Swati Argade, Ethical Fashion
by Taylor Dumas·
Today on GEMS we had the chance to speak with Swati Argade, Founder and Creative Director of Bhoomki, a sustainable fashion brand based out of NYC. In the episode we get into Swati's entrepreneurial journey, building an ethical fashion brand, demystifying the consequences of fast fashion, and the future of fashion in a COVID-19 world, and much more.
Jeff Henderson (0:00)
Joining us today on GEMS is Swati Argade. Pretty sure, we met through a friend who said you two should meet because you're creatives. And I had no idea who Swati was. And then she was super friendly from day one. On top of the many things she does, she was teaching a class. So I joined the class. And I thought that's what her main thing was. And once I started doing my homework, I realized she had this entire world of ethics in design and creativity in fashion and a store in Brooklyn and I was just amazed. So we don't really talk enough. So here's my chance to sort of get to know more of what Swati is thinking and what she's doing. And please tell us who you are.
Swati Argade (0:45)
Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me jazz like it's been such a pleasure getting to know you better over the past year since our mutual friend introduced us. So I have been working on this little island of sustainable fashion in on the, in the greater industry of fashion for close to 17 years now. I started out actually, as a filmmaker working on a documentary in India, I just finished up my, my film degree at Berkeley and I was like making this like little film and I was just going, Oh my god, like the equipment is so heavy, long evenings and I found myself at the time I was traveling through India, and I was really interested in this idea of toil and labor, which is kind of like what you do when you're in graduate school and you think about all of these complexities around work and clash and production, and I found myself in a little village in India, where there were weaver's there and the weavers, the textile weaver's the textile artists started telling me the stories about their families how they had been making these fabrics and these textiles for centuries. But in the modern day, it's been very difficult to find markets for these fabrics because of like the changes and how people dress. And at the time, I said, Oh my gosh, how can that happen? These these, these objects are so incredibly beautiful. Let me make something out of them. So it turned out that at the time I had some family friends that were were actually running a fashion college, a very well respected fashion college in my family's hometown in Puna. I'm ethnically Indian. Both of my parents were Indian. I should also say that,
Jeff Henderson (2:44)
You grew up in California?
Swati Argade (2:46)
No, I went to graduate school there, but I was born kind of like you I have like Midwestern roots. So I was, I was born in the suburbs of Detroit. And then I headed south when I was, you know, a preteen. I think you also ended up South Georgia too.
Jeff Henderson (3:03)
Exactly. I was Ohio to Georgia, with a slight detour in Indiana.
Swati Argade (3:08)
And I went from Michigan to North Carolina. But, um, so I made these first pieces of clothing. And then I came back and to New York City where I was living at the time, right after graduate school. And it turned out that like my friends, and when I would go out to parties, like all these people were responding to these, like, these clothes that these clothes that I had made out of these textiles and, and Ding, ding, ding, ding. I was like, oh, there's a business idea that I didn't anticipate here I was, you know, exploring, you know, as a filmmaker, and in it, I took like a total detour, you know, just to start making clothes and 17 late years later, I'm still I'm still here. Shortly after that. I started a business I was wholesaling my collections
Jeff Henderson (3:56)
You said pivoting before anyone knew what pivoting was.
Swati Argade (4:00)
Exactly. And it's like, it's become this word that is so much in our, in our vocabulary, especially in this in this crazy time where adaptability is, is everything. So yeah, so and so fast forward, you know, those, that feeling of wanting to do right by the producers wanting to make sure there is markets for these products has stayed with me throughout my entire career and the various entrepreneurial journeys that I've been on so and so that's sort of like how it started. And I've, I've started a couple of companies in the meantime, I've had many collaborations over the years and, and now I am very much in the intersection of education, environmental responsibility and entrepreneurship and and we do all of this through the space of fashion. So that's a little bit about me and my career journey.
Jeff Henderson (5:04)
That's dope. Your shop, is it Bhoomki?
Swati Argade (5:07)
It's Bhoomki, yeah, and Bhoomki means "of the earth." It's kind of a word slightly made up Bumi it's like, what it comes from the phrase "Bumi key" which "Bhoom" is how you say Mother Earth in Sanskrit and many other Indian languages and "key" means of in Hindi, which is, you know, considered the the national language. The Noor people will say it's the national language in India. And I'm so Bhoomi Key was just too much of a mouthful for our lazy American mouth. And I really believe that two syllable words have the most impact, you know what I mean? So, so we just shorten it down to Bhoomki so there's... and I always knew that, you know, the iteration my first line was, you know, like so many designers you know, back when I You know, started that first fashion line using the work of those artisans. It was an eponymous line. It was Swati Argade. And for this, and then I ran that line for about, you know, six years. But when I started Bhoomki, I didn't want it to be about me, the designer, I wanted it to be about something larger. And I wanted the mission to be about the people that make the clothing and the planet. I wanted it to be about collaboration. Because I mean, as you know, when you design something, there are so many people involved to bring it to mind. And I wanted it to be about this experiment of how we can make things meaningfully and responsibly In fact, the mission of bougie is to create and curate fine products in an ethical fashion for the planet and its people and we've always just tried to stick to that through everything that we've done in our little experimental retail and design lab in Brooklyn.
