Our story – Part Two

My mother, my inspiration, and I

Kalai is a brand driven by the need for social and environmental change. One of our foundation stones was laid in Cuba in 2011 when we became startlingly aware of the global need to save our oceans from widespread pollution. You can read that blog – Our Story – Part One – here and watch the movie we made documenting our journey.

The second foundation stone of Kalai is my mother’s legacy. She was tirelessly selfless in all aspects of her life, a woman determined to better the lives of others.

My name is Krishna and together with my partner Blair and our son Kahali, we are Kalai. I was born in south India and grew up in London. At the start of the 70s, my parents left behind the security of family and all that they knew to seek better opportunities in a city that was socially, culturally, economically and even geographically so far away from anything they had ever known.

Just as many immigrants did in those days, my father worked day and night to establish some roots for my brother and I. My mother, a scientist, who studied marine biology, did whatever she could to make ours a happy home life. She wore every hat from microbiologist to teacher and checkout lady at the local ASDA store to ensure our future was safe. A speaker of seven languages, later in life, she was an advocate and interpreter for Asian refugees, travelling to courtrooms and hospital wards all over the city to translate for those who were struggling to find their place in a strange land, just as she once did.

To me she embodied all that it is to be a goddess – beauty, strength, nurturing, selflessness, kindness. She had a motto that she lived by: “never do harm by word or deed” – and that simple message resonates with me always.

On visiting India again for the first time at the age of seven I was a fully-fledged Londoner. I witnessed such confusing and confronting contrasts: poverty and enterprise; starvation and resourcefulness; the haves and the have-nots. I didn’t understand any of it, but it’s everything my mother knew all about and she did whatever she could to ease suffering, whether financially or, on any given evening, simply by taking the uneaten food cooked at home and dishing it out to those on the streets who were starving.

India, to me now is a sea of beautiful faces, an ocean of kind hearts, a deep well of rich culture, and ancient and valuable skills that should be preserved and practised, yet its people still struggle. Kalai is now my chance to give back, to humanity, to the environment… to my mother.

Kalai not only employs the artisan skills of women in the southern Indian state of Kerala, a region on the shore of the Arabian Sea, our products will also be produced out of a centre run by the Kansas/Indian-based non-profit organisation Lions in Four Foundation, using natural dyes, organic textiles and unique processes.

It is our mutual purpose to empower women to help end the cycle poverty. We have set out to contribute to sustainability and promote ethical manufacturing, which means the women at the centre are educated in textile skills, they are paid a fair and livable wage and are treated respectfully. With these skills, the women will have the power to give their children a future that includes an education, and later jobs that will value them, as any human being has the right to expect.

Production at the Kerala centre. Image: courtesy Lions in Four Foundation
Production at the Kerela centre. Image: courtesy Lions in Four Foundation

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