Berlin calling, a story about globalization, social justice and a deep love for fair trade.

Carolin Hofer, managing director of Jyoti – Fair Works

Carolin is from Erlangen, Germany. She has lived in Berlin since 2014 and worked with Solid since 2017.

Below she tells the story of her business, collaboration with Solid and what her life as a business-owner is like. 

From flea markets to fair trade

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Berlin, Chittapur, Londa – these are the places where my wonderful colleagues and I are running the small fair trade label Jyoti – Fair Works. I really got involved in fashion when I was 16, discovering flea markets as a world of endless styles, colors and stories and starting my first fashion label Kolibri. (I admit: Until that time, I was happily chasing the latest trends and went shopping to Nuremberg, Germany with my friends, as there the stores of New Yorker, Pimkie and Co were bigger and much more exciting that our small ones in Erlangen)

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With the flea markets came the appreciation of uniqueness and individuality. A good friend and I started buying second hand stuff, screen printing our own designs on it, upcycling our grandmother’s aprons. We did fashion shows and informed about the exploitive business of textile industry. That was more than ten years ago. All that is left of Kolibri now is a screen printing workshop in Erlangen and a couple of forgotten printed shirts in a box in my mother’s basement, but my motivation has remained.

We, as Jyoti, are driven by the idea to produce garments that bring joy to everyone who is involved in their lifecycle — from the cotton farmer to the person who finally wears them, and appreciating the value of clothes is one of our most important messages. I am still amazed by uniqueness—the uniqueness of every seam, of every single meter of the handwoven fabrics we work with.

Paces Crafts weaving is art work

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The fabrics Paces Crafts – the fair handicraft workshop of Solid in India -  makes for us made me understand once more that weaving really is art work. The ladies in Rampur start with regular yarn and a lot of patience, with hands and feet trained by years of experience, and they produce fabrics so soft that customers keep asking us if we are certain it doesn’t have any silk in it. When touching this fabric one can feel its value­—the ladies in our stitching workshop in Chittapur do so as well; when I was there showing them the new collection, we called the newest Paces Crafts fabric “our baby”—incredibly beautiful and soft and something which must be treated very gently…

By women for women

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The initial idea of Jyoti was to establish a sewing center in Chittapur, where women—many of who are uneducated and bound to home-based or physically demanding labor—are trained and employed as seamstresses and work in an environment where they feel comfortable. This should, of course, improve the financial situation of the families at first hand, but at the same time have the potential to change the self-awareness and the perception of the women and their role in the families. The idea evolved in Chittapur itself, where my friend and business partner, Jeanine, spent a couple of months in 2008 working with a local ngo. By a group of motivated and strong women Jyoti was established as a small training center and transformed into a fair trade business over the time.

After a couple of years, we started peeking over the rim of our sewing center and wanted to know more about the rest of our value chain. We started working with small weaving centers, family businesses, cooperatives and workplaces like Paces Crafts, purchasing very special handmade fabrics from them. We decided not to work with machine-made knitted fabrics and to focus on the impressive varieties of handwoven fabrics. Especially in India weaving has a great history, and the patterns, styles and materials differs from region to region.

A day in the life

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I live in the 4th floor in a house in North-West Berlin. The first thing I see in the morning is the huge tree in front of my window, reaching almost into my room. I look at it for a while every morning to finally wake up. After breakfast I go to Neukölln by bicycle and look for the places where the sun finds its way down to the pavements first. There I sit, have a coffee, write my diary and afterwards walk the last few meters to our office.

Our German team is quite small. Mostly there are between three or five women in the office, which is both our small store and a co-working space. Everyone comes accordingly to her morning timetable but at ten we are all there to start the day with a quick meeting about special events and ongoing or urgent tasks for the day. We usually work on our own, but with a lot of talking in between. In the morning I try to finish the more demanding tasks, or the ones requiring creativity or focus. We have a small kitchen in the co-working space where we all prepare lunch together, which we eat sitting in the middle of our shop, or, now that it is getting warmer, in front of the door on our small veranda. In the afternoons, when my energy is lower, I prefer having small team meetings and tackle tasks that depend on action rather than thinking. But despite this routine each of our days are always different, and I think we are really lucky to have that.