Mohinders: A Collaboration

It is our belief that where there is shared passion, the potential for collaboration is far more valuable than competition. We chose MATTER as a brand name in large part because we wanted to create a collaborative company. Together with Mohinders, we created the Marga motif (inspired by the Rangoli art form) and block printed it on a limited range of dust bags for your pair of Mohinders shoes. Mohinders works with generational artisans to create handmade and ethically-made, woven vegetable-tanned leather shoes – a collaborative process that retains the integrity and simplicity of the artisans’ traditional (and long-standing) of shoe designs.

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How did Mohinders begin?

There was just something about this pair of shoes. It all began with a bit of a chance encounter while traveling—I tagged along on my wife’s business school trip through India in 2012, and brought back a pair of locally made slip-on shoes that I found while wandering shops on the Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. As months passed, I found myself wearing them every day (and people kept asking where I’d gotten them). I began daydreaming that these would do well in the US, and thought, maybe I could work on making it happen.

What did the journey look like to get you where you are now?

There were a few key reasons why this pair of shoes, bought on the Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, was able to become Mohinders:

Some friends from India told me that my souvenir pair of shoes were handmade in people’s homes, not factory-made. It felt exciting to realized that this business could include traveling to find, and connect with, the people who craft these shoes. My wife had just finished business school, and was starting back at her job with a regular paycheck (the timing worked). And, I was also ready for a change—after law school, and working for a couple years as a lawyer, I was pretty burnt out. The combination of all these encouraged me to leave my job and buy that first ticket to India.

From there, a Kickstarter campaign and more than a few trips back to India (some planned, some last-minute to work through hang-ups) helped build a relationship with the cooperative of shoemakers and the first few batches of Mohinders. Over the last several years we’ve grown a relationship aimed at mutual respect and trust with the cooperative, designed a few new styles in collaboration with the heirloom shoe designs that evolved in this region, and created well-functioning operations and supply chain for a line of well presented and long-lasting shoes.

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Mohinders are handcrafted by third-and fourth-generation master artisans in rural India – why the focus on shoes?

Mohinders didn’t arise from a desire to sell artisan-made goods, that manifested through footwear. Rather, the particularities of the pair of shoes I’d brought home in 2012 captured my imagination: their hand-woven details, beautiful construction, and slip-on dressy-to-casual ease. I honestly just couldn’t stop wearing them.

Seeking the makers—and inventors—of the design led me into the business relationship we have today. This cooperative, built on generations of master shoemakers whose families and predecessors evolved and developed this shoe design in this particular place of Athani. Though I didn’t consciously set out to form a company around master shoemaking in rural India, I am grateful that my impulsive shoe-chasing moves led me into the relationship and mutual trust we’ve now grown with the cooperative of master artisans. Honoring this relationship is a core part of what drives Mohinders forward, and I wouldn’t change the way it began and the way it continues to deepen.

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What was the experience of the collaboration like for you?

Another serendipitous overlap sparked this one! A mutual connection, the sisters of Mayne Marketing, shot some lovely images of our newest Mohinders style last fall and styled them with a pair of Matter Prints pants. My business partner, Kristen, loved the pairing and took the opportunity to meet with Matter’s founder, Ren, when she was in San Francisco.

In our conversation, it felt like a natural fit both aesthetically and philosophically, with mutual ties to heirloom design processes in India. We left most of the aesthetic direction to Matter and are so glad we did. The bags came out beautifully, with a red accent that’s another nice visual overlap; the red and blue stripes on many Mohinders styles are something we added early on, as a nod to the rich, undeniably saturated experience of color in Athani, India. Ren shared Matter Prints’ red thread references an old adage that says an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet regardless of time, place or circumstances.

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Can you tell us more about the intention behind tanning the leather with acacia tree bark, limestone, and myrobalan nut? Are there certain challenges with this?

Yes! We’re glad you asked. This leather is not a choice we made and sourced, but rather an inherent piece of the shoemaking process. It’s a kind of traditionally-tanned, handmade water buffalo leather tanned in a village nearby Athani and purchased in-person by discerning leather-specialist shoemakers at a weekly market in Athani. As far as we’ve learned, the these shoemakers in Athani have always worked with this material—it’s especially strong and well suited for footwear. The leather tanning process is also largely manual, so it’s a lot slower and less “efficient” than modern industrialized leather-tanning processes.

The tanning agents, myrobalan, acacia bark, are all used in part because they’re regionally-oriented plants and available where the tanners live and work. These, plus limestone, are necessary ingredients to the process: limestone aids in pre-tanning processing of hides, and myrobalan and acacia bark provide the tannins for a water-based solution that transforms a rawhide into flexible, durable leather.

What does artisanship mean to you?

For us, artisanship is connected to a sense of place and a level of quality. This shoe evolved in Athani, India, where the shoemaking cooperative still lives and works today in homes and workshops on the edge of town. Recognizing and economically supporting this craftsmanship over fast fashion and exploitative business models can be a powerful avenue for equity in business relationships, in a way that reflects the values we hope to uphold in all relationships. In the case of Mohinders, the quality of our product also can’t be replicated by a factory. This helps create shoes that can be worn for years, as opposed to disposable, short-lived garments.

#ChangeBeyondTextiles is…

A lasting change in business, away from systems that encourage exploitation and profits over people. Growing, learning and acknowledging where we can do better.

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What is your hope for the artisan industry 10 years down the line?

We hope to see a greater focus on Respectful Design—a term borrowed from Dori Tunstall, who has been inspiring and educating us as of late (we recommend her work highly to anyone in design or apparel!). Dori suggests that “values like equality, democracy, fairness, integration, and connection are values that, to some extent, we’ve lost and design can help make those values more tangible.”

Design appropriation and exploitative practices are all too common in modern supply chains; while we won’t claim to be perfect, the process of creating Mohinders has been a huge avenue for understanding our position and our impact in a globalized world. We hope more and more of our community will be in this growth process, which of course includes greater consideration for our impact on the planet for future generations. We hope to see heirloom designs, materials, and processes—and the makers who practice them—increase in the visibility and support they deserve. We hope to see the design business world, as a whole, move toward greater equity.

Inspired by the Rangoli, we created the Marga motif exclusively for our collaboration with Mohinders: a print that speaks to a walk through a journey of beginnings and growth. From now until stocks run out, all orders made for a pair of Mohinders will come with a dust bag hand block printed with the Marga motif.

Shop their collection here.


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