The Three Stories We Should All Think About More
Whether we know them or not, everything we wear tells three stories.
- There is the story of who made it, and where and how they made it, and whether they earned a wage to support their family in the process.
- There is the story of what it is made of, whether it's a plant or animal-based fiber grown from earth and sun, or a synthetic fiber made from plastics and oil.
- And there is the story of how long it will last--whether it is designed to quickly fade out of fashion, or to be cherished and passed on for generations.
For most of what we wear, it is almost impossible to find the first story, and we are encouraged to ignore the second and third. Major clothing brands can work with hundreds of factories in dozens of countries, and sorting out who made the clothes and whether they're working under fair conditions is a challenge investigative journalists can barely puzzle through. We are expected to be uninterested in these three stories, and to simply fill our closets and our homes with whatever we find attractive and affordable at any given moment.
When I first had the inkling of an idea for Advah Designs, I knew that I wanted these three stories to be at the heart of every Jewish ritual object I created.
As a weaver and maker myself, the story of how things are made has always intrigued me. And these three stories seem to me to be especially important when we choose the prayer shawls (tallit) and wedding canopies (chuppah) that we will use for our life cycle transitions and then carry with us through the rest of our lives.
So, story at the center. Supporting makers whose work I could be proud of. Shouldn't be that hard, right?
Almost two years ago, I spent days wandering round and round the Garment District in New York City asking wholesalers where and how their fabric was made. They looked at me like I was crazy. So few designers and apparel manufacturers are asking these questions--not because they don't care, necessarily, but because they're just trying to survive and thrive in an industry where customers seem to be most interested in what's cheap and quick to make before they move onto the next fad. So I plodded along on 37th street, feeling naive and out of my league and ready to give up before I'd even started.
And then I met Smita Paul, founder of Indigo Handloom.
Founded in 2003, Indigo Handloom is a mission-driven for-profit social enterprise supplying handwoven fabrics and scarves to the fashion industry. In the past 12 years, Indigo Handloom has created hundreds of thousands of scarves and fabrics with a workforce of several hundred weavers, spinners and dyers in rural Indian villages. By making handwoven fabrics, their weavers can make a living for themselves while supporting an average of eight family members.
As I sat with Smita and felt the many hundreds of fabrics her weavers create, I was quickly drawn to a special fabric that was a blend of silk and handspun khadi cotton. It is heavenly soft and so full of character, and I could immediately picture it with the signature Advah tallit stripes I'd been imagining. I felt the threads between my fingers and thought:This is holy cloth. So fitting for the tallits it will become.
This is the beginning of our story.
Handcrafted from start to finish, and made with love for our communities near and far. When you stand with your community to pray in an Advah tallit, this is the sacred story you are joining.
Indigo Handloom recently launched a Kickstarter to bring their own clothes and scarves directly to new customers. As a testament to how people are hungering for a connection to the people who make their clothes: they met their funding goal in five days! But you still have fifteen days left to make a pledge and I encourage you to check it out and find something for yourself or a gift for a friend.
And of course, if you're looking for one of our special handwoven tallits, you can find them here, with new styles and colors coming this fall.
In the coming weeks, I'll be sharing more stories about the makers behind our prayer shawls and wedding canopies: the inspiring team of women on Cape Cod who sew the prayer shawls, the folks who are spinning our tzitzit fringes, and the story of the Make-Your-Own-Tallit Kit that I'm developing. In the meantime, please consider sharing this post with your friends, and sign up below to join us as we create new stories and strengthen our community together.