The People's Fabric: Creating meaningful partnerships

“Our goal was to generate international demand for their beautiful works of art and create one-off, timeless products that would embrace the consumer shift into slow living.”

Meet Ali Capp, the founder behind The People's Fabric. Ali shares how to approach a meaningful partnership - and what she would have done differently.

What led you to start The People's Fabric - why ikat and why the textile industry? 

I think everyone has a place that ignites something inside them when they visit – or dream about visiting. Whether it’s for the food, the people, the culture, the weather… for me, that’s Indonesia.

A few years at uni diving head first into Indonesian studies, anthropology and international development, combined with a great deal of good fortune, led to meeting my friend Novi during a short stint of work in Timor-Leste.

Novi’s vast experience working with weaving communities in the region and a bucket load of passion drew me in. This was the path that led me to the wonderful world of hand-dyed and handwoven ikat; its cultural significance, it’s unique beauty and its potential.

It was years later that we reconnected when I was working in Indonesia, at which point she’d co-founded Planet Indonesia – a not-for-profit organisation that strengthens communities through sustainable resource management and the promotion of cultural identity.

I joined Novi in her hometown of Pontianak and we drove the bumpy road ten-hours inland to visit one of their program partners – a women’s weaving cooperative. 

Twenty-five years earlier, Novi helped establish this cooperative, which started with 25 member weavers. It now has 1,500 member weavers, who all make a living from activities that preserve their culture and enable them to say no to working in destructive local industries like palm oil, logging and animal trafficking. 

Being a cooperative member, the women also have access to communal savings groups, meaning they can plan for their children’s education or family’s healthcare, or build their own businesses.

Learning how this financial independence was impacting the weaving communities was enough to propose a partnership between The People’s Fabric, the cooperative and Planet Indonesia.

Our goal was to generate international demand for their beautiful works of art and create one-off, timeless products that would embrace the consumer shift into slow living.

Why do you think it's important for consumer-facing brands to be transparent?

We’re in an age where information has never been more readily available – we know there’s a dark side to consumerism and the “if I close my eyes, it’s not really there” mentality just doesn’t cut it anymore. 

We can’t possibly continue to be ignorant now we know the mass-produced market survives on the foundations of exploitative labour and environmentally destructive practices.

Who was it that said, “With knowledge comes power and with power comes great responsibility”? I’m with them. We have a collective responsibility to act on important issues like these but if we keep waiting for someone else to get the ball rolling, we’ll never progress. 

Someone has to push the first domino!

Consumer-facing brands absolutely have an obligation to step-up and be transparent in their operations. But the government also plays a role in promoting social responsibility and ethical business practices. And as consumers, we have the responsibility to demand the transparency and accountability that we seek. 

You don’t need to be a born leader or a preacher to do this – do things with conviction and passion and it’s just a matter of time before people pay attention and get behind you.

What would you say to others wanting to start a conscious business - a venture that gives back and supports others or a cause?

Take the time to understand the needs of those you want to support. Talk to them. And if you can’t talk to them, talk to people who can. But also communicate with other business owners, marketing gurus, bean counters. 

Allow yourself to be vulnerable, test your idea and be open to change.

Be sure of what motivates you. I’ve met people wanting to start a social enterprise for the sake of starting a social enterprise, but having no real sense of purpose. Good intention doesn’t equate to impact.

Be aware of others in this space and consider how you could work together, not against each other.

If I had my time again, I would find a business partner that had the skills I lacked. A partner not only doubles your time and brain power, it also gives you someone to bounce ideas off, allowing you to garner a greater sense of which ideas are potentially genius… and which ones are completely bananas!

What is next for The People's Fabric - what are your goals?

I’m very lucky to have found incredible partners in Planet Indonesia and the women’s weaving cooperative, who are open to navigating this unfamiliar terrain together.

We’d love to recruit local tailors and deliver skills training programs so the artisans can diversity their ikat fabric themselves into cushions or bags, for example. And I’d like to focus on developing the administrative processes and standards that will prepare them for the international market.

It would also be amazing if we could secure funding that would enable the cooperative to reinvigorate a piece of land they’ve recently acquired with plants from which the weavers extract their natural dyes, given so much of the remaining local land has been cleared for logging and palm oil.

So in this context, The People’s Fabric is really a means to an end – if my role is to help create pathways to international markets which will consolidate sustainability of their operations, then my focus will remain on that.

Beyond this, who’s to say there’s not another cooperative around the corner (or perhaps across the globe), that could benefit from a similar partnership? 

The opportunities are boundless… all I need now is about ten extra hours in each day!

The People's Fabric:


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