Jeff Henderson (7:06)
First of all, I love the name. I think one of the things you learn when you land on Nike campus is that Nike the name, which was came from a dream from one of the early employees that it just matched up with linguists called something, something you can remember if it was Ni-ke. So with something with a hard consonant as the second syllable, so sort of just make something that you can remember. But also I love the fact that we often talk to people about branding something we often say just unless you have something specific and you want to be your name, make it something that everybody can be under, as opposed to one person because then everybody can fit under that umbrella that you're building and they can take part as opposed to always trying to figure out how do I make this right for you because it's under your name. So love, kind of where you landed I think, with the title, but I think your conversations around the people that helped create every step of the way not just create the product, but anybody who's shipping delivering, stitching anything together. Those are all people who play a part. I think for me, I know I didn't learn that until I was at Nike for two years before I went to a factory trip. And it was in Indonesia, and I would make revisions and changes, didn't really think much about it and then just kind of went about my business and people would tell me, well, if you make this change, it's hard for the stitcher. And it was all like this very abstract thing until I actually got to the first Development Center and I watch people actually run away with drawings and come back and make tweaks and still it was a little abstract until I got to Indonesia and I went to the factory was Tasi and we looked out onto the factory floor which was like football fields long. And engineer Edimis. looked at me and he goes when you make a change every one of those people Down there had to make a change, just remember that. And that's stuck with me like, I can still see all those people in the flight. Whoa, that's a lot of responsibility, but it's sort of makes you feel like, okay, there's other people who are part of this conversation.
Swati Argade (9:16)
I love that story, Jeff like that. And I don't think your experience is common with most designers that work in the West and are relying on workers in, in developing countries to produce our products. So it's like it's a story that I've heard many times and for me, because I started out, meeting the people that made the cloth. I started from a very different place. So someone, but what you're describing is, is something that happens to most designers and you're lucky and that you actually got to go and see that. And I think I think that is that I think that was a unique experience. And you know, some of our other conversations we've talked about, you know, the supply chain. And I think what's important to remember about the supply chain is that there's a human aspect to it. I think, like when you think supply chain, it's very abstract.
Jeff Henderson (10:20)
Swati Argade (10:20)
And you think about it terms of economics, but there is actually a human--
Jeff Henderson (10:24)
Like boxes on a page.
Swati Argade (10:25)
Yes, exactly. It's like very, like, you know, where's the bottleneck in this whole process?
Jeff Henderson (10:31)
Yes, exactly. People, what?
Swati Argade (10:33)
Yeah, exactly. There is the human supply chain. And I think one of the things that we've been thinking about, with my team and with other colleagues and friends that I have working in this space is, what are the changes that are going to happen because of this, this crisis that we're in with the global pandemic, and because what's happened is that we're all on pause. As you know, there are very few factories that are in full operation right now. Right now for me, my, my expertise has been in India and India has been in lockdown since, I think March 24. And the Prime Minister has just extended it to may 31. So, it's giving us a time to really think about like, Who are the people that are being affected by this the humans that are part of this massive production process, where they're just so many people along the line?
Jeff Henderson (11:37)
So given the thought that there's so many people sort of, in the scope of, you know, supply chain where there's lots of boxes on the page, where is the focus? So example for you, for example, watching Hasam Minaj on Patriot Act, he kind of brought up in his closing last year that there's so many things that you could be thinking about that sometimes It's overwhelming. And we're human beings only so much capacity to really process or even act upon kind of what's going on. So for you choosing sort of an area of focus, like how do you choose where you're going to put your energy towards?
