Tradition in Every Stitch

March 2, 2018

Madhu and Partha both have daughters, diverse business experience, and a passion for their heritage. Their collaboration that led to Bloom & Give was almost inevitable. Madhu begins, “Ours is a textile-centric story. We both were in consulting, startups, and healthcare and about three years back we were helping a friend sew some fabrics from Jaipur and we fell in love with the process. We realized there are so many beautiful things from India that are undiscovered. And having lived in the US for twenty years, we felt this urge to reconnect with India and connect with artisans to support their craft so that the traditions we grew up with would last, because otherwise they’ll be gone soon."

Making traditional crafts relevant and sustainable is a cause that is dear to Madhu and Partha. It is clear that this project is driven by passion more than anything else, as Madhu reflects on the logistics of actually starting the business, “On the product side, it has been a journey for us. When we started Bloom & Give, we started off very small on a consignment model testing out a product plan. We started with scarves, then block printed napkins, then a textile leather bag. Over time, we’ve tried to develop products for ‘her and her home.’ So the categories were scarves and bags, and last year we started going down the home path. One of the products we developed, which is in CAUSEBOX, is tea towels. And this is a pretty personal story for me, because these towels come from Kerala, India, about two hours from where I grew up. Going home and working with artisans there, and bringing the products back and now seeing them featured in magazines is very gratifying. It’s truly zero-footprint production—there’s no power in the place!—and it’s a meaningful way for the artisans to earn a real living and reconnect with their craft.”

Partha adds, “The state where our towels are from is the wettest in all of India, so the clothes that the people in this region wear are very loose—even the men wear loose skirts. When the Portuguese came 500 years ago, they introduced the concept of the loom, and that transformed the way they manufacture and envision fabrics. One of the things we do is try to reimagine that highly-absorbent fabric made from the looms traditionally used to make apparel in a wet, humid region.” This reminds Madhu, “Even the design of the tea towel is a very traditional design: Mundu, this design is what men and women actually wear, we picked the black borders directly from one of those traditional designs.” And then Partha adds, “That’s actually an interesting story, the whole resurgence of block printing is attributed to a French woman named Bridget Singh. So, an outsider had to come in and rediscover this art of block printing! She moved to Jaipur, and today so many block printers are influenced by her designs.” 

The two men have an infectious passion for craftsmanship, tradition, and mission, and they are so knowledgeable about the history and processes behind each product that it’s easy to forget that they only recently entered the craft goods world. Madhu finally brings it to the conversation, “ We want to give back, and since we come from the business world, we wanted to give back through a business angle. We worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and settled on girls’ education in India, which is the second part of this story. We are strongly committed to it, and give 10% of our profits, no matter the sales channel, to girls’ education.” 

Partha elaborates, "After 3 years, we feel that out partnership was absolutely the right choice—and we feel that it is a very important need, and a very simple, direct mechanism to affect girls’ lives. It’s incredibly hard to ignore the inequity that girls face in a rural society. The average age of marriage is 14, most girls become mothers by 18, only 1 out of 100 girls completes high school. The connection between education and societal issues is very strong. When girls complete middle school, they almost always break the cycle that their mothers were likely a part of. So, when you compare now to 10 or 15 years back, a lot of women are now in charge of workshops, villages, and politics, which was unheard of before.” 

Here, the entire story comes full-circle, as Partha says, "Madhu and I are both fathers of daughters—he has two and I have one—and they go to school here in Dallas and have completely different lives than so many young women, and that personally motivates us to create a startup effort to get more girls into schools.” He continues, “Last year, as we grew and funded more, we began looking at villages that have very specific and acute needs. It is a lot more granular now, we get specific requests, and now we have a full time person in India who helps manage aid requests, vets them, and helps us fund these projects.” And Madhu concludes, “Our goal is to commit a million dollars a year to girls’ education—that’s how we think about what it would mean for this business to succeed.” 

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John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.