The IOU Project isn’t just another fashion label; it’s also a revolution, an experiment in rethinking how goods are produced and sold in a way that benefits both people and the planet. Summer Rayne Oakes, co-founder of Source4Style, sat down with Kavita Parmar, IOU’s founder and creative director, to learn what goes into the creation of an IOU garment, why complete traceability is the core of her company’s mission, and how social networking is bringing artisan communities closer to the developed world.
MOTHER OF INVENTION
You’ve been designing your own collections for awhile. Could you explain why you came together with your partners to create the IOU Project?
This project grew out of my frustration as a designer with the current fashion system, which is focused on creating a lot of product with very short life span and with little regard to the way it was made. The idea was to rethink the entire chain: to create a new one that allows goods to be produced and sold and serves everyone involved. It is sustainable for the artisan, the designer, the final consumer and not just a few at the top end. We like to call it the prosperity chain.
The idea was to rethink the entire chain: to create a new one that allows goods to be produced and sold and serves everyone involved.
What is involved in the creation of an IOU garment?
We had to go talk to everyone involved to understand their craft and their business model so that we could work with their skills and their needs so we could build something that worked for everyone involved. We traveled extensively in India and met every one of our 246 artisan families; talked to each and everyone of them about their dreams and aspirations, frustrations, and limitations in order to understand and to explain the project to them.
We did the same thing in Europe with our craftsman groups who are sometimes organized as either factories or as cooperatives. Our entire information system was built with these parameters to ensure that we allowed everything to be completely traceable. We felt that without guaranteeing full traceability we would not foster real collaboration.
It must have taken a long time to complete that task!
It involved many sleepless nights, many travel miles, many idealistic dreams and discussions, and many pots of coffee (laughs)).
How has the project been received by members of the artisan communities in Spain and India?
With a lot of enthusiasm, which I believe has been a big reason for its success. Ours is not just a simple, new way of producing; we had to undo a lot of methods built over the last few decades where emphasis had been on making more stuff, more cheaply.
We had to undo a lot of methods where emphasis had been on making more stuff, more cheaply.
Our needs were the opposite sometimes: making things unique, well-crafted and, of course, we wanted to make sure there was full traceability. But they understand our goals and completely share our philosophy. Once we explained our reasoning, they were willing to go out of their way to make things happen as they themselves saw the need to change things.
How have customers, who were previously far-removed from the production process, responding to the philosophy of the IOU Project?
The response has been incredible; really warm, emotional and personal. It is clear we have touched a chord. The IOU Project has had over 250,000 blog entries worldwide in the three months that we have been alive.
Have you been satisfied with the outcomes of the project?
Overwhelmed and humbled at the same time. We have been alive since mid-May 2010 and we have received thousands of emails from individuals, organizations, and companies all very supportive and very interested in seeing this initiative flourish. Some have completely surprised us, like an 8th grader from San Francisco who offered to work for us for free, or an invitation by the UN to present the project to their directives from various UN agencies at the UNSSC conference in Torino.
There are so many artisan groups around the world with beautiful things to offer.
I am happy with how things have turned out, but as a perfectionist I still have things that I would love to tweak and, without any doubt, we have a long way to go. There are so many artisan groups around the world with beautiful things to offer that I would love to work with.
We had always envisioned this to be a open platform where other designer and brands can get involved and create by keeping our goals of using design and technology to provide transparency and traceability in a product to the consumer.