In celebration of the unique variety of brands Bhoomki carries and the rich stories they tell, we’re delighted to launch Studio Stories - a new series featuring the strong voices of unique brands we feature at our store. Each month we’ll sit down with a company's founder whose product we carry, and highlight how he or she is making a positive social and environmental impact through their business and within the fashion industry-at-large.
We open our series with Monisha Raja, Founder and Creative Director of Love is Mighty, a vegan shoe brand collaborating with artisan women in India. With over twenty years of experience in the fashion industry, Monisha has built one of the most fashion-forward vegan brands on the market and recently won the PETA Vegan Fashion Award for her shoes. Her work is more than just a well-designed shoe -- Love is Mighty represents a force towards preserving traditional artisan crafts in India and around the globe.
We spoke with Monisha to chat about following your calling, Love is Mighty's aesthetic, and the dignity in artisanal craft.
Love is Mighty is a design first, vegan shoe brand collaborating with artisan women in India -- a truly unique and ethical combination. What is the story behind founding Love is Mighty?
I have been in the fashion industry for over twenty years. I graduated from Parsons, and throughout my career I was mainly focused on apparel. Then, eight years ago, I accidently fell into shoe design through a friend at Tory Burch who asked me to join the team.
I knew I wanted to eventually start my own project. And as I started to build Love is Mighty there was always a strong eye on design, keeping the shoes vegan, and giving back in some way. I spent three months traveling throughout India. While I was traveling, I came across a group of artisans and ended up stayed with them for weeks at a time. As I learned of their precarious working conditions, given that india is racing towards becoming an econmic super power -- these artisans were being marginalized. Many of them were giving up their beautiful craft to go into construction work, which currently is a much steadier economic opportunity.
It was then I asked myself, 'What can I do to be part of the solution?' And, that is where Love is Mighty came into the picture, as a bridge between the huge gap in artisan craft and modern design.
I had no idea where all these dots were connecting to. All I knew was I had a calling, and the calling was strong. I barely had any money -- just a lot of passion, energy, and time. That's how it all began to unfold.
How would you describe the design aesthetic behind Love is Mighty?
My professional life has been rooted in the fashion industry, and I became vegan seventeen years ago - way back when. Trying to find shoes that were not leather, and were well designed and comfortable was really tough! I didn't want to look like a vegetarian [laughs]. I couldn't find a brand I loved. Stella McCartney's shoes were beautiful but expensive. Back then, even ten years ago it was difficult to find.
For Love is Mighty, I am working on achieving a product that is design first, and then holds up to the fact that it is vegan. The design aesthetic of Love Is Mighty is a confluence of high fashion, modern innovation and ancient tribal mastery. It's about creating a premium fashion product, but one that reflects rapidly disappearing old-world handwork and needlework.
We currently carry the Heera shoe by Love is Mighty in Bhoomki and they are beautifully made out of the most unusual material. What is the story behind your materials?
For Love is Mighty, I work with a community of women in India, the Rabari tribe. Traditionally, they wove incredible cottons and silks, and then they started experimenting with weaving recycled materials. The Heera shoe, which you currently carry in your store, is actually made of recycled biscuit (cookie) wrappers. The wrappers (sourced locally in India) are treated just like yarn, and weavers weave them on a loom. The effect is truly incredible.
Left: Women weaving plastic recycled plastic. Right: Heera Shoes
First hand, how have you seen your work impact the artisans you collaborate with?
I began working with the Rabari tribe women in India about three years ago. I kept going back to connect about 3 - 4 times a year, and through this, we began to build a relationship. As they began to trust me, they let me in more and more.
We are still a new company and have only been working together three years, but what I would truly like to give back is a sense of dignity and respect so they feel the international market values what they do. Their traditional craft floods the Indian market, and therefore is not priced fairly given the exquisiteness of the craft. I want to restore that sense of dignity so they know what they are making is special.
What I am embarking on is a long term project. It will take me more time to truly assess how the work of Love is Mighty will shift these communities and people. But without a doubt, the work I am showcasing is highlighting the rich heritage, not just in India, but globally. In the United States we have almost lost the native handwork completely, and if you want to find it you really have to search for it. I am afraid India will fall in the footsteps of the first-world countries where our traditions are not valued.
So the work of Love is Mighty isn't something that will happen overnight. But my work as a designer is sort of like an activist. It's to inform the market and customers about how apparel can be our connection to the past.