KATIE ROSE IS CREATING THREADS TO CHANGE THE WORLD. AS A CO-FOUNDER OF THE FABRIC SOCIAL, SHE’S LEADING THE WAY IN SUSTAINABLE AUSTRALIAN DESIGNS MADE WITH SOUL THAT TRANSFORM THE LIVES OF WOMEN AFFECTED BY ARMED CONFLICT. SHARING HER TIME BETWEEN AUSTRALIA AND INDIA, SHE’S A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION ON A MISSION TO WAGE PEACE, ONE STITCH AT A TIME.
MEET KATIE ROSE FROM THE FABRIC SOCIAL ...
Katie, what’s the story behind The Fabric Social?
The story behind The Fabric Social is about celebrating the grassroots entrepreneurship of women affected by armed conflict. We wanted to shake up a system that is predominantly reliant on charity and aid by creating a social business that benefits local women producers and connects them with global conscious consumers. The result is being able to make a sustainable income and return to women the time and resources they deserve so they can participate fully in their community and its future.
Women wear the greatest burden of war and it creates intergenerational poverty and disadvantage that breeds more violence. The poverty/conflict cycle can’t be broken from the outside because ultimately peace starts at home, so that’s why women’s economic independence in communities affected by armed conflict is so important.
How do you differ from other fashion labels?
We differ from other fashion labels because our supply chain is completely transparent.
We work directly with the women who grow the castor trees that the silk worms eat, the women who hand-rear the silk worms and harvest their thread using non-violent methods (our silk is vegetarian), the women who loom the fabric in the traditional way etc. The women work for themselves and we purchase materials directly from the producers so we can cut out the middleman (no pun intended).
We also incorporate sustainable fashion design into our garments. Our clothing is Australian designed by Melbourne lass Ally Dean and follows zero waste and sustainable design principles so that our label makes a positive social and environmental impact.
Who is your biggest inspiration for doing good?
I always champion the underdog so I gain inspiration from individuals and communities who are in any kind of “David and Goliath” battle. If I see someone on the news or read in the paper about a very ordinary person taking on a big corporate, a government department, speaking out against corruption, human rights abuses - whatever it may be, wherever in the world - I get an instant feeling of electricity through my body. I love everyday unsung heroes and there are lots of them, so I never feel short of inspiration.
The Fabric Social has done a lot of crowd funding to get where we are, and for me that symbolises a lot of people power and individuals donating their hard earned cash because they want to see a change in the world too. Our supporters and the women we work with in Assam are a continual source of inspiration to keep on fighting the good fight.
This month’s theme at The Wellbeing Collective is Success– dream big and achieve greatness. What does it take for you to chase your dreams?
I have two speeds, stop and go. So when I’m on a roll I’m filled with energy and passion that I direct towards a specific goal for myself or for The Fabric Social. When I stop I almost have to hibernate to rebuild that energy. Hibernating for me involves a lot of lazing about, watching Netflix, playing lots of video games, and just generally being a content sloth for a while. I am happiest when I’m able to achieve the balancing act between having enough energy to fire on all cylinders and chase dreams, and then being able to take a little hibernation break to re-fuel and reflect.
How has The Fabric Social changed the lives of those involved?
Since the project began in August 2014 we’ve been able to more than double the daily household income of the 20 artisans we’ve engaged. Single women-headed households with up to 6-8 dependents are commonplace in communities affected by armed conflict. Compounded with gender inequality, ethnic and caste discrimination, and regional insecurity – putting enough food on the table is really difficult. Daughters are often kept home from school to tend to the household and children, sons are sent to work early to supplement income, and women work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. The Fabric Social provides an opportunity for women to work from home and provide a safe and sustainable income for themselves and their families. This means boys and girls can go to school and women have the time and resources to have better opportunities.
One of the weavers for The Fabric Social bought a scooter for the first time so she could drop her kids at school and run errands quicker, another weaver bought school books for her eldest daughter to start attending school again. The Fabric Social is all about creating and measuring those small but tangible and practical impacts that make life easier in a very difficult and remote place.
What’s your big dream for women everywhere?
The creation of equal opportunity. Not just between women and men, but equality for all women – gay, straight, trans, migrant, refugee, aboriginal, religious or not, married or not, young, old, whatever. Feminism fights a distinct battle depending on how a woman identifies herself and the specific challenges that she will inevitably face based on her identity. Unity is important for achieving gender equality but so is celebrating and recognising our diversity as women. I love to hear from women of different backgrounds about their experience of gender inequality and what they consider important for the feminist movement. I think my experiences in India have taught me that women speak the same language at some point. A consistent theme amongst particular communities of disadvantage is the lack of equal access to opportunities in employment, education etc.
As a young white woman born in Australia I know I have benefited from opportunities that others don’t have, and I know that my mother had even less opportunities as a young woman than I did, and her mother before her. I don’t pretend to know the struggle of all women, but I hope I can be a good ally to the sisterhood and pitch in where I can to help strengthen the movement.
What role does wellbeing play in your work/organisation/ products?
I think wellbeing is sewn into every garment of The Fabric Social – not just wellbeing for the women producers and their families, but also the wellbeing of the environment and wellbeing of the consumers who buy products that are ethical and make a positive impact. This is reflected in the clothing because every garment of The Fabric Social has the name of the individual weaver of that fabric on the tag – it’s a constant reminder that The Fabric Social is a collective of women working to advance the ultimate wellbeing of women globally.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it to reach success?
Challenges come thick and fast for us constantly and because we are a small enterprise, ultimately every challenge has the potential to break us. So I would answer this question by saying that the solution is always to work together. There's been no problem so big that myself, my co-founders, and our team of volunteer consultants haven’t been able to solve by working together and sharing the load. We’ve been broke, flush with cash, broke again, stuck at customs, delayed, and rained out during the monsoon season many a time – I guess the way we deal with it is just to persevere.
We’ve had lots of highlights including global finalist in the UN Women Singapore & Mastercard Project Inspire and winning a Macquarie Bank Kickstarter Competition. Enjoying the high points of being recognized from the outside is definitely crucial to maintaining stamina over the darker times. Celebrate every win, big or small.
What advice do you have for others who have a big dream to follow their passions and make a difference?
1. Take a chance. Entrepreneurship is very risky, and social enterprise is new and risky, so if you spent your time calculating the chances of success then no one would ever do it, ever.
2. Don’t wait for a bunch of money to land in your lap, because capital doesn’t provide you with automatic security or longevity for your project. Start poor and it will make you more creative in your problem solving. Raise your own money, crowdfund, win competitions etc., and then prove your concept before expecting others to get behind it. I say this because the co-founders have been working on The Fabric Social for two years and we haven’t drawn a wage (yet), but so far we’ve been sustaining ourselves and pumping every cent back into the project, social impact, and product development. Our shit ideas have failed regardless of whether they were well funded or not, and our best ideas have flourished out of the same predicament.
What does the future hold for The Fabric Social?
Ultimately we want to replicate and scale our project to create a conscious design label that works with women affected by conflict across the globe. I believe that one big project simply can’t have the same social impact that 1000 smaller ones can – so we see The Fabric Social in the future as a collective of women producers around the world making beautiful products for people who want a kinder world.
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