We are KAL
My female entrepreneur today is Catherine Allié, a founder of We are Kal, based in Ladakh, India.
We are KAL is an apparel company that makes garments from natural fibers farmed, spun, woven and dyed in rural India.
Originally from Germany, Catherine has been living in India since 2012 and founded KAL after 9-month research in early 2014. In 2017, Catherine was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe.
It was a great pleasure meeting another impressive and inspiring female entrepreneur.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.
The idea of KAL started in May 2013. I was living in India, working in the luxury industry and always had the desire to discover more of the Indian textiles and fibers. Over the years in Europe and India, I observed that so many products don’t tell the whole story or are even labeled wrong, especially concerning fibers used. This did not comply with my idea of making art or an object. This is just creating a product, not mentioning its origins and falsely claiming its ingredients to the final customer.
Here is where my love for discovery and the unknown came in and I just knew I had to go out and find people who produce natural fiber and make it into textiles. I have always been into fashion and textiles as well as different cultures, so that’s where I decided to start research to get a deeper understanding of the making of textiles.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
It totally depends on the season – in the summer just after the wool harvest the day starts very early, being outside all day washing and sorting the wool. During the winter I visit customers and attend exhibitions and markets in Europe.
In the early spring we often visit our team in Assam where we are dyeing yarn and weaving samples all day long. Of course, each day there is also a bit of computer work, some days more than others. This diversity in everyday life keeps me motivated and productive. The combination of manual work and computer work is a great balance.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
The KAL has started in February 2014 over 9-month research when I traveled to Northeast India and Ladakh to find the people who are now the team. I returned to Delhi after the research, still working part-time and planning the distribution, product range, logistics and so on.
In March 2015 I moved back to my home country Germany to officially sign up the business and study the market of our products. I was working part-time which gave me financial flexibility to some degree. My friend Lisanne helped a lot with general ideas and graphics, I had an intern who became our patternmaker and hired a professional web designer with a very limited budget to create our website.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?
The biggest achievement is the involvement of people, passing on skills and changing the image of the weaver in the society. Here in India, the home-based weavers are rather low on the social ladder and it is important to change this image and we have been successful at doing so.
The biggest challenge is the little moments when you doubt and wonder if it makes sense. Then it is important to have a strong will to continue and to believe in his work.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?
We followed a low-cost, organic growth model. We did not have a big budget at all and preferred to have an authentic following with time. So we were patient and diligent.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
In the future we still see ourselves working with wool from Ladakh and eri silk from Assam with our teams. Our big goal is to pass on the textile arts to the next generation and to motivate young people to continue their work.
Regarding our products, I hope that we can successfully include the culturally important textiles in our collection. There are some textiles that are no longer woven due to lack of customers or benefits but have great cultural value.
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
PLEASE RECOMMEND ANY RESOURCES AND TOOLS THAT YOU USE TO RUN YOUR BUSINESS.
For an online shop, I recommend Shopify, in terms of social media I find Instagram very useful and besides that, I am a bit old school and find a note and sketchbook a great resource.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Develop a strong belief, but be open to criticism and question your idea. Try to reconcile your work as a founder with the lifestyle you want.
Work smart, not hard: take your time for yourself and your hobbies.
Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.
If you are interested to share your own story on the Biz Ladies LET ME KNOW!