Swati Argade (12:18)
And that's a really good question. I, and I think it is overwhelming and I love that episode on the Patriot Act on ethical fashion, thought it was a great episode. Because for me, it is about how do we simplify? How do we focus? How do we find that thing in this whole process where we can make an impact my my place has always been about the human element. I think that we have, we can't separate the environmental impacts of fashion from the human element of it like you can make, you can make something super organic, you can make it out of organic cotton, they can have a very low carbon footprint in terms of its production process, but it's the person that has been the person that's so that fabric or like cut and sewed it and assembled it was not compensated properly, then then how ethical or how good for the environment is that when someone is not getting a fair wage is not able to educate their children is not able to get health care is working so many hours. So and because like I said, you know, my roots started out with like, how can we create markets for workers that might lose their livelihood? It's always been about how can we support workers, you know, to make sure that they can continue to operate. And at the same time, I've been very focused on working with artisans around the country and around India, and in other collaborations like in Africa and South America, but mostly in India, where I been able to, to look at their production processes and seeing what kind of dyes they're using like because when you're using so if you're a worker right and maybe maybe you were working on the compensation but if you're working with with dyes that have high toxicity that haven't they haven't had a proper certification to make sure that there's a low toxicity then that is going to impact you and your family at home and we've seen what kind of what what the global supply chain has done in our greater reliance since the early 90s on developing countries and cheaper labor and our our appetite, you know, sometimes insatiable appetite, insatiable appetite for for cheap clothing. We've done all of that on the backs of global cheap labor, right?
Jeff Henderson (14:53)
And people you can't see
Swati Argade (14:55)
People that you can't see you know, and I think so much of what I the work that I've done is like, how can we make those people less invisible actually make them more visible, so they are not. And we've also seen that anyone that works, for example, near a die plan, you know where there is, or near denim plan, as we know, like denim is one of the most destructive industries on the planet because the amount of water that's used and a lot of the water just falls off falls out of the process and goes right back into our water supply or the water supply that is in the the adjoining areas. But if we can find a way to make sure that the people in those areas, you know, those kinds of experiences are not happening. So for some of these workers, if they work in a near conventional cotton field, there's a much higher incidence of cancer, respiratory disease, the mortality rate is very high. So I don't think a lot of people think about like when we're when people are producing those clothing, how that is actually impacting the land and the environment of those countries as well. And so I know you asked me to think about the focus, but I don't I feel that what's going on in sustainability, the environmental impacts is very much rooted within race and class. And we know that people have the worst health effects and most deleterious health effects when they are in a place where there's unfettered regulations, no one's thinking about regulations with water and the environment. And where does that usually happening? It's usually happening in our most disenfranchised communities here in the United States as well.
Jeff Henderson (16:39)
Right, right, right.
Swati Argade (16:40)
So I do think it's very hard to to separate the environmental impacts or the environmental disasters that have happened on the planet from the workers that have been involved with disasters that come out of like industries that where there's no regulations, I mean, oftentimes There's not a lot of regulations happening in these countries.
Jeff Henderson (17:04)
But I think the thing that I think you touched a crucial point is I think what I hear most conversations around sustainability are things that are positive. And it's all environmental. And I think some of that is missing the point of part of us making environmentally friendly, is so that people can actually live in that environment. And so you just saying that sort of makes me take me back to like, there's a lot of, well, we can't make product that ends up in a landfill. While that's true, part of the reason you don't want that is the toxic nature or the foreverness of what ends up in a landfill because you're thinking people might live there. I mean, if you go look at people and find out what's affecting them, then that probably changes what your scope of what you're creating, whether you're a business or designer or a developer or anybody else in the supply chain. It changes your decisions, and I think focusing on the people is a strong sort of measure of what's right and not necessarily what's wrong. But what's a better path to take?
Swati Argade (18:08)
Absolutely. I mean, and again, like when we focus on the people we think about, well, how are people living? Like, where are they living? How are they living? I mean, are they living near a power plant? Are they? Are they living near landfills? Like, what is happening where their people are allowed to build power plants where people are living? What is that what what are those things and we know, we know what, how those decisions are made, you know, those decisions are made, where disenfranchised communities live. So I think it's so hard to separate, you know, the people in the plan, sustain it, but you know, within within the conversation around sustainability, and I do find that it is a very privileged conversation to have when we're only talking about the environment and not the impact that it has.
