Mention global business and huge corporations come to mind.
Slow Color is a global business but the only thing huge about them is their heart and ambitions to change their community.
by Donna Druchunas | Images by Slow Color
On a sunny, summer afternoon, strolling around a street fair in Boulder, Colorado, I spotted linen out of the corner of my eye. Linen scarves in subtle hues and a loose gauzy weave were swaying gently in the breeze. I was almost past the booth when I stopped myself and turned around.
“Are these linen?” I asked as I took the fabric of the scarf at the end of the display and rubbed it between my thumb and forefinger. I looked up from the fabric as the dark-haired man in the booth answered me.
“Yes,” he said, “Belgian linen. Spun, dyed, and woven by hand in India.”
“The colours are beautiful.” I ran my fingers across the scarves – blue, blue-black, yellow, green, tan – all subtle shades, all complementary colours. The gentle tones and handmade quality of the scarves stood out in a market full of brightly coloured, mass produced products.
“Natural dyes,” the man said as he handed me a card that read: SLOWCOLOR, Sanjay Rajan, Chief Colrlevolution Officer.
“The blues are indigo, the yellow is pomegranate skins.”
Indigo I was familiar with, but I had never heard of pomegranate skins being used as a dyestuff. “What is used for the black?” I asked.
“Palm sugar and rusty nails.
Taking Mahatma Gandhi, his personal hero, as an example, Rajan decided to find a way to bring India’s rich textile heritage onto the 21st century, while bringing dignity and prosperity to the people who carry on traditional crafts. In his bio, Rajan describes his business as “a social impact [and] focuses on developing stronger markets for India’s handloom sector, — on rejuvenating natural dyeing traditions, and working exclusively with plan and mineral-based dyes for all its products.”
Founded in 2011, Slow Color has a fourfold mission: to provide fashionable accessories, without harming the environment, to create social change, and to preserve cultural heritage.
Flax from Belgium…
Natural Dyes from India…
Customers from North America…
It sound like a multinational conglomerate, but it’s not. Slow Color is a small business striving to provide fair-trade products to customers and a true living wage to artisans. Recently, while talking to a friend about building my own business, i said, “I don’t want to build a business only to make money – I want to create a life that I love.” Slow Color is doing just that for people in India. Working with master dyers and weavers assisted by teams of experienced craftspeople. Slow Color has created a line of fashion-foward, eco-friendly scarves, stoles, throws, and blankets that are made entirely by hand from start to finish.
Born and raised in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, Sanjay Rajan first envisioned Slow Color after he heard that many weavers from his home town of Hyderabad were committing suicide because they could no long make a living. Once powerful and prosperous, practicing traditional handcrafts that had been passed down through generations, these highly-skilled craftsmen and women now face poverty – and the despair that goes along with being unable to support family – on a daily basis.
Linen fabric provides comfort and durability in high-end garments and accessories that are often more expensive in North America than in other parts of the world. Fashionably styled, the scarves, stoles, throws, and blankets produced by Slow Color are reasonably priced and attractive to environmentally conscious consumers in the United States and Canada, where the products are currently sold. (See www.slowcolor. com/pages/where-to-buy for a list of current retail locations.)
Flax, the raw material used to create linen, is a time-honoured, environmentally friendly fibre that requires little or no pesticides or herbicides to grow. It also requires much less water than cotton, its primary competitor, something that is of increasing concern in times of drought and global climate change. Although linen may feel rough when new, it softens with each wash and it is both cooler and warmer than cotton as well.
All of the dyes used in the Slow Color products are native to the
Indian subcontinent and have been used to dye fibre here for millennia. Some colours, such as yellow and orange (from saffron, turmeric, and annatto), pink (from safflower), and brown (from walnut) can be used with no chemical mordant to bind the dye colour to the linen fibre. Others, such as pink (from cochineal or brazilwood), red and orange (from madder), blue-violet and purple (from logwood) are dyed using only natural tannins from plants or food-grade alum as mordant chemicals.
Only indigo is processed as a vat dye, using a much more complex and ancient process of fermenting the dyebath in an earthen pot underground to create the blue colour of jeans that we are so addicted to in casual fashion.
Rajan is working to crowdsource new ideas for products, so customers can be involved in defining future lines. It also allows the company to be as sure as possible that there will be at lucrative market for the finished products and workers can be employed continuously, with no fear of losing their jobs. addition, artisans who work spinning flax, weaving linen, and using natural dyes are paid four times more than those who spin, dye, and weave cotton, so the most qualified and talented craftspeople look for opportunities to work in this new business.
Flax, the raw material used to create linen, is a time honored, environmentally friendly fibre that requires little or no pesticides or herbicides to grow.
Finally, spun on traditional Indian chakra spinning wheels, dyed with local materials, and woven in several different regional single and double-ikat patterns, traditional in India, Slow Color is working to preserve the specialized skills and cultural treasures that are inherent in the production of handmade goods. “Our goal is quality. not volume. We want to make 10 products well, not 100 products that are inferior,” Rajan said.
Slow Color is working to preserve the specialized skills and cultural treasures that are inherent in the production of handmade goods.
With a focus on the planet, people, and prosperity, Slow Color is a B-corporation, also known as a benefit-corporation, with a bottom line that isn’t only about making money for shareholders, but about providing both a fair wage and dignity to workers and about honoring the planet with nontoxic production processes. Rajan is hoping that the Slow Color experience will be so successful. that he can expand into other regions and countries around the world.
THE DYES FROM SLOW COLOR ORIGINS
REDS: Indian madder. Known locally as Manjistha, Indian madder root is an Ayurvedic herb used for heart health. The colors range from blush to soft red.
BLUES: Indigofera tinctoria. One of the oldest known dyes, Indigofera tinctoria produces a wide range of blues. Indigo, goat dung, palm sugar, and wheat husk are fermented. underground in hand-built earthen pots. Properly stored, indigo dye vats can last for centuries.
YELLOWS: Pomegranate rinds. Known locally as Anar, pomegranate rinds are boiled to produce a range of gorgeous yellows and greens.
GRAYS: Jatropha cruces. Known locally as Ratanjyot, Jatropha curcas bark produces rich shades of grey. Adding a solution of palm sugar and rusty nails fermented underground produces luscious black dyes.
Original article published in 2015
By Donna Druchunas