Indian summer: The accessories brand inspired by natural fibres

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From finding tiny artisan co-ops in India to championing natural waste materials, Common Texture fill us in on what it's really like running an ethical business.

Georgina Wilson-Powell 17 April 2018

Common Texture is an accessories and homewares store with a difference. 

It focuses on natural fibre products made by artisans in India and Asia and is run by Gail Barratt, Svintha Bootsma and Hop Phan, who bonded over their love of Indian textiles. The trio fill us in on the power of collaboration and anti-mass production.

(PLUS scroll down to the bottom for an exclusive discount for Common Texture's awesome organic bedding).

How did you all meet and set up Common Texture?

Common Texture is made up of three women, a melting-pot of French, Dutch, Swiss, Vietnamese, English and Australian - we’re a cross-cultural partnership.

We met when we all lived in India; we formed a firm friendship based on a common love of Indian travel and the array of textile techniques it had to offer.

We wanted to create an intrepid collection of handcrafted homewares, accessories and travel goods, exclusively designed with global crafts people. And we wanted to take a piece of India with us when we left and running an online store was a great way to keep our connection to Mother India whilst exploring other Asian handicrafts.

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Common Texture's Gail Barratt, Svintha Bootsma and Hop Phan bonded over their love of Indian textiles

How do you discover new artisans and sustainable products?

The best part of our job is exploring vast unknown lands in search of inspiring crafts people.

The simple truth is, we stop the car in tiny villages in rural Asia, stretch our legs, drink some tea and chat to the locals. It’s amazing how hospitable people can be if you show an interest in the world around them. These villages we visit are always famous for creating something, inevitably we get introduced to something amazing.

Usually it starts with purchasing some local crafts. We might take it home try it out, churn through possibilities of how we can use that particular skill and material and make something completely different for our own market.

As all of our products are limited edition we don't use a lot of workshops. Mostly we use crafting communities that are independently run by the families living there.

We are anti mass-production. We feel that mass production consumerism beats down people’s individuality as a consumer and a producer. Imagine the tedium of creating a single product 10,000 times, it breaks the human spirit.

We don’t want to put that kind of pressure on our small collective artisans, we prefer they guide us with what’s achievable. We run smaller batches or try different products or variations keeping everyone inspired. We very much stand by our philosophy of 'hand made, one piece at a time'.

We personally like to visit all our studios, so we can get to know our artisans and their processes. For example we chose our block printing studio as it is a sustainable, Fairtrade, eco-friendly workshop that uses organic dye for its hand block printing. It’s a business that has been handed down from mother to daughter and has been thriving since 1977.

We have each made the trek out to our weaver collective in South India to learn how they make sustainable banana fibre rope.

"We are anti mass-production. We feel that mass production consumerism beats down people’s individuality as a consumer and a producer"

How did you discover banana fibre to make products out of?

The first time we discovered this gorgeous little weaving community in South India, we were mesmerised by the nimble fingers weaving banana fiber rope into all manner of products. 

A small group of women sat on the floor forming a weaving circle, while the men in the village harvest the banana plantation to make the rope. We were just so amazed at the versatility and strength of this product combined with the color and texture after weaving.

We have created several products with this community in beautiful banana fibre, including a wonderful shopper bag.

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The banana fibre crossbody bag is made in collaboration with a weaving co-op in South India

What links all of your products together?

The use of natural fibers throughout every product range is what we’re all about. From our 100% flax linen bedding rangeto upcycled cotton yoga mat bags and our lightweight wooden earrings. Everything is handmade, one piece at a time, using our intrepid designs by skilled artisans with traditional techniques.

If you can't get to your dream destination right now, let Common Texture bring a bit of it to you.

What was the 'light bulb moment' that lead to setting up an ethical store?

It all comes down to the products – finding that traditionally made item that makes you forget the dusty, hot travel. When we find something truly unique it makes us want to collaborate and share our passion.

There are so many beautiful products out there in the world that do not need to be produced in factories with inferior materials. We want our customers to become the owners of a quality limited edition piece; we want them to know the story behind the products.

What's been your biggest challenge so far?

Collaborating in foreign countries has its challenges that's for sure, there are vast cultural nuances when it comes to doing business.

What we try to practice consistently is to treat our artisans with respect, humanity and fairness not only to build a rapport for future business, but to help sustain the small communities where they live.

But we’ve ended up in some pretty hilarious situations as well. Even the most mundane task, like searching for the perfect zip can turn into a full day adventure – complete with trying to move a sacred but stubborn cow from a doorway and endless cups of chai.

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The Do Good Yoga Mat Bag is made from 100% upcycled fabrics

How important is zero waste to you?

It is very important. Living in India has exposed us to fabric waste as a by-product of mass production. Leftover and surplus fabric end up in landfills or at best in local neighbourhoods where fabric sellers try to make a living reselling it. 

Wherever possible we create our designs using carefully selected premium quality upcycled fabrics and trimmings in an attempt to reduce waste. That’s how products like our Do Good Yoga Bag are created. It is the main reason we choose to produce in small runs, to keep control of materials and to oversee usage.

What artisans or crafters are you most proud of supporting?

Our weavers in South India are a pretty cool bunch of ladies to collaborate with, they enjoy the modern designs we come to the table with and we have a good laugh.

We are also happy that the block print studio we use is able to find some new recruits to learn the skills handed down from the masters. At one point it was looking like this ancient technique might die out. 

Thankfully there has been a resurgence in interest in this traditional technique, as people shun the chemically driven printing process formed in factories. Seeing traditionally skilled artisans go from strength to strength and helping to share their story is what keeps us going.

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Common Texture

Common Texture’s heart lies in India. It supports craft communities and generations of artisans and embraces the handcrafted as each piece is created by the human hand. From 23 April until 23 May 2018, pebble readers get 15% Common Texture's bedding range. Use the code: COMMONTEXTURELINEN15.

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