Jeff Henderson (18:59)
Yes, that's very, very true. I think my last trip to China, of which like over the years of sort of like I've seen China enough to watch this wild roller coaster of it went from not having a lot over producing and not caring. Watching a factory owner, and this was sort of like a bizarre thing that I sort of have with a bunch of different people and sort of like hinted, you know, it'd be better if you did x, y, z, ABC. And we go into a factory and now a more rural town because most of the factories in China were spread along the larger cities, more coastline. And since they've moved inward, and by all means, nothing's perfect, but when I'm in the factory, I noticed that the employee was different and they talked about how now that it's moved to inwards into rural towns, they, my first question was like, Can I see like, where people are living and like what the arrangement are like and they looked at me and they were like, Oh, this isn't like seven years ago, which was just seven years ago, like, no, there's no dorms here. This is like people drive in and they come to work, they go home. They're like, do you want to see the daycare? And I was like the daycare. And they walked me through that it was the most bizarre sort of like, and I was worried because I was like, Can I record? Can I film this? And they were like, Oh, yeah, please, like record record away. And I kind of had that, are you sure like you want to check me do their security. And I realized that I was in this giant major factory that wasn't a major brand. So they weren't worried about anything getting out in terms of the product, leaky outs, people see stuff. So then the only concern would be are they worried about seeing like the actual factory and they weren't at all because I noticed that was pretty clean, but then they started walking through. If you want to keep employees longer, if you want to make them happy if you want to, if you want to sustain a business, you have to do things the right way. And this wasn't like a sales pitch because this was a fact. With a filter show up on this trip, this was literally just a drop in because there was another factory that they had. And I showed up and it was business as usual. But the fact that there was a daycare and some other features meant that they sort of said people need to be happy, or we can't make scale. Like that was their real thing. And so I think the more people think about the people than those, I think, whether it's environmental or just concerns about whether the education is there, becomes very important to make sure product gets done, if it needs to be done. So, again, it goes back to I think, your strong point of the people. I think it's very impactful.
Swati Argade (21:41)
That's so interesting, because, you know, one of one of the things they say about fast fashion and major companies is that they're always chasing the cheap labor and China has actually become a very expensive place to produce.
Jeff Henderson (21:58)
Exactly. They built the middle class,
Swati Argade (22:01)
They built a middle class and, and the middle class has grown because of global reliance on Chinese manufacturing and innovation. And I'm really happy to hear that story. Because it also, it also shows that people are trying to do good things everywhere in the world. And, and, you know, we point our fingers at various countries and nations to say, Well, this is how they're doing it or they're giving manufacturing a bad name, but I do always feel like you know, people are doing good things like to use your, to use your motto. And I have a story from, you know, from my first line, you know, my eponymous line, the reason I stopped producing that line was because I saw a factory I had and I think, I think I might have told you this story and I think this story, you can find it in very plain various places and on the internet because I think it really gave me a passion about what was happening to fashion at the time and this was about 2007 or 2008. I was producing my line for about like 200 stores globally and I was wanting to work with this beautiful painted leather craft that comes from Bengal in India. It's something called shantiniketan. It comes from a place called shantiniketan. And it's this painted leather and but I knew that I had to produce a lot of it and I wanted to find a leather producer who could deliver an on time quality product. And so a friend of mine was like, Oh, well these guys are some of the best leather producers in all of India, you should go and meet with them and have a conversation. So I walked into the show and it was the kind of showroom that you would see you know, on Seventh Avenue in New York City or in Paris or Milan. It was so beautiful. And you saw all of these gorgeous bags like bags that you see on the pages of glasses glossy fashion mag Seems you know, and I was like, Oh my gosh, like they are putting they're making bags for these, you know, these major global brands. And I would love to see how these bags are made. And they're like, sure. And I went to the back and it was all children making the bags. It was all children and I went back to my hotel room, and I fell ill. And I thought to myself, if you have to do this to become a multimillion dollar fashion brand, I'm out. I'm not doing this anymore. This is what it takes. But these are the sacrifices that we have to be made to be in the pages of Vogue or whatever the glossy magazine is, I'm done. And so to hear your story about how people are trying to do it, right and for me to go back to that story where there wasn't even like a self consciousness.
Jeff Henderson (25:04)
Swati Argade (25:05)
It wasn't that was there wasn't even like self consciousness. I mean, I did that one of the story I'm telling you is from, you know, 12 to 13 years ago and 100% the ideas and the views have completely changed. People have embraced sustainability, not as much as we'd like for them to but within fashion, there's much more of a self consciousness, because people are afraid they're going to get caught.
Jeff Henderson (25:31)
Well, yeah, there's a element of like, I don't want to look like I'm doing wrong. It's not that I want to do wrong or don't want to do wrong. It's just I don't want to look like I'm doing wrong.
Swati Argade (25:39)
And I think like those major global brands, and I think I think you're right, that's a part of it. That's not I don't think it's just that the people don't want to get caught. But I don't think people were questioning it as much at the times and now when there's been plenty of factories that have gone to an India where people are doing it, right like the factory that I partner with, they offer child care, they offer health care. They don't. There's a cap on how many hours they make they make over time have beautiful factories, they're not crowded, there's multiple exits, you know. So there has been a change. I do feel that there's been a major change and but a disaster disasters have to take place like in April of 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, and almost 2000 people died and thousands more were injured and, you know, brands that we know we're producing in that factory. And it took a major disaster for that to happen for there to be a major shift a major industrial shift within fashion to say, Hey, this is something that we need to look at. We need to have more vigilance about the subcontractors that we're working. I mean, you've worked at Nike, you know, how many subcontractors there are along the supply chain?
