Months ago on a backpacking trip through the western hills of Thailand, I was watching a middle-aged Karen woman weave. She was mesmerizing, making the brightly coloured yarn dance around the weaving frame. The purples, oranges and whites flowed together in a traditional tartan-like pattern for one of the community’s families.
I vividly remember standing there, in awe of the fast-paced sashay of her hands. Gathering at the bottom of the frame was a neatly assembled ribbon of a woman’s sarong. One of our community leaders explained to me this woman was an expert weaver, taking only several hours to a few days to complete even the most intricate of textiles. She did not mind an audience as she crafted her piece, intensely focused on the ebbing and flowing of the thread.
The trip enlightened me with a plethora of questions about local economies, diverse cultures and the interconnectedness of human life. I was able to purchase several pieces from the Karen women at reasonable prices that compensated for their hard work and time. I recall thinking it would make a wonderful business for these women to send their children to school, pay for necessities and bring up their overall standard of life. I then learned about a company called IOU (IOWEYOU) Project and their goal to make a socially and environmentally responsible clothing company based on uniqueness, transparency and empowerment.
The real story starts with an extraordinary vision – to use the power of the Internet to prompt a new age of social and environmental change. IOU is shifting the way clothing brands operate in an era where the machine has full economic control over how our society works. They pump out hundreds of thousands of expendable products daily, offering the latest designs and covertly marketing them as something we want rather than something we need. Clothing brands design items and manufacture them so we all can wear the same shirt, pants or scarf, in a variety of colours and sizes.
IOU seeks to change all of this, revealing full transparency to the consumer and having a unique identity for each item in the form of a QR code. We as humans need identities to feel relevant and different, that our individuality and opinions are valued. The company fuses social media with an eco-friendly brand of hand-made clothing that guarantees traceability, transparency, authenticity and uniqueness.
The item’s unique QR code employs a storyline with each item, using the Internet to chronicle the life of the particular piece, from its origin in India as a hand-woven fabric, to its European assemblage, and then to its purchase by a customer on the Internet. Using a smartphone or other electronic device, the buyer can then upload a picture of them wearing the item, completing the piece’s lifecycle. To have the entire production process so open and exposed is such a unique concept; IOU has got it right – and just in time!
The company appeals to the Generation Y, post-Baby Boomer cohort, a group classified as being highly in-touch with communications, new media, and digital technology. There is a growing movement for social and environmental consciousness, where the World Wide Web is the crucial avenue to rally for such change.
What makes this company so unique is its transparency with its production process, deliberately involving the consumer to feel socially responsible, empowered and connected within the greater nexus of a social revolution. The revolution is against the machine. The best and most complete way to describe this revolution is visualized with a three minute introduction video on the IOU Project website.
The introductory video detailed the inspiration for IOU Project, describing the world’s largest revolution: Mahatma Gandhi and his 1920’s movement of weaving for social change. Using his ideas as inspiration, IOU is fighting back against the plague of the machines, empowering weavers in India to link with tailors of Europe, and to provide a fully traceable product to a consumer through a computer or smartphone.
The company’s website has been expertly designed to appeal to an eco-friendly shopper; it was hard to resist the urge to order several pieces right away. The site gives you the name of the exact weaver that designed the piece in question, as well as the tailor in Europe who fashioned the piece. There is a list of products, from scarves to vests to the “come-buy-me-right-now” halter sack dress that stole my attention. The pieces published on the site are the exact items for purchase, with magnified images of the exact fabric colours and design. The item on the site is the item you buy, with no two pieces the same.
IOU has brilliant forward thinking, noting that a machine-driven economy is dying as the world’s population surges. People are starting to realize we need to work together if we are going to live sustainably on this planet together. They employ a terrific sense of accountability, giving the power back to the artisan and taking it away from the ever-hungry machine. The expensive retailers are cut out, providing cheaper costs for the consumer and paying more to the artisans and tailors. The IOU story is a beautiful connection between people that are separated by geography, but united by technology.
By freeing the reigns from machines, IOU is giving the power back to the individual to directly influence a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious society. We owe it to ourselves as individuals to right the wrongs of our machine economy and to support more grassroots companies and organizations. We owe it to the other human and non-human life cohabiting with us and we owe it to this planet. We can weave our way to a better, more sustainable world and IOU is giving us a fashionable way to do it.
(Featured pic by IOUProject.com)