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Fashion with intention: Kaahani showcases artisan jewelry from India

Fashion with intention: Kaahani showcases artisan jewelry from India

Fashion with intention: Kaahani showcases artisan jewelry from India
February 10
16:46 2019

In 2016, Navya Kaur, fashion merchandising and digital retailing senior, was strolling through the markets of India with her grandmother when she became fascinated with the vendors’ jewelry craftsmanship. Inspired by their work, Kaur came home and started her own jewelry business.

“That summer, I was really thinking about my career and what I wanted to do,” Kaur said. “I was looking at all these beautiful jewelry pieces that are handmade by craftsmen and different artisans. I was like, ‘Why is this not more readily available in the United States?’”

This train of thought led Kaur and UNT alumna Abby Santillana to create Kaahani, a small business providing small-batch, handmade goods sourced straight from artisans in India to local consumers.

“’Kaahani’ literally translates to ‘story’ in Hindi and Punjabi, ” Kaur said. “[The business is] centered around this idea that our products should have meaning. We shouldn’t just be going out and buying anything off the rack. [We’re] actually be conscious about what we are purchasing.”

In the winter following Kaur’s return from her trip to India, she and Santillana formed their partnership and spent the next five months planning Kaahani’s launch.

“We were sitting there talking about our career and our lives, and I just started talking about [the business],” Kaur said. “She lit up. She was like, ‘I know you didn’t ask, but I want to be a part of this,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I would love that.’”

After graduating in December, Santillana now works as a social and content associate at the subscription service, Birchbox. However, she said Kaahani is still a key part of her life.

“Kaahani has impacted my career in a way that changed my entire perspective within the retail business and working with a partner,” Santillana said. “Life-wise, I do see Kaahani being in my life forever. Never would I have thought I would be running a business with my best friend.”

Kaur said starting the business was a process of finding her place in the fashion space and learning how to do something meaningful within it.

“Watching Navya launch Kaahani was like seeing someone fulfill what they were always meant to do,” Kaur’s close friend Cat Cakmis said. “She worked nonstop every day, spending hours on every aspect of her business, from deciding what items to sell to perfecting every little detail that went into creating the website.”

Turning their dream of opening Kaahani into a reality ended up being lots of trial and error. Kaur and Santillana had to learn how to source products, research financial logistics and make arrangements with vendors in India.

Navya Kaur is a co-owner of Kaahani, a small jewelry company focused on individuality and ethical practices. Image by: Dimaggio Escobedo.

“Before, it was a lot of, ‘Let’s do really pretty photo shoots and let’s go make our website really gorgeous and perfect,’” Kaur said. “Now it’s a lot of, ‘Let’s look at spreadsheets and numbers and figure out how to actually make this functional and viable.’ I think it’s just more realistic in the best way.”

To ensure Kaahani maintains good communication with its sources, Kaur tries to take a trip to India at least once a year during school breaks. During these trips, she meets with the artisans and selects collections so orders can be replenished from the U.S. for the rest of the year.

“We only bring, at the most, 10 items back with us of each style because we really do feel like the products there are so unique,” Kaur said, “You’re not going into an H&M, where there are 10,000 pieces and you’re going to run into someone wearing the same thing.”

Because the Kaur and Santillana started the business with the intent of sourcing consciously and providing unique products, sticking to these goals and making a difference in the industry is important to the co-owners.

“[Kahaani is] kind of based on two values: Making sure that we’re respecting and really understanding the stories of the people who make these goods and making sure that we’re providing for them, which is a real issue in the fashion industry right now,” Kaur said. “Then, also making sure that we’re providing really fun and unique pieces to our consumers, who are looking for something that’s a little different and that has a fun story.”

When Kaur and Santillana launched Kahaani, they knew other businesses were conducting similar, ethical practices, but they said they wanted to make it even more accessible to young people by cutting out the middle man.

“I think a lot of times when you talk to people about shopping more consciously, ethically or sustainably, the first complaint is always that it’s more expensive and it’s hard to afford,” Kaur said. “I think what my goal would be is to cut costs as much as possible without it ever having to be at the expense of the maker or the artisan that’s actually creating [the jewelry].”

Kaur said her mission is to ensure the needs of both the artisans and her customers are being protected by learning about the cost of making the products and what consumers can realistically afford.

“It’s making sure that I’m doing my research and understanding what their needs are [and] what my needs are,” Kaur said, “[We’re] making sure that it’s never unreasonable to ask my average customer to pay this amount for what I’m giving them.”

Planning to graduate in May, Kaur said she and Santillana plan to keep running Kahani and continuing to grow the brand.

“The goal is to do this full-time and forever,” Kaur said. “I’m just trying to figure out how to balance it with having an adult, real-life job, being realistic with what I need out of my life, and also really making sure I’m hanging onto this dream and not letting it slip away with reality.”

Featured Image: Navya Kaur, fashion merchandising and digital retailing senior, showcases ethically sourced jewelry from her small business Kahaani. Image by: Dimaggio Escobedo. 

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Talia Snow

Talia Snow

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