Right, like, I will be curious, like, how many subcontractors are there in the production of a shoe like, you know?
Jeff Henderson (27:10)
The one thing that was so there was a report that came out and you would know this better than I did around, they were giving out report cards to major brands on what they were making. And I think Adidas scored really high, Nike scored pretty high. A lot of the major sportswear brands scored really high, and the ones that scored really low, were the luxury brands. And their example was that because the major sneaker brands had gone through the big issue when Phil Knight opened up the doors to the factories, which is basically like shed light on the problem, even if we're doing wrong, but like let everybody catch up because we'll be fixing it now. They had gone through the effort to make sure not only the factory they were working with, but their vendors and their suppliers and everybody else on along the trail supply chain, were also doing correctly. And that had never happened in luxury. Luxury was hidden worse than what was happening in fast fashion. Because they just didn't have the people to kind of check and see, well, where was the leather supplier that you inspected getting the varnishes or anything else along the way? And when they went check, they were like, mmm, looks like they're not actually inspecting. They're not going all the way down to the end of the pipeline. And I think that sort of what happened to the sneaker industry, I think is sort of, I think the mindset change again, I think a lot of this has to do with some people just do what they showed up when they showed up something like this and they didn't question whether it's right or wrong they just kept doing and that doesn't make it right or wrong. It just means that they didn't really have the wherewithal to go, if I walk into a room the lights on should I turn it off when I leave the light was on when I got there I should just be No, I think a lot of that comes from At least again, I'm talking about my home in the sneaker industry, there was definitely some push before that, like light got shine like in probably 2002. Because I remember getting on planes and like, people were like, Oh, you work for Nike. It's so terrible, so terrible. And going well, we're kind of doing something. And then when the pretty much everybody got exposed, no one talks about Nike anymore. They did for a few years. But because Nike went out of its way, in a combination someone was PR of like, look what we're doing. The factories, were making big money. We're like, oh, if we want to ride this PR trade, we need to clean up our act. Fast forward. I think it's just become the norm. Like it's not even the I'm trying to clean up anything or I'm trying to do it just for PR it's when I walked in this is these are the rules. So I just need to play by these rules. Because somebody put them in place. I think it is that have you advanced the rules beyond where they were placed 10 years ago, 20 years ago, three years ago. I think that's sort of an important task. Because that's the part that for me, and I guess a bigger question for you is like, where in that supply chain mix do you see, especially with, I guess in two cases, one with larger brands--Where is the capacity to cause change? And then in smaller brands, like what is their potential? Do you see something that's obvious or an effect can be made?
Swati Argade (30:28)
In large brands? Well, first of all, I think the large brands if they can make major changes, they're going to make the most impact because of scale. You know, and, for example, H&M is the largest consumer of conventional cotton. And, and, you know, and I'm not trying to, like, you know, poke at H&M because they have a major group. They have, they have major production issues, they have tons of inventory, they burn billions of dollars worth of inventory and they have in the past and they've come under fire. But if they were, if they were to only use organic cotton, only use organic cotton and just decide not to use conventional cotton, it would completely change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. So just making a decision like that can really change things or even if like they had a goal to say we're going to just make sure that 50% of it is going to be organic cotton.
Jeff Henderson (31:35)
Swati Argade (31:35)
I think with I think with these large fast fashion companies we have to we have to get away from the traditional fashion calendar. We have to get away from the where the where you know by now wear now model which they have been they have perfected so beautifully with Zara, you know where they're able to see something on the runway and they're able to replicate Within four months, with the traditional fashion calendar we've seen you know, generally it's about, you know, two to four seasons. But with h&m, Zara with these massive fast producers, they can come out with like multiple collections like every month, you know, just for this insatiable need to be putting out new product and I'm hoping that these larger brands like, you know, we're looking at I mean, Forever 21 has now declared bankruptcy. But you know, we're looking at Asos and H&M and Zara, some of these larger brands, if they could just say to themselves that maybe we just need to produce less. Maybe we don't need to be filling the store with new product every you know, four to six weeks. There's a great white paper that came out with HBS some years ago about how Zara does it and I remember like reading that paper. I think it was about 10, 12 years ago about how they have been able to perfect getting new product out and now 12 years later you look at that paper and you see—
Jeff Henderson (33:08)
Right, they can get things out in six weeks
Swati Argade (33:11)
And what a problem that is. It's just the mindset the mindset around that that process was you know, held up to be "look at this incredible manufacturing process and how , what a well oiled machines Zara has." Then and to have some perspective on that 12 years later is to see how how disruptive that model has actually been. I think I think we could start with that. I think we can start with like the fabrication that these companies are using after deciding to get out of that fashion cycle and, and just deciding to make less. Do we need all of these stores? I don't think so. We're all, look at us. Are we are we shopping right now?
