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Product, Service & Design Innovation
What We Wear Can Make a Global Difference

In an ideal COMMON day, every little thing you do effortlessly contributes to the health and well-being of the planet and all the creatures on it. Skeptical?

Consider, then, the story of Sanjay Rajan and Tricia O’Keefe, their company SLOWCOLOR, a few beautiful scarves and a big but attainable vision.

Pearl pollutionWe start with this well-known satellite image of the Pearl river in China, literally dyed an unnatural, chemical blue by some of the 15,000 denim factories in “Cowboy City,” Xintang, China, dumping fabric dye into the waterways, creating a toxic stew of environmental damage and serious health concerns.

Then consider the high incidence of pollution and poisoning around the world caused by chemicals sprayed on cotton plants at the front end of the fabric supply chain. Add to these already huge issues the steady demise of home-based handlooming (and a shocking rise in suicide rates among home weavers) due to the rise of megafactory manufacturing, and you have a confrontation that stopped Rajan dead in his tracks.

It’s a story of pollution, depression and inequality. About the loss of a handcrafted tradition and centuries of art and artisanship, literally going down the river. And of a company dedicated to righting some of these wrongs.

“This is my hometown, my home state,” Rajan says about Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, “and you have all these home-based handlooming artisans literally no longer being able to make a living. You had a steep rise in suicides, which of course is a huge tragedy in human terms, and you also have this massive loss of tradition and artisanship, a tragedy from a cultural perspective. For no good reason.”

So in 2010, he and O’Keefe started rethinking the fashion supply chain. They envisioned a hub-and-spoke approach to a natural dyeing and handlooming process that would:

  1. supply fair living wages to millions,
  2. remove tons of toxins from the environment and
  3. deliver beautiful fashion supporting time-honored traditions of home-based artisanship.

In India alone, there are an estimated 4.3 to 5.6 million home-based handloomers.

“Now imagine,” O’Keefe says, “that those millions of home businesses could be networked together into the world’s largest virtual fair-trade non-factory factory with the scale to produce natural and naturally dyed fabrics for an entire industry.

“In one collaborative move you get economies of scale, reduction of chemical pollution along with its associated health risks and the preservation of a cultural tradition,” she continues.

Already a recognized thought leader in this movement, SLOWCOLOR has been invited into the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise — a collaboration between the US Department of State and the Aspen Institute — where Rajan sits on the Steering Committee along with representatives from Walmart, West Elm and others. SLOWCOLOR is an Ethical Fashion Forum Fellow, a Green America–approved business and a certified B Corp. All of which says to us that the SLOWCOLOR dream is well on its way to becoming reality.

So we say: “Thanks, Tricia and Sanjay, for taking care of the planet and all the creatures on it.” Heroes, both of you.

Find SLOWCOLOR scarves and wraps on the COMMON Marketplace.


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