July 19, 2011

Kavita Parmar and The IOU Project

photo via: IOU Project

One of the highlights at this Summer's Berlin Fashion Week was the pleasure of meeting Kavita Parmar, Creative Director and Co-founder of the IOU Project. We'd already heard about the IOU Project back in New York; so as you can imagine, we were more than thrilled at the opportunity of a one-on-one interview. What stood out is how passionate Kavita is about her work -- it was so inspiring that we wanted to share this with you! Interviewed by Manuela Fassbender, Creative Director and Founding Partner of MBF Trend Consulting, we share our special interview with Kavita Parmar and how she got started with IOU. Enjoy!

Manuela Fassbender: How and when did you start the IOU Project? What was your motivation?

Kavita Parmar: This Project grew out of my frustration as a designer with the current fashion system that I felt did not nurture "BIG Design" - not just making things pretty but truly designing the eco system around their production and make it sustainable, nor did it protect excellent craftsmanship or artisanship. It had turned into a race to make things faster and cheaper, not better. So about one and a half years ago we decided to do a small experiment in our flagship store in Madrid creating a collection which was made keeping in mind the needs of the artisans, myself, and at the same time creating a unique product that would give the client something really well crafted just for them.

photo (above): Kavita Parmar

Manuela Fassbender: What is your background and how did it lead you to this project?

Kavita Parmar: Like I mention above, I am a clothing designer and have two brands that I design and produce for the past 10 years, Raasta and Suzie Wong. Working on those collections through the traditional fashion cycle, I realized that it was a race to make things quicker with shorter shelf lives and hence, with bigger margins which was a frustrating exercise personally. I have worked extensively with artisans for both the Raasta and Suzie Wong collections and I had lived first hand the difficulties that artisans in Europe and India were facing trying to compete with cheaper mechanised production. Yes, we were making things cheaper but, we were also loosing age old techniques and making them without doubt of lesser quality. This experience and wanting to do something about it lead to the birth of the IOU Project.

Manuela Fassbender: What brought you to Berlin and to the Bread and Butter Show?

Kavita Parmar: We were invited by the organizers of Bread and Butter Berlin to put up a POP UP SHOP Experience here at the Tempelhof airport. They are very supportive of the new emerging ideas and loved the philosophy behind the project and have supported us whole heartedly.

Manuela Fassbender: Do you see a change in the consumer who is shopping with a more conscious approach? Who are your customers?

Kavita Parmar: You and I -- normal people from all walks of life. I definitely believe that there is a shift in the consumption pattern. We have become very aware of the scarcity of resources and the loss of authenticity due to mass production and consumption. The rise of vintage shopping is a clear example of this trend. People are looking to express themselves, their individuality, and their point of view on the world. Look at the number of new blogs created each day. The exciting part is that now we have the technology to be able to do that.

photo via: IOU Project

Manuela Fassbender: The IOU project has been referred to as a ‘movement’, with a business model that fosters true transparency and authenticity. Do you think other commercial companies will follow suit?

Kavita Parmar: I certainly hope so. We are a for profit organization and I like to think of us as a proof of concept. I believe we have all been doing our accounting wrong and it is time to clean up the books and take into account the real costs: loss of skills and job options, harm to the environment by consuming and producing without regard, lack of decent working conditions for many factory workers around the globe...I think these are big costs that we are ignoring and we cannot do so any more. If we were to really account for all this we would realize that what we think as cheap in fact comes at a very high cost.
Transparency is fundamental to put forth these ideas. We do believe that we need to know and be aware of how we affect other people and the environment by our actions and what we can do to make things better for us and others. We need to start taking personal responsibility.

Manuela Fassbender: Currently IOU is successful with women, men’s, and unisex apparel; will the initiative expand into other markets such as children’s wear, home goods, or accessories?

Kavita Parmar: We already have a shoe line making its debut this month and of course we are working on more accessories and home goods for Thanksgiving.

photo via: IOU Project

Manuela Fassbender: How can consumers and advocates of the IOU Project stay engaged? Tell us more about your e-commerce initiatives and “virtual trunk shows”.

Kavita Parmar: We are very active in our relationships with our clients on line. We want engage in a real dialogue with them and have had a tremendous feedback from them in this short time that we have been live since mid May. In less than 2 months we have over 1 million citations on Google and over 260,000 blog posts mentioning the IOU Project. It is evident that we have touched a nerve.
Our clients are our brand ambassadors . We have gone a step further and created the Trunk Show Host platform on line to further engage and share with them. Anyone who is interested in the project can have their own unique Trunk show on our website with no monetary cost to them. All they need is a Facebook and a paypal account. They get to dig through our inventory virtually and select their very own IOU products. Since all IOU Pieces are unique, they have a completely unique Trunk Show which they can very easily share with their friends and followers on Facebook , Twitter, blogs or other social media. Any sale on these pieces generates a 20% revenue for them the first week, 15% the second week and 12.5% the third week. They can go back to the inventory and restock and exchange their selection at anytime. So they can make money by talking about and promoting what they believe in.

photo via: Facebook

Manuela Fassbender: What are your short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals? How do you see the project expanding and how do you want to grow? Have you considered collaborating with other companies, sponsors, and celebrities?

Kavita Parmar: We at present are working with 243 weavers out of the entire 20,000 weaving community so our short term/ immediate goal is to work with as many more as possible. In the mid term we feel that IOU is an experiment in creating what we call a "prosperity chain", that allows goods to be bought and sold in a way that benefits everyone involved and not just a few. We plan to grow the platform and invite other brands with similar values to increase the products we offer to our Trunk Show Hosts and in the long term hopefully, our online social platform, created for like minded people, will encourage a more sustainable form of commerce and develop symbiotic businesses.

Without doubt we believe we will be growing organically, we already have a lot of other brands with similar view approaching us to collaborate, varying from shoe companies, chocolate manufacturers, beauty products, magazines, and celebrities. This is very exciting as there are many various opportunities and people are willing to think out of the box to promote an idea that we all believe in.

Manuela Fassbender: What are some challenges the project faces and how do you plan to overcome them?

Kavita Parmar: We are definitely short staffed right now. The interest in the project has been amazing and we are all passionate about what we do and working long hours. We are already increasing our team and inviting new people on board, people who are as passionate as we are and are not afraid of following their hearts and making new rules.

If you are interested in learning more about Kavita Parmar and the IOU Project, please click here to visit their website. 


    The interview & the IOU project Greetings from Berlin!

    Gereon Pilz - Co-Founder of theKey.to Berlin

  2. OMG Manuela, I should have known you would discover this gem of a project! I just became a trunk show host, check it out:)


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