Jeff Henderson (33:58)
I think the wild byproduct of that six weeks to market, that "do we need all this product?" I saw it was was it is that for me, I sort of witnessed it, I had no interest in it, it didn't really affect me. But then when it started affecting me is that when I started looking at designers portfolios, what they would say is that there were plenty of jobs that they could get at those, you know, fast fashion houses because it was just a quick turnaround and find out what's already selling and just duplicate that and get it done. And people were making good money. And I was like, that's not sustainable, not from a environmental sense. But from a, if you're a designer, and you're only learning to like take something knock it off and make it quickly, that's not sustainable as like a job resume like it just didn't back in my mind. So I've talked to most designers like you should probably read up and work on something that's a little more evergreen, once you create it so that it lasts for more than just six weeks because that doesn't seem like a good idea. So it even effects downstream in terms of the people who are working on the product, like their abilities and their skills.
Swati Argade (35:05)
One-hundred percent, and that's a really interesting point that you bring up is how can we empower workers and or partners, production partners, to grow? I mean, well, for me, either a little aside is like, what's the point of being human if we're not changing and developing, growing and getting better, I mean, that's the capacity that we have as being human. So why not pass that on? As we make newer more innovative products? Why not pass that on to our artists and partners or our production partners? So I I love that that idea and you know, in there, there was in China, one of the things that was ramping and also like in other countries, but I remember reading this case studies specifically in China, which is this idea of piecework where the same worker only deals with one piece of the production and that's what they finish, so that one worker is only like working on the sleeve, right? And that's all they work on over and over and over again, they're never going to be able to learn how to figure out like, how do you put all of these other pieces together?
Jeff Henderson (36:19)
Right, or even understand the big picture.
Swati Argade (36:22)
Exactly. And so that was what what you're saying. It's just, you know, here we are, like, there's the designer working in this fancy office like somewhere and in this like large, sophisticated city, and not realizing the way that they're designing, just to come back to your point of how it affects the person, you know, sitting at the sitting at the machine.
Jeff Henderson (36:49)
What do you think of? So one of the thoughts I just had was just based on, there's big companies that can sort of execute against I've always heard like if they make a small change, they'll cause huge changes around the world. Small companies typically have to make big changes. And I think it was when I was working on the project with Everlane, I sort of understood, okay, they want to make the shoes more sustainable.
Swati Argade (37:14)
I love how you think Everlane is a small company. But I guess when you're coming from Nike.
Jeff Henderson (37:20)
Oh, I just I just had exactly I just had a conversation with like, I came from, like a place where 300,000 was sort of like, oh, you did, okay. Like so making something that's like 3000 units, like, why are we really here? But what was really interesting about when I started listening to their conversation, it wasn't the idea of making something sustainable, that really jarred how I thought it was the fact that they said, well, let's go all in. Like, let's go for hundred percent, like even if we don't make it, even if it's not there, let's go all in. And I thought that sort of grandiose statement, even though we may not have gotten there, everybody on the team was on the same page and it drove everybody to just ignore what other other properties that might be out there. If we're not accomplishing this goal, then why are we thinking about it? And I thought that just having this grandiose goal, sort of like Kennedy, let's go to the moon, like, it's sort of like, oh, it's sort of empowers people to say, we're going to make a change hell or high water I think that's sort of what I'm seeing now in the age of like Covid,
Swati Argade (38:25)
And I think like when you sort of have that pie in the sky, kind of goal where you're like, I'm we're gonna make this all sustainable, you're not going to be able to hit all the marks, but you know, what the marks are. And even if you it's been oftentimes mean, even in my own practice, I haven't been able to hit all the marks, you know, I mean, I do my very best but, you know, and having been in this space, like I've developed the experience to figure out like, what works and, and what doesn't, you know, for example, like, you know, I want to use natural dyes all the time. But at the end of the day, my consumer is not going to be loving it after she's washed it like 10 times, for example, you know what I mean? It's gonna really, really change.
