Can a dress made next to a golden cow, change our view on fashion?
My name is Jeanne Zizi Margot de Kroon. My parents must have given me this name because they knew I was going to become a storyteller. Thus far I haven’t gained any success as a writer; I have however as a fashion designer. Ironic given that fact that I had no formal training as a tailor nor any education in fashion at all. Ironic given the fact that I was working with sewers that had never stitched a dress in their lives before. Ironic as this was in a village that had more of a goat and golden cow vibe than a high fashion appeal. Yet, Bhikamkor in rural Rajasthan and the women that live and work there in a small blue house, have established their names in the international luxury fashion market.
It all started with a connection in between two women.
Me, being a 24 year old slightly amateur dutch fashion woman, turned entrepreneur, who was eager to translate her love for 1970’s vintage silk ikat from the fergana region in Uzbekistan and her passion for sustainable development, into the luxury fashion market.
Madhu ji, who is a 38 year old indian woman, who lives with her two sons in the blue city of Jodhpur and desired to change the lives of women in a small rural village 2 hours in to the desert. Madhu visited the village of Bhikamkor a few years ago. Contrary to how most people would asses this deserted desert village, Madhu saw great potential in this village in the middle of nowhere. For some reason she saw the future of ethical fashion there. She was visionary enough to see magic, to place value, to a village that only had a few blue houses and 2 golden cows.
We liked each other for the beginning. Her eyes sparkled while she was sharing her inspiring story with me, over an indian thali. Madhu started her NGO with 100 dollars and big dreams in rural Rajasthan. I started my fashion line with 500 euros and big dreams in Germany. She told me that if I really wanted to support the course of her NGO, I had to become a fashion designer.
The last time I designed something, was when I made my graduation dress. I made it from an old curtain and although I was quite proud of it, I would not say I was cut out to be a fashion designer. But I was so impressed by Madhu that I had to find a way to create a story with this woman. Therefore, I drew a dress on a napkin at the Thali restaurant, handed it to Madhu and she took me to her saree tailor called ‘Master Ji’ the next day. From an old indian newspapers, he made a pattern, based on my funny curry restaurant drawing, while smoking palm leaf cigarettes and drinking chai.
I remember how we arrived in Bhikamkor with Master Ji’s newspaper pattern and my handwoven silk and showed it to Rukiya a woman who, at the time, had never stitched a dress before in her life. She never questioned the pattern nor the skill set. She simply made fun of it’s length and asked me how I was actually going to wear this dress without pants.
After a month I left the village with 7 dresses made by the women in this blue house in rural Rajasthan and had no idea that this would catalyse into a huge fashion success. It was a restaurant conversation, that turned into an Idea, a napkin sketch that turned into a fashion line, the pairing of two passionate women that were so different yet unified in one vision that turned in to an entrepreneurial venture, has changed our lives and the lives of many.
This is one of the many stories that ethical fashion can have. To my excitement it is gaining more and more global attention and appreciation. From Kenyan ‘Maasai‘ beading on the Italian catwalk to Ghanaian ‘Kente‘ weaving presented at Buckingham palace during London fashion week. It is clearly 'in fashion' right now.
As a white dutch women with a fashion company in rural India, I’d say all this attention is to be taken with a pinch of salt as not all designers create their collection with integrity and publicly acknowledge the rich and deep origen of those fabrics, nor tell the history and stories behind them, let alone give portions of their proceeds back to where they got their “inspiration” from. I am aware that this is a very controversial issue in the fashion industry. I do however believe that the attention and conversations that spring from it can positively affect and re-shape the way we look at the fashion industry.
Meeting Madhu has taught me about the power that fashion can have when it carries a authentic story. I am looking forward to talking about this and giving you the bigger picture behind ethical fashion.