WORDS: CAMILLE SOULOS-RAMSAY
Did you realise your underwear could be healthy? No, before I found out about Monsoon Blooms, neither did I.
Having recently settled in India to start a life with their newborn son Cypress, husband and wife Krishna and Samantha Kamala wanted to build a business with purpose. But to proudly call that business their own, they would need it to be both ethical and sustainable, and to connect their new family with Krishna’s Indian heritage.
It was from their dedication and commitment to these ideals that Monsoon Blooms came into fruition. Crafted by their workers in Southern India, who are paid enough to ‘thrive, not survive’, Monsoon Blooms’ 100% organic cotton underwear line is coloured with ancient Ayurvedic medicinal plant dyes, which are as good for the planet as they are for you.
I spoke with Samantha and Krishna about their journey to becoming Ayurvedic underwear connoisseurs.
LET’S START FROM THE BEGINNING; HOW DID MONSOON BLOOMS COME ABOUT?
Samantha: We wanted to start a business that would give purpose to our time in India and ensure our baby boy Cypress stays connected to his heritage. It was Krish’s idea to start selling something online, and it took him a while to convince me; I didn’t think we were passionate enough about fashion or homewares to really push for it and make it successful, plus I’d heard bits and pieces about the way the garment industry operates and was worried we wouldn’t find a way to operate ethically.
I guess we just kept bouncing around ideas until we landed on something that we both felt proud of and wouldn’t be doing just for the sake of killing time or making money. Our dye-house is right by the village where Krishna grew up. His Grandparents used to weave cotton on a handloom, and they lived and breathed the wisdom of Ayurveda… so it feels very special for us.
TELL ME A BIT MORE ABOUT YOUR CONNECTION TO AYURVEDIC MEDICINE?
Krishna: I knew it from my Grandpa. He’d never go to hospital or see a doctor, he made all his own medicine and seemed to know everything about Ayurveda. If he had a cut, he would know what leaves could heal the wound, if he had a little fever, he would know what plants to boil. I grew up with him and had those treatments – he wouldn’t let me go to the doctor either. Even when I got bitten by a cobra snake. Everyone in my village only used natural medicine - that was and still is normal for me.
SO YOU DECIDED ON A BUSINESS TO DO WITH AYURVEDIC DYED COTTON. BUT WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE UNDERWEAR?
Samantha: We like that underwear isn’t really susceptible to trends, it’s more necessary than most of the fast fashion garb we buy. Even most of the ascetic sādhus and sādhvīs usually wear a loin cloth! And given our skin comes into contact with underwear almost every day, there is a greater need for organic cotton and natural dyes. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect anyone to have an entirely Fairtrade, organic wardrobe with the way the industry currently is; starting at the underwear draw is a good first step.
YOU SEEM VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT THE SUPPLIERS YOU WORK WITH. HOW DID YOU FIND THEM?
Krishna: It was really hard actually. We had so many weeks, maybe months of research and nobody would answer our e-mails and phone calls. And we also had businesses pretending to be organic. It was complicated. For the organic cotton, we found Chetna online, and that helped us to find the Rhajlakshmi Cotton Mill (RCM). For the dye-house I drove around on my bike speaking to different people where we live that I thought might know something. After some time, we found a place about 2 hours away, I was so surprised to find something right near my village.
Samantha: Believing in our suppliers took a long time too. Once we found them we went about getting to know their business and cross-checking them with organisations like Fairtrade India. The dye-house is less known so we just had to spend time with them and get an understanding of their processes. I was really excited about their natural bleach, so on one of our trips out there I took a few pieces of stained clothes in the hope that they could fix them – but they wouldn’t even look at it because they’d come into contact with chemicals! I was only slightly disappointed, because in the bigger scheme of things it really affirmed to me that we were working with the right people.
WHERE TO FROM HERE? HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE BUSINESS GROW?
Krishna: I would like to make clothes using handloom cotton, with no sewing machine and no electricity. It's not great for underwear because it has absolutely no stretch, but for things like men’s shorts we can use it. The handloom craft is dying and I would really like to help the people I know continue to do it.
Samantha: The first time we went to the dye-house I was losing my mind, squealing to Krish from another room with ideas and excitement, holding a stack of fabrics with grand plans to make a couch cover, pillow slips, place-mats, 3 new dresses – they even had hand-woven shoes! I couldn’t contain myself. I eventually put everything back and reminded myself we were out there to start a business and not to redecorate our home and improve our own wardrobes. But if we see that other people like these fabrics as much as we do, then I’m going back and I’m making as much as I can. There really is no limit to where Monsoon Blooms can go, and the thought of how our success could help the people we are working with is incredibly exciting.
On my really fanciful days I also dream about starting up an eco-retreat where travellers can come and experiment with fabrics and dyes whilst on holidays, and appreciate the clothes making process and the people behind it.
It’s hard to go back to buying clothes that were made in a sweatshop with chemicals once you’ve shared a chai with a seamstress or laughed at the same joke as someone who dyes clothes. They aren’t faceless people from a faraway land anymore. The retreat will be designed by (Studio Mumbai architect) Bijoy Jain and have a shared kitchen and a sewing studio that feels more like a Yoga Shala than a factory and a … (laughs) I might be getting a bit carried away... It’s fun to dream.