Jeff Henderson (39:11)
Swati Argade (39:11)
I mean, anything that you are limited by in that, but as long as like we're just trying to get there a little by little through innovation. I mean, I actually think it needs to be more than little by little. But I think that that's important. I mean, me I'm a much smaller company than everlane. And, but the great thing about being small is that you can pivot coming back to that word, you can move quickly. When you're small. You can be fast. You don't have this massive machine dragging you down and keeping you from moving quickly. And you know, for me in my own business, I have a store and we're talking like you know, a small business. I have a store. I have like five employees. I have a studio. I have two or three factories that I work with in India and like I have various production partners. You know, and we're producing thousands of products a year for sure. But with COVID I'm looking at, okay, how are we going to start making multi seasonal clothing? How is that how are we going to make that into more focus right now? Versus, you know, let's think about like, you know, a higher end luxury brand, like, let's like, you know, just talking about sustainable design, like Stella McCartney, for example, you know, how is she going to really be able to pivot with all of the luxury goods that are out there? I mean, luxury, luxury goods market is, is going to be dying because who's really, really needs to be buying gowns and, you know, fancy clothing and nobody's going anywhere.
Jeff Henderson (39:41)
Swati Argade (40:34)
Like my entire production for March, April and May was like wedding dresses, Mother's Day dresses, graduation dresses, wedding guest dresses.
Jeff Henderson (41:07)
Swati Argade (41:08)
And I had to I had to put a halt on all of that luckily like this happened I we saw this coming at the end of February where, you know, I was having conversations with my customers that were coming into the store. And I had just placed this large order of tie dyed silk. So that was going to be using for all of these like, you know, the fancy dresses. And I just told my factory I was like, okay, hold that and let's not produce it, I'd already paid for it. I didn't cancel any orders, you know? And I said we're just going to start working making cottons. Things in cotton that are breathable wearable that are comfortable to wear. And we're just going to pause and we're going to figure that out. So I think that the with with small companies you know with the opportunities that we have to market ourselves like mine through social. You know, for me, it's been really micro and very local by working specifically with you know, I have quite a large customer base that's very local that's like in person, we get email and text and all of that. And I've been able to ask them specifically, what is it that you want? Whereas, and I think that's the great thing about being small and local, and having those conversations with your customers, where you can provide the most service and really figure out what people need at this time. And if you already have the values of doing it right, it's a lot easier to do it right in the way that your customers want you to do it. But and I also just want to return to something that you said about, you know, about Nike and Adidas and the sneaker companies, where it just it's just become part of the DNA. It's like not like Nike and Adidas are like yes, we're a sustainable fashion company. It's just, it's just what you do. And as a smaller designer, when I started coming, I really branded myself as someone in relief to the larger industries like, hey, like this is a place where you can come and know that everything that comes out of this store has been made consciously and meaningfully. But I look forward to the day where I just got to make well thought out clothing, because instead of saying, oh, and it's sustainable, it's just, I'm just really worried.
Jeff Henderson (43:32)
Because everybody's doing it.
Swati Argade (43:33)
It's just the way you do it, so.
Jeff Henderson (43:39)
I think there is sort of a mind shift that's happening, but it was kind of already on its way. I think the idea of processed foods is probably the beginning of like, what are what else are we processing and what else is bad for us? But I think the ideas that you put forth to people who go to you it may seem like a small group is influential enough to their friends and everyone around them to go well, no, there's another way you don't have to actually go to H&M you could buy this other thing and while it may cost you a little more if it's me with like minded people, and it lasts a little longer, maybe that's a good thing. And I think I think that is happening, not just with you, but because there's more of Swati Argade out there that didn't exist when you first started. You're working, you're catching on.
Swati Argade (44:28)
And I'm happy that there's so many people coming in and joining in I mean, I think I'd love for your listeners to know this. But when in terms of all of our basic needs, you know what our basic needs food, shelter, gas, oil, electricity, clothing, the only one that has gone down in price is clothing since the early 90s. And I think it's really important for people to know that, you know, in the 1960s and 1970s, like families were spending upwards of like 10 to 15% of their annual income on clothing their family. And in here we are, you know, this mindset that you talk about, like, we don't have to go to the Gap or, you know, or H&M or Zara and buy, you know, four of the same thing in different colors, we can just buy one of those things for more money. And it's just going to last for much longer, and we're going to know that it's been had a positive impact on somebody's life.
Jeff Henderson (45:42)
I'm curious about when 10 years from now people are digging through their parents old clothing, if things still last the way we used to be able to go Oh, look at this old Levi's jacket that you know was well made. This even T shirt that was well made, I can still wear. It's gonna be a lot of product that doesn't cut.
Swati Argade (46:06)
If doesn't get to the landfill first. But it's true.
Jeff Henderson (46:11)
THis is true, this is true.
