetry, screen-writing, experiences and projects.

Fatimah Asghar photographed by Cassidy Kristiansen

Are there any defining moments from your childhood and adolescent years that have shaped your artistic expression?

My entire upbringing and life really informs my work. A huge theme in my work is around orphaning—my parents died when I was really young and that’s something that has been such a huge influence over my life. I don’t think most people really consider how much of our society is formed and privileges the idea of family: so when you don’t have that, when that’s taken away from you early, you really see a different side to the world. 

Are there any poets, thinkers, writers, or artists whose works continue to resonate with and move you?

So many! I feel really blessed to live in a world where I get to constantly look around and be inspired by so many people’s art. Some of my favorite poets are my peers: Danez Smith, Franny Choi, Angel Nafis, Safia Elhillo, Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, Kaveh Akbar, Justin Phillip Reed—the list can go on forever. I love Ross Gay’s work; I wouldn’t be here without Patricia Smith and Tarfia Faizullah.

 

Does an art form play a role in the development of the other art forms you engage with? If so, could you describe their interplay?

I am an artist that works across multiple genres. They’re always influencing each other and informing each other. I’m someone who really thinks about the thing that wants to be told before I consider its container. If there’s a line that comes to me, I just write what I feel and then decide what it is once I have the thing down: is it a poem? A screenplay? Prose? I think our art is often smarter than we are, and we just need to make space for it to tell us what it wants to do.

As even within writing your work spans across different mediums, what is the relationship between your poetic voice and screen-writing voice? In the same context, where does one art form end and the other begin?

I think that my poetic voice and my screenwriting voice are incredibly interconnected because they come from the same person. We’re all such multifaceted people, that contain a lot of depth and multitudes. But ultimately, since these voices and projects come from the same person, they’re inherently connected because they have that in common. I’m not a stickler for believing in different genres as different, I love the blending of things. And therefore, I’m not too concerned with the question of where one art form begins and one ends, because ultimately I don’t know how much that matters: I’m just interested in making art that feels true to me, that is authentic, that makes a home for myself and others.

Is there a certain process you follow as you write/ in your writing?

It’s all so different depending on the project. Sometimes it just pours out of me, sometimes it takes a lot of careful planning, sometimes I dream of a project for days, months, years, before ever writing anything down. I think what’s most important to me is just trying to stay open, and trying to carve out as much space where I can really listen to my own self and voice, rather than letting iit get jumbled with others’ opinions.

Poetry Book If They Come For Us

The poems in your book, ‘If They Come For Us’, look at emotions and pain in profundity. What was the experience of writing these poems like for you? Were there any recurrent thoughts you had, and emotions you felt, through it?

I wrote the poems in that book over the course of years, and many poems that I was writing at the time didn’t make it into the book. The experience was so varied—some of the poems are so painful, and those were difficult to write. Some are very nostalgic and joyous, and felt like such a breath of fresh air to write. When you write one off poems they stand on their own, but when you’re compiling them into a book you have to be really careful: what are the recurring voltas in the poems? Are those intentional or repetitive? How can you switch it up and add more texture throughout it? When they’re put together what poems become redundant and can be cut? What poems do you need to write to thread the themes you’re writing out better? Because the book has such a heavy theme of Partition, I wanted to make sure that I was being responsible: trying to not point fingers at anyone (because that’s actually just impossible when there were transgressions on every side), but trying to really contextualize that pain and history while also dreaming of a more peaceful future.

Still from series Brown Girls

How did the plot and idea of your web-series ‘Brown Girls’ come to be? Was it a story that you had developed and wanted to showcase or something you worked on exclusively for this project?

It just came out pretty naturally. I just kind of wrote and let the writing take me where it needed to go and be.

The show (has) received a lot of praise from the public and the fraternity. What have been the personal highlights or take-aways for you and the other creators from its success?

I think the main thing was to just always make your art, even when people doubt you. Film is so hard because it’s so expensive and there are so many moving parts, but you just gotta find a way to make it. And treat people well. It’s really important to me, and to Sam Bailey who was the director of the series, that our sets be safe for queer people, people of color, and women. So often sets are so unsafe for marginalized people. And if most sets are unsafe on a basic level for marginalized people, then what art and perspectives are getting told and prioritized? When you have to show up to work every day and fight under such extreme conditions to even be considered a human, how can you make your best art? For us it was really important to make our sets like the worlds we live in: centering queer people of color, centering our humanity and being—not just our bodies and aesthetic.  

Still from short Got Game

We enjoyed watching your short film ‘Got Game’. Could you tell us a little bit about how the film came about? 

I wrote the script and then directed it. It was my first time narratively directing something so I really learned a lot. I deeply relate to the protagonist, and it really came from trying to navigate being single after being in a really long-term relationship and just being really awkward and wondering why it seems so easy for everyone else. 

Your craft ties with and expands on social activism closely. Does art inherently embody characteristics of social change or development for you?

I don’t know that I can make grand sweeping statements about art on any level. I know for me; I write deeply about what I care about. I care about a world that treats queer people of color well, where queer people of color get to thrive, where people can be who they are without being crushed by white supremacy. I think everyone should care about that. And not care so you can make art about it, but care deeply because the world we’ve inherited is fucked, shaped by so much systemic racism, and it’s going to take all of us to change it, every day, every moment.

(How) do the dialogues on social media influence the way you approach your art or your work?

I go on and off social media a lot and have a very complicated relationship with it. I think social media is a really useful tool; I also think over-listening to social media will damage you as an artist.

Are there any projects you are currently working on? When do you think we will be able to see them?

There are, but I’m not really allowed to talk about them! I’m working on a novel right now, and so that’s on the horizon.

In the wake of the recent identity violence and protests that have outbroken, what do you think one could do to stay grounded in themselves while traversing through these tense conditions?

Again, I feel like this is really hard to speak about in generalizations because it’s so specific to each person. You have to take care of yourself to be able to contribute well to the world. And so, whatever is part of your grounding ritual is important to honor—whether it be meditation, prayer, making sure you’re eating, talking to loved ones. But also, it’s our duty to show up in solidarity for Black people, to combat anti-Blackness wherever we see it, to fight for a better world. And I really hope that as folks, particularly non-Black folks are emphasizing taking care of themselves, they’re also emphasizing showing up to fight against anti-Blackness and to be anti-racist in every single way that they can. Again, this is a long fight, and it’s going to take all of us to shape a better future.  

Fatimah was interviewed by IKKIVI. For updates on her future projects and strirring writings, follow her here.

CREDITS

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