Brands Interior Design

Interview with Kalinko Founder Sophie Garnier

6th February 2018

Kalinko came to life after Founder Sophie Garnier spent a year living in Yangon working for an investment and advisory firm who build sustainable businesses in Myanmar. It was then that Sophie started to meet incredible the artisans that they now work with.

The company was launched in November 2016 and in the last 15 months they’ve grown from a team of 1 to a team of 8 between London and Yangon. They currently work with 87 craft families from all over the country and their network is expanding rapidly.

How did the idea of a sustainable company start and what led you to found Kalinko?

Great question, because it was a desire to create sustainability for our artisans that led us to found the company. All over the world, ancient craft traditions are being lost as cheap, factory-churned products replace the demand for the handmade. We felt that the threat was particularly acute in Burma, where our craft-families have been isolated from global markets for 60 years under military dictatorship.

Having been forced by a lack of demand out of their workshops and into the fields to supplement their incomes, our main aim is to help them go back to what they do best, and become full-time crafters again. We want to generate enough income for them to support their families and to be able to invest time in training the next generation to keep their craft alive.

Access to new markets is key to this survival, so we work very closely with them to advise on how to hone their products to international taste, and to raise the quality of the finished product to satisfy global expectations.

You’re quite unique in the market that you are really focused on rattan which is sourced from Burma – is that where the best rattan products come from, tell us a little more about the connection between the product and the place.

We’re biased, but we really do think that Burmese rattan is the best in the world. Firstly, this is down to technique; by comparison with cheaper products produced in Thailand and Indonesia, Burmese rattan has a far tighter weave which makes for a much stronger, longer-lasting piece of work (you can sit on an upturned rattan bin from Burma without it breaking – tried and tested!).

Secondly, the reed used for Burmese rattan work lends itself perfectly to the craft: it’s solid all the way through (unlike bamboo which is hollow) making it one of nature’s strongest materials. It grows all year round, all over Burma, and regrows very quickly after being harvested. So it’s a wonder-material, woven by some of the world’s most experienced weavers, in a totally sustainable way.

Beyond rattan, we’re increasing our focus on fabrics. We’re hoping to launch fabric by the metre later this year, and are working hard with our weavers at the moment to get the product ready to go. The fabrics are totally unique to Burma and are unbelievably beautiful, so we’re really excited about taking them to the rest of the world!

Creating an online store is a very big job, but I think you’ve done a great job and I fell in love with your products at a trade fair last year. How do you create the right ‘edit’ for your shop?

We think very hard about how people shop for their homes, and what they are looking for. Increasingly, I think people are shopping more sustainably, and are starting to value good design, craft and quality over impulse buys, a bit like the much sought-after capsule wardrobe!

We therefore only include products which we would have in our own homes, and try to keep a good balance between form and function. Our products have to be beautiful, but they also have to be useful; beautiful items that you can use for years and pass down to your children, and pieces that are timeless enough that your children will actually want them!

You clearly have good relationships with your suppliers, do you help guide them in creating products that are right for your audience and how does that process happen?

We find that while the products made by our artisans are naturally of a very high technical quality, either the function or palette will often need a slight tweak in order to appeal to Western markets. So we stick steadfastly to traditional patterns and techniques, but design colours and shapes which are relevant to our customer. Practically, this means spending a lot of time with them and iterating the products lots of times. There are always endless samples before we reach the finished article!

To find out more and explore these gorgeous products, visit Kalinko.

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