SPOTLIGHT: Women-owned & Women-Crafted
As a women-owned business ourselves, we believe in the importance of supporting and highlighting other women in business. In honor of International Women's Day, we've partnered with Swiatlo to highlight their silk totes designed from vintage sarees. Hand-crafted in India, each upcycled saree tote is crafted by a social enterprise known as Women Fiber to Fashion which is based in New Delhi, India. Their mission is to support and employ survivors of human trafficking and teach them an employable craft to build financial freedom.
The woman behind Swiatlo is the exuberant and thoughtful Elizabeth Hartman. A lover of fashion, global crafts and cultural exchange, she merges her passion into one-of-a-kind creations using vintage sarees & ajrakh blockprints while incorporating indigenous craft techniques. We're inspired by Elizabeth and her work with Women Fiber to Fashion and we thought you might might be too so we sat down together to share her story:
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START SWIATLO?
“SWIATLO” means “light, to illuminate” in Polish which is a homage to my matrilineal heritage and our mission-based work as a brand. Since my days in design school at Parsons I dreamt of starting my own business while being creative, specifically within the realm of pre-loved fabrics as I’d always been into cutting up shirts from secondhand shops and making them into patchwork dresses among other things. It just makes sense to use what we already have. I chose to work for other brands and get some industry experience first, and after spending a few years in NYC corporate fashion as a tech designer I began to feel a little empty while working in mass production of story-less synthetic garments, wondering who made them and where the materials were from. I’d seen “Made in India” on so many tags and became curious about the textile industry there. In 2016 I took a break from corporate life and went to Gujarat, India to learn more about handicraft; making textiles slowly and mindfully. I fell in love with Indian culture and wanted to learn more about the fabrics! So I kept going between NYC and India until 2019 when I met my now-husband Ashwath in Delhi (on Tinder nonetheless!). It felt like the right time to finally begin that dream business, through the lens of contributing to society while pursuing our creative endeavors.
We are just as mission-based as we are fashion-based, we only work with stitching units that support women, and our textiles are either recycled or artisan-made naturally dyed block prints. Our work with SWIATLO is often an experiment in making clothes that have some form of positive impact- if we are going to make things, then how can these things be useful and meaningful? How can we best serve our customer, with year-round unique clothes that make her feel like a goddess? How can we best serve our production teams, with regular creatively fulfilling work? How can we best serve our environment, by using materials which already exist, or colors from natural dyes? We are constantly asking ourselves questions of this nature in order to grow in the right direction. In some ways I feel our WHY behind SWIATLO is an overall urge to have a positive impact in the short time that we are here wandering around in this world, and through fashion is how we are accomplishing it. Fashion is such a powerful means of self expression and I hope we can help people share their best and highest selves with the world in our mindfully made colorful clothes.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WORK WITH WOMEN FASHION TO FIBER?
Women Fiber to Fashion (WFTF) is an organization based in Okhla, New Delhi, India. They employ and support survivors of human trafficking. They offer training in stitching, fabric cutting and handsewing techniques among other useful skills and the women are paid a stipend during their training period, then get salaries once they are ready to work on customer orders. A floor above the stitching unit is currently being renovated with the goal to turn it into a classroom
CAN YOU SHARE HOW YOU SOURCE AND UPCYLE SAREES?
The reusable upcycled saree bags we make are a trifecta of missions:
WHY IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
International Women's Month is such a great opportunity to both celebrate the achievements of the women in our lives, and to prompt deeper discussions on the issues women are still facing today. Of course we could do these things at any time (and we should!) but it's fantastic and actually very helpful having this global reminder to spark dialogue and ideally catalyze real change in our communities towards a more equitable society for everyone.