Several months ago, I received an email from The IOU Project inviting me to check out their website and get to know them and their concept. I was more than impressed with what I saw and absolutely fell in love with this short video (the 3 Minute Video link at the bottom left of their homepage will take you there too) that tells the story of IOU.
IOU brings tradition and technology together in many unique ways - the concept of a Trunk Show is one of them. It is described thusly :
Back in the day, when a fashion designer wanted to showcase a collection, he or she would take to the road with a heavy suitcase or trunk stuffed with goods and show off them off to friends. We let you do the same - but on the web. No heavy lifting required.
Instead of running a garden variety plug for them on this blog, I offered to interview Kavita Parmar, the Founder and Creative Director of IOU, and she most graciously accepted. You can tell she is passionate about her idea and has the energy it takes to bring dreams to fruition. I wish Kavita the very best and hope to chat with her again sometime in the future.
HC : How would you introduce the IOU Project to someone who has never heard about it ?
KP : I have 2 answers for that :
Mission - The IOU Project is born from the need to both empower the artisan and celebrate uniqueness using the full scope of modern technology. The idea is that the fashion business, when carried out with true transparency and authenticity, can elicit extraordinary reactions and foster a shared sense of responsibility from its customers, partners and suppliers – towards each other and the environment.
Business - The IOU Project is a social commerce website selling its own brand´s revolutionary mass customized apparel and accessories line while building it´s on line direct sales network.
HC : I love the 3 minute IOU Project video that introduces your concept. It is beautifully made ! You mention in it that the buyer is part of the process. Does that mean the buyer can design the piece they will buy ?
KP: Thank you am glad you enjoyed the film .When we mention the buyer being a part of the story we mean that they are visible to everyone in the chain as the artisans are. They can take a picture of themselves and link it to the product they have bought to complete the story , talk about themselves and even sell and promote the product through our Trunk Show Host model The artisans love to see who bought the piece they hand made. We don´t have the buyer designing but they can curate products on our site by becoming a trunk show host which is a great way to get involved and make some money in the process.
HC: Is the idea of IOU unique in the world of fashion ?
KP :We have not seen anything executed like this exactly. Taking heritage artisan sources and working with designers , other artisans and technology to create a modern easy to wear pieces that have full traceability and transparency. But it is clearly a trend as there are many designers and labels who are becoming more and more careful with where and how they source their products. There is a clear demand from the consumer to know more.
HC. The one thing I noticed was the lack of variety in the fabrics. When one thinks of India, the sheer profusion of weaving styles and patterns is what comes to mind. Is this intentional ?
KP : We started the project with the Madras weavers as it is not a small feat to document and give full traceability back to each individual in the supply chain.We wanted to start with one artisan group to ensure we were thorough and also to start with a clear identity . We are already working with other artisan groups in India and overseas to create other product lines going forward.
HC: Why do you think the price point of the your products would be compelling for buyers who have a large number of options to choose from - even if they were looking for something niche and not mass produced ?
KP: Our price points are the same as J Crew and Abercrombie and Fitch which are brands with mass distribution and appeal. At the same price as those brands you as a consumer can have a totally unique piece with an incredible story that is truly helping preserve a traditional craft, we believe that to be a compelling argument
HC: Would you consider sellers on Etsy your competition ?
KP : We don't think we are like etsy , we are more about mass customisation, about aggregating artisan small productions and creating collaborations to address the mass market.We are big fans of ETSY though
HC: What role is social media playing in getting the word out about your fashion line ?
KP: Fundamental, we have been a grassroots movement and the idea has spread as individuals with whom it resonated have taken it upon themselves to move it forward and talk about it. We are incredible grateful and the participation of our customers and Facebook followers has been very important. There are over 400,000 blog entries 1,5 million Google citations of the IOU Project . There is still a long way to go but we are very happy with the journey so far
HC: What are some of the biggest operational challenges you face ?
KP : Right now it is funding to keep up the momentum as we have made a huge investment in this first phase to get the project up and running and it has all been personal. There is a huge amount of interest from big brands who want to create co-branded products and artisan groups who want to work with us to create new product lines. we are a young and small company so keeping up the demand on time and resources just with this is a big challenge.
HC: Where do you see IOU being five years out ?
KP: That it becomes and industry standard to create product with full transparency and traceability that will give its due to everyone involved. That the IOU project becomes a global brand with many many artisan groups involved. There is so much heritage to preserve , so many people whose way of life is threatened in the world. As you mentioned just in India alone the numbers of hand-loom weaving communities is immense.
HC: What has been the response of the artisans to this venture and how are they spreading the word in their community ?
KP: They are incredibly proud to be part of this project. They have never been made to be such a protagonist in this process. These are very skilled and fiercely independent people, they want to preserve their culture and way of life as they work for themselves , all they wanted is to earn a little bit more and not have to compete with cheap machine made imports.
HC: Is IOU strictly about "woven in India" or are you open to considering weavers elsewhere in the world ?
KP: The IOU Project is not about a country , we started in India as I am an Indian and the rich cultural heritage of India was there for me to begin with but we are already working with Artisans in Japan for our real Indigo hand woven selvedge denim which you can see in our current collection. We are being contacted by many artisan groups worldwide and we intent to follow this dream to as far as we can.