Catherine Allie' | Founder We are Kal

We are Kal, which literally translates into We are yesterday and tomorrow. A Conscious slow fashion brand that makes hand spun and hand woven silk and wool products, all Made by Artisans in India. We got talking to Catherine, The founder of the brand to understand her journey. 

Tell us your story ( India connection, your background, education etc)Why Kal? 

I have always been a very curious person, also rather fearless growing up with three brothers. My family travelled regularly and when I was in high school I spent 1,5 years in New Zealand. After that many more trips around the world followed which got me interested in cultures and languages. I studied business administration in Paris. Initially fascinated by fashion design, my love for handcrafted textiles began when I moved to India in 2012 for an internship in a social start up. In India I realised that having high ambitions and the willingness to take risks, one can start a business, even with the most unconventional idea. Kal started more like a project but I quickly realised that creating revenue is essential for sustainable growth. When I returned to Germany in 2015 it officially became a business.  

At the moment you work with people in Ladakh region, Himachal and assam. What was the criteria to select the current communities? Was it an organic growth? Are you thinking of working with more communities? 

The places actually happened quite randomly, besides Himachal Pradesh. In Himachal, a friend of mine who is a weaver creates stunning textiles of very high quality in his home with his wife. So I thought that it is essential to have them in the team. Ladakh and Assam were more selected based on the raw material available there. The different kinds of wool in Ladakh and the beautiful eri silk of Assam were materials that really caught my attention. From there on, I started establishing a team of nomads, spinners, dyers and weavers. The growth has definitely been very organic. I live with the team and the work happens directly on the spot without the involvement of middlemen or NGOs. So we have to develop trust within the team and go at our pace. It’s like we are all entrepreneurs under the umbrella of Kal.

I would love to work with more communities in the future. I am dreaming about certain raw materials that would be a great addition. It’s in the planning but it will be an organic process once again. 

What is the future of creative and sustainable businesses? Is it more than a trend? How aware is the audience of the product and it's story?  

Surely it is the way forward and more than a trend. Customers want more information about their products. The more the customer knows about it the more he or she can appreciate it. It is also about gaining knowledge – how a textile is made, by who and how long it takes. By revealing the processes, the true value can be understood.  

What are the main challenges of working in India with an unorganised niche sector? 

The working style is of course very different. People often work at their own pace – as it fits in the daily life. As our work happens from the weavers’ homes, the family is around, lunch needs to be cooked and so on. Then there are festivals and weddings and monsoon, all having an impact on the pace. It is important to keep this in mind and therefore, plan long ahead.  

Travel influenced your work. Does it still do? How do you think creativity and consciousness are linked to travel.

Yes, travelling still has a big impact on my work. I have the usual day-to-day tasks that I am doing through phone and laptop, but in every region I stay, there are different manual tasks – such as sourcing and processing the wool in Ladakh and natural dyeing in Assam. This change is refreshing and I really enjoy being so involved in the manual work.

Aside from this, I feel inspired by the cultures of our team. It allows me to learn that there are many paths leading to the same goal. I also love documenting traditional dresses and practices of the people.

Surely, the most magical and inspiring moments are from the first time you visit a place.

 Could you give us a list of your favourites things to do in Ladakh.  

Of course, going trekking is a favorite for me and I think for anybody travelling to Ladakh. Not only is the landscape fascinating, doing a longer tour is also a mental and physical challenge, so essential for personal growth and confidence. So this is definitely a must do. The Stok La trek is a great and challenging trek for 2 nights / 3 days.

For coffee and cake I can highly recommend the Lala Café, close to the main market in Leh, in an ancient building with a cosy roof top terrace.


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