In Her Words / A Message from our Artisan Partners in India
Dear Ibu Allies,
My name is Katherine Neumann, and I am the creative director and founder of House of Wandering Silk. I feel very strongly about social and economic inequality, in particular in relation to women. Some 20 years ago I embarked on my first career in humanitarian aid, believing it would allow me the opportunity to have a direct impact, to take some personal action against inequality. I was idealistic and naive, but believed in what we were doing.
Working with local NGO partners, I was involved in dozens of livelihood projects targeting the empowerment of women—training them in handicrafts and opening marketing channels. Well-intentioned but vastly wasteful and investment-heavy, such projects would more often than not fall by the wayside—after the donors and NGOs had moved on, the local communities were left with not much at all. I became convinced that sustainability could only be achieved when all parties had a vested self-interest that would fuel progress, encourage commitment, and ensure sustainability. Tools like micro-finance and fair trade resonated with me. And so I created House of Wandering Silk in 2010 with the goal of offering a truly sustainable livelihood option to the women we would work with. This is the raison d’être of my company.
House of Wandering Silk is a small team of three, including myself and two Indian colleagues, and we are currently partnering with around 20 organizations, including not-for-profits, weavers’ societies, small family businesses, large trade unions, and directly with master craftspeople. We select partners who are supporting artisans, and work with them to evolve their beautiful textiles, which we turn into clothing to make the textiles more marketable—we’ve worked with thousands of women artisans over the years.
One of our first and oldest partners for over ten years is a cooperative of kantha artisans in rural West Bengal. They were already making exquisite and high quality embroidery when we met, and we’ve worked to evolve the overall aesthetics and range of products made with their kantha. They have 1,400 members in a cluster of villages in Murshidabad; around half of these women would have worked on our kantha over the years.
Prayer beads wrapped in sari remnants make impactful, lightweight, gorgeous necklaces
Our work has been extremely rewarding, and not without challenges. Working with women at home in extremely rural areas on completely handmade processes and with very different quality standards to us means endless variations and irregularities, timelines that are in years not weeks, and countless logistical complications. We are always adjusting our processes to match these realities. Quality checking one scarf the other day, we caught a piece of potato stuck to it and had to pivot! Women will often sit in their kitchen doing embroidery between cooking meals and sometimes we get a small insight into what they like to eat! But the joys of working with the makers and their magical textiles far outweigh such headaches.
I am grateful that Ibu is a champion of the usually unseen artisans behind their wonderful handmade creations. Through our affiliation, Ibu has helped us to provide more work to our producer partners, and widened the market for these special pieces. As Ibu customers and allies, I want to thank you for your passion for the handmade and your appreciation for the extraordinary women who are behind the products you love! If you feel far removed from the lives and worlds of the artisans, I can tell you as someone who is positioned squarely between our artisans in India and the Ibu customer, that every action of support has a direct impact on the women who create. It sends a message of solidarity to the artisan that their work is valued, their skill seen. It puts money in their pocket, and this builds confidence as well as independence. Spare a thought for the impact you’re having next time you choose to invest in an Ibu piece.
Creative Director and Founder, House of Wandering Silk