The best natural choices for your home are made from rapidly renewable resources including wool, wheat, bamboo or cork. Wood is renewable, but it takes decades to replace a tree. Stone is not renewable, but it requires less embodied energy (the amount of mining, smelting, machine-working, firing, processing or shipping required to make something) than metal. Most natural materials will eventually biodegrade or disintegrate when disposed of.
Introduce yourself and tell us a little about your brand
My name is Sophie, and I’m the founder of Kalinko, the first homeware brand from Burma. Our collection features classic and contemporary home and lifestyle products hand-crafted by the most talented, independent artisans from around the country.
Named after a tribe in the North West of the country, Kalinko works with independent producers across Burma. It offers them an opportunity to sell to customers worldwide and thus sustain long-term sustainable livelihoods while upholding traditional Burmese values and age-old customs.
What can shoppers expect to find with your products?
We champion quality, authenticity and integrity; each piece takes several days to complete, resulting in home furnishings and accessories with character and charm. From cushions covers and throws which are hand-woven on wooden looms in remote villages, to traditional rattan furniture and hand-tailored jackets, each one is made by real people and has its own inspiring story.
How do you approach sustainability within your brand/with the artisans or suppliers you work with?
With the rise of cheap, factory-churned products, a dropping demand for the handmade is forcing our exceptionally talented artisans out of their workshops and into the fields, or into domestic service to supplement their incomes.
We would like to help our artisans go back to doing what they do best, and become full-time crafters again, with enough income to support their families and time to invest in the next generation. Access to new markets is key to this survival, so we work very closely with them to advise on how to hone their products to international taste, and to raise the quality of the finished product to satisfy global expectations.
How do you ensure transparency within the chain?
We work directly with our artisans, so happily there is no chain!
Why do you think sustainability and ethics isn’t usually something people associate with their household furniture? How can we shift that?
Household furniture is usually a long-term purchase, and therefore doesn’t feel disposable, or like a flippant buy in the same way as fast-fashion does. Talking about where things come from, and who made them is a good way to help people see the value in buying something sustainable. I also think a rise in visibly ethically minded homeware companies will help raise the profile of sustainability in this area, giving people more choice for where they can shop ethically.
How and why is working with local suppliers important to you?
Living in Burma during a period of rapid development makes you want to contribute in any way you can, to ensure that all levels of society benefit from the changes. We are also keen that our crafters are paid properly, which is helped enormously by working directly with local artisans, and having no extra links in the supply chain.
How would you describe your brand in five words?
Homeware made by real people.
What more do you think customers are looking for these days beyond good design? Or do you think that design is really all that matters?
Increasingly people are really starting to think about where things come from before they buy. The Fashion Revolution with their #whomademyclothes campaign has been hugely successful, and it has started to filtrate across to other things that people buy: food, clothes, fabrics and furniture. While I think quality and price will continue to ultimately impact a consumer’s decision to buy, people are certainly thinking more seriously about whether something has been made in a safe, clean and fair way before going ahead.
How do you ensure quality with your brand?
We currently quality check everything ourselves at the point of purchase. Everything that reaches our shelves has been hand-checked by one of our team.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when trying to grow your brand?
The logistics of doing business in Burma have been our greatest challenge to date. As one small example, our suppliers rarely speak English, and often do not even speak Burmese, instead using local dialects. And from a practical perspective, as a nation emerging from military rule, there is still some way to go before processes are streamlined and simple. That said, we love the challenge, and things are changing so quickly that we expect many of the trickier elements to disappear before long.
How can we/how do you encourage customers to look at independent brands like yourself instead of just focusing on the better known ones?
Social media has been revolutionary for this. As a consumer, I personally seek out smaller brands on Instagram, and am always on the look out for something new and different. I also think raising the profile of sustainable brands, as you are doing, will help hugely, as it will encourage people to shop smaller, for a bigger impact.