Scarves with Soul
Here at Isleena we like to meet with people who are working on initiatives that are innovative and help the community. With luxury sustainable scarf brand, Une Écharpe- Une Vie, it helps that they are also incredibly stylish and exquisitely made, statement pieces.
We met with Tiff, (Christine Tiffany Cool) based in NYC and Raj, ( (Rajni Singh Carney) , based in Ireland and asked them about their brand that sees scarves handmade and woven by women artisans in villages and tribes around the globe.
Firstly, tell us a little about what brought you, ladies, to start Une Écharpe Une Vie?:
Tiff: Une écharpe - Une vie (pronounced: ewn eh sharp - ewn vee) means “one scarf one life”. We are a sustainable luxury scarf brand who believes that fashion and great design can be a catalyst for social change.
Rajni and I have been friends for years, and we always toyed with this idea--there weren’t any sort of “luxury” accessories out there and we thought, “Hey, we could focus on this gap, and show people that well-crafted pieces can come from places that people least expect.” This is why the textiles we work with are silks, cashmere, soft cottons.
We believe in “conscious luxury” and conscious consumerism. And that every scarf made, improves the life of the woman who made it--ergo a purchase of a UE-UV scarf, means you are directly “doing your part” and have a precious investment piece in the process!
What is the core philosophy behind the work you do?
Rajni: Our tagline, “Stay warm. Give back.” says it all. We are passionate about empowering women--realizing that what we are doing was not fighting poverty but addressing it, not through charity but through the integrity of work. The weavers we work with do not expect a handout, they pride themselves on their craft and rightly so. What they look to us for is the opportunity to give them a hand up, by exchanging funds for work done well.
Since setting up, has it been difficult to get your voice heard?
Tiff: Wow. That is an understatement. We are the very definition of a “start-up”, we have self-funded and worked very hard on slowly building the brand since we launched in 2015 and because of the work and advocacy Rajni’s done with key fashion influencers in Ireland, like Deirdre McQuillan, Shelly Corkery and Nikki Creedon the brand is gaining traction with both men and women in Ireland.
Now outside of Ireland, in other markets, it has been a challenge to get our voice heard. We try very hard to balance a great product with the important message we are trying to put forth-- conscious consumerism.
What drew you to set up in Mongolia, Laos, the Philippines and Cambodia? How do you choose each of the women you work with?
Rajni: These are the countries who have very active villages and tribes who weave. They either have ethnic minority communities or indigenous tribeswomen who have passed down this tradition for centuries--and they have active local fair trade organizations that we can work with who have an established history for championing women’s rights to fair wages through empowerment.
Tiff: It’s all about a person or an organization’s values system, that’s how we know whom to work with because they share our passion for empowering women. We focus on women primarily because, in most developing countries, they are the breadwinners; if they don’t bring home the provision, their families starve.
Rajni and I are both mums, we know what it means to struggle to provide for our families--so, how much more than female rice farmer who is taking care of her kids? The weaving provides them with a supplement income or added income, and gives them a hand up.
Have you got plans to diversify the network you already work with?
Rajni: Definitely. That’s the endgame, really. We actively reach out to communities who create these amazing scarves--the more geographically and culturally diverse the better. We started with scarves, and added home items like throw pillows, blankets, and we’re only thinking of more ways to diversify. Our goal is to continue to grow our network of weaving communities and expand to other countries across the globe, working with them to design and develop unique items characterized by impeccable craftsmanship, that not only have meaning but a purpose behind each one.
As a start-up, what have been the challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?
Tiff: Well, being a start-up in and of itself is a huge challenge, so we “hustle”. And balancing day jobs and running the company is a huge deal. Right now, our greatest challenge is exposure and driving traffic to our site. We understand that it takes time and patience to build a brand--and we do everything ourselves. Raj and I shoot our campaigns, we do the social media and website refinements and updates, sales calls, client visits, fashion shows, pop-ups--you name it we do it. The biggest challenge we face is time--and how to manage it effectively.
We understand that each piece is hugely unique and completely a one of a kind, what is the production process of each scarf?
Our scarves are extremely unique because each village or tribe it comes from has a distinct technique, design and culture of where they are coming from. We work with our partners in designing and developing the scarves, because we want to ensure that they will sell on the open market but we try to stay true to who they are. We call our scarves "tribalux" because they are luxury scarves with a tribal origin.
A woman weaver has dedicated weeks of her life to creating every scarf--they don’t weave from a factory template--this stuff is in her head, every stroke, every movement is memorized. If people understood the kind of talent it takes to create a scarf, they would be mind-blown. But sadly, no one really thinks about that.
Wow, so production is quite an intricate and lengthy affair, how important is your partnership to your weavers and how does their new venture impact their lives?
Rajni: Initially we were looking to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, a platform that would allow us to help a large number of people who needed it. We both have a heart for women and we wanted to do something that would empower marginalized women in developing countries.
One of the most marginalized groups in the countries where we do our work are the tribal groups, most especially the women, because a steady source of income is hard to come by when you are living in remote mountainous locations, with very little to no formal education, and have maybe only knowledge of a particular trade like weaving.
Shoppers are becoming more and more socially conscious on many levels, do you find your customers have a hunger for not just the beautiful quality and elegant aesthetics of the scarves but the meaning behind them?
Rajni: Well, a lot of the challenges we face is really educating the consumer. With things made in China, in factories, at rock bottom prices, we can’t and don’t really want to compete with that--it’s not our market.
We reach out to women who love quality but also realize that everything is connected--and what they do, and who they buy has an impact on the environment and people. Our company is who we believe women are—strong, deserving of the best, intelligent, well-travelled and generous in spirit. And people appreciate that--more and more people are thinking about what they buy and ensuring that it is responsibly sourced and does “give back”.
The market for ‘slow fashion’ is ever growing, with niche brands continuously launching on the global scene, who is your ideal customer?
Tiff: Our ideal customer is the individual who loves luxury, quality but is also seeking to live a "greener" life and exercise their buying power to live authentically and influence social change. They are normally, accomplished professionals who are stylish and socially-conscious, valuing “quality over quantity”. Their intentions are sincere when committing to buy only ethically-sourced pieces, they buy from companies who share their ideals.
We live in such contrasting conditions to those of the women who bring these scarves to life and yet you mentioned of how truly happy they are in their everyday lives. What have been some of the lessons you’ve learned in working alongside such strong women?
Tiff: That it’s not about the money really, but about dignity. People want to be empowered, not given handouts--more than that, they want a “hand-up” and that’s what we’ve learned from these women. The charity will not solve poverty, but empowerment will.
Where can readers buy a Une Écharpe Une Vie scarf?
We are sold in luxury stores located in NYC, The Four Seasons hotel in (Caribbean), Hob Knob boutique hotel (Martha’s Vineyard) and Havana Boutique (Ireland) in New York our scarves can be found in Fairlight boutique located in the West Village, and our home collection of throw pillow cover is at Ad Hoc Collective, also in the West Village.
What’s next for the brand and what are some unfilled goals you’d love to realise in the next 5 years?
In 5 years, we want to be the “go-to” scarf brand for the ethical/conscious consumer--with sizeable revenue from our wholesale and online store. We will have amassed a larger network of weavers in developing countries, broadening our base of suppliers. Our goal is to continue to grow our network of weaving communities and expand to other countries across the globe, working with them to design and develop unique luxury scarves, characterized by impeccable craftsmanship, that not only have meaning but a purpose behind each one.
Find out more at uneecharpeunevie.com