Swati Argade (46:13)
Exactly. It's true. I mean, in the with the, I don't know if you know this, but this is I found this very interesting that our largest waste export is clothing. So we export clothing more than any other country to throw it away in other countries because we don't have enough places to put it here in the United States. Which what happens in that situation also kills local manufacturing because they're getting free clothing from the United States.
Jeff Henderson (46:47)
I've read about that. So they can't even wear the stuff that they're making.
Swati Argade (46:54)
Right, the ethics of throwingour clothes away, we have to think about how do we throw away less. We consume less, if we consume less, we throw away less, which means there'll be less clothing exported to other countries. And we can help, you know, maintain local manufacturing.
Jeff Henderson (47:14)
But that definitely goes into like a larger, whether it's education or mindset of people have to not want to go to get so much that they're not going to actually value or use. But then that comes with the they'll probably end up paying more for that thing that's longer term. And I think, sadly, that's what somebody said. It's like it's, that's what is programming is that the industry has to communicate that to the consumer. It's not just going to be the consumer is going to wake up and go, we should probably stop doing that. That has to be something that is learned. Because I don't think it's, again, the light was on when I walked into the room. I'm supposed to buy five shirts a year as opposed to Why don't I just keep the one I had? I think that's gonna be something which I give you a lot of credit for. I think you teach in a way that doesn't scare people doesn't put them off or come across as like over the top. The example I always use is that there was a time when being vegan seems sort of like over the top. And there were people who were like, wild about it and you couldn't do anything but you had to be vegan you had to be vegan and now the rebranding is plant based.
Swati Argade (48:33)
Jeff Henderson (48:34)
It's kind of the same thing except they slightly changed it and what's happened is when it was tried to be vegan, like it went years have you had to go at certain like grocery store and talk to the people you didn't really connect with and they would yell at you about going to any other store and now the bodega across the street. It took milk three years to collapse on the fact that now there's 30 times the milk, like I'm lactose intolerant and I go to the cross street and get pea milk, rice milk,I get almond, like which all may have their own issues but now it's not under the guise of you have to so I think again it comes under like that education I think you're one of the people who there's sort of a easier conversation because the facts are the facts, and you do a good job of delivering those facts without scaring them, you know.
Swati Argade (49:28)
You go from vegan to plant based and I mean, this gets back to so much of what we do in our respective industries, you know, you and you know, the sportswear and sneaker design and you know, me and you know, on the fashion side of things were just the way that things are presented and the way they're messaged is so important. And sometimes like I get I can I can get a little irritated by like, Can you just like listen to the content of what I'm saying versus the way I'm saying it, you know, but when you put it like that it really is so much about, you know, how can I include you in the conversation? Right. And I think that's, I think that's really important. And, you know, so I appreciate you saying that.
Jeff Henderson (50:19)
Very cool. Very cool. So last question for you, which I askevery guest. If you could go back and tell young Swati one thing that would you know, help in your creative pursuits. What would it be? Any point in time.
Swati Argade (50:39)
Yes, simplify. Focus on just one or two things at the end, just get really good at it. get really, really good at it and find people that that you really love and who are doing great things and get to know them and watch them, you know, and ask them what their mistakes were.
Jeff Henderson (51:09)
At what point do you think you started? At what point do you think you heard yourself say that?
Swati Argade (51:17)
I feel like I was a couple of years in because I didn't go to fashion school, you know, I mean, I've taken classes here and there at FIT but I've really learned everything on the job and my career. And, and so I am not one of those people that, you know, had mentors, you know, early on, but I've been able to find my mentors in places and I feel whenever I start there's a departure from you know, making good clothing and making it responsibly. Whenever I depart from that things get a little more complicated.
Jeff Henderson (51:56)
Interesting, interesting. When you get off the path, it get's kind of rocky?
Swati Argade (52:01)
Exactly so and I still and I continue to live by that you know when I get a little when I feel like things are getting a little distracted I just try to come back to my North Star and my compass.
Jeff Henderson (52:14)
Swati Argade (52:15)
Jeff Henderson (52:18)
Well thank you for taking this time to have a nice conversation about some nice things changing the world one garment at a time it's what you're doing and minds at a time. We'll get to the education part on our next conversation. But before we go, you want to tell us where we can go purchase some of your simpler goods which you'll be making.
Swati Argade (52:40)
Absolutely, you can visit Bhoomki.com that's B like boy H double o m like Mark K-I dot com and you will see on our website that we we also sell clothing of other great ethical fashion brands along with our own brand. And you can learn a little bit more about our process what we do. You can read our 2020 Sustainability and Ethics report to really get a little more information about what makes us who we are. And I just want to say thank you so much, Jeff for for inviting me to this. I love our conversations.