IT ALL ´LEEDS´ TO FAIR TRADE
Norman Warwick shares news from the University Of Leeds
A passion for textiles, born in the markets of Mumbai, is helping a former student at the University Of Leeds to ´put the power back in the hands of the consumer.´
So wrote L´Oréal Blackett, (left) herself a University Of Leeds alumni, having graduated in Broadcast Journalism in 2010. Formerly a magazine editor based in Manchester L´Oréal is now a freelance writer and presenter.
L´Oréal explained in her piece in Leeds, Issue 22 that Rupa Ganguli who graduated from the city´s major University in 2001 with an MSc in Textile Management understands the complexities of launching a lifestyle business in line with your values – especially when it comes to sustainability. The international trade specialist helps connect artisans within an industry that often values production over people. As she said: “It should always be about the people.”
Rupa (right) traces her passion for textiles back to her teenage years. As a 17-year-old economics student “full of curiosity” she chanced upon a busy Mumbai wholesale market brimming with colourful fabric and “a lot of people who knew what they were doing”. She managed to persuade a seller to help her purchase some leftover fabric, and with it she made her own outfit.
Rupa’s ingenuity grew into a contemporary fashion business, first selling to her friends and then later to the wider community. Rupa doesn’t recall India’s retail sector being large at the time and her fledgling business caught the eye of the local press.
“I had to get a bank account, which was a big deal back then,” said Rupa. Her entrepreneurship helped secure a postgraduate degree at India’s premier school for fashion technology (NIFT, New Delhi) and she went on to gain a scholarship to study textiles at Leeds where she developed her interest in international trade. “It opened up a world of opportunity for me,” said Rupa. “I could spend hours and hours in the textiles library.”
Though her days in the Mumbai markets are behind her, she’s grateful that the experience propelled a two-decade career in business and trade. Rupa’s career spans working as a trade specialist within the United Nations’ International Trade Centre in Geneva and the World Trade Organization.
With her global connections she founded the Inclusive Trade platform for artisans who enable positive change. By demystifying the supply chain, Rupa helps consumers make ethical choices by leading them straight to the source. “It’s about transparency and visibility – people have lost that connection with the maker,” said Rupa.
Whether the products are fashion, accessories, homeware, jewellery or even chocolates, Inclusive Trade makes it easier to share the stories of creators all over the world. “What’s more, the majority of these wonderful products are made by women, or the process is led by women,” she said.
Alongside supporting artisans, Rupa is passionate about encouraging consumers to buy responsibly. “We often say that the fashion industry isn’t responsible enough, or that government regulations aren’t strong enough in terms of ethical standards, or that the big brands and retailers push prices down,” she said. “However, a lot of that could be solved if we as consumers started making choices that meant we actually live an ethical lifestyle. Making small and meaningful choices will go a long way.”
Rupa reflects and echoes many of the seNtiments expressed in the abov profile in her own writings. In addressing her approach to her career she has described herself as ´an international trade specialist by profession (and) an entrepreneur at heart. My expertise lies in developing intelligence, building connections and growing small businesses into global ventures. With several years of on-the-ground experience across continents working with factories and retail, I am enthusiastic about being part of the process that shares, supports and facilitates the growth of a sustainable and ethical fashion industry.
I am passionate about developing innovative solutions focussed on using technology and online platforms, to bring more women entrepreneurs, skilled artisans and designer makers to the fore front.
I believe traditional skill sets can add great value to the growth of sustainable long term businesses in fashion and textiles, while having a direct positive impact on economic development and poverty reduction of communities across the world. The challenge there lies in marrying the concepts and making them commercially viable. I work with international organisations, public and private entities with the aim to create these much-needed linkages. I have led and implemented programmes in several countries across Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America since 2001.
My start-up, inclusivetrade.com brings passion and experience together onto a sustainability first, e-commerce platform. MSMEs and artisans are able to connect with ethically-minded businesses and consumers globally, while being supported through their journey, navigating international trading rules and regulations.
I am always happy to discuss and debate the impact of international trade rules with businesses and governments finding solutions to make sustainable trade and good business a global reality.´