With the sun sporadically raising its head in London I’ve been embracing flashes of colourful fun in any way I can in recent weeks. There’s something about the arrival of warmer days that invites us to embrace the more carefree, playful moments in life, but isn’t it oh so much better when we can do this in a way that isn’t at the expense of others, but instead empowers them, through our summer purchases?
Enter Kantala, who prove that you truly can have and do it all. Kantala is an ethical fashion accessory brand; their mission is to protect and promote the work of artisans in Sri Lanka through high quality fashion accessories that are good for people and the planet. In recent years Sri Lanka’s traditional artisans have been fighting a losing battle against fast fashion and mass manufacturing, but Kantala believe these crafts can be enjoyed across the world through their brand, giving traditional artisans a respectable livelihood in the process. They combine the beauty and vibrancy of Sri Lankan culture with 300 year old traditional weaving techniques to make accessories that are playful, versatile and truly unique. Oh, and they’re PETA approved vegan, but with eco-friendly fabric alternatives. That’s right, a vegan option that isn’t plastic!
Kantala was founded by colleagues and friends Vikum and Nadishan, who always felt that Sri Lanka had more to offer than cheap manufacturing for fast fashion. They became determined to carry Sri Lanka’s traditional crafts to the world in a contemporary way and after visiting Henavala, a small village of artisans, they knew the village’s traditional handwoven mats were perfect for their vision. Two years later they took the plunge and took Kantala full time.
“Kantala” is named after the Sanskrit word for the Hana plant – which yields the core material used to create all of their bags. The Hana plant (Agave cantala) is a sustainable plant with thick leaves which can reach up to 2 metres in length. These leaves are scraped to extract a fine fibre, which is used to weave all the mats used in Kantala products; one of the coolest things about these bags is how you can see and feel the craft of intricate weaving so clearly, it gives their pieces a feeling of storytelling, traditiion and care. These fibres are also dyed using either natural plant colour or reactive dyes in accordance with strict ecological standards, and other vegan materials used are fair trade guaranteed handloom, PiñatexTM – a leather alternative made from pineapple fibres – and up-cycled materials such as coconut shells!
As well as reviving craft and creating economic opportunities for weavers, Kantala also pays its artisans in Henavala 15% above the inflation adjusted “rural income receiver’s mean income per month”. On average, payments are made to the artisans of within 9.5 days of receiving an invoice, and at all times Kantala maintains open communication with their workers. Although 95 families reside in Henavala today only around 10 families engage in hana mat weaving, as younger generations leave the village to find better jobs. Mr Dharmadasa, the grand master of Henavala, and his team of weavers are possibly the last generation of hana mat weavers in Sri Lanka, but Kantala believe it doesn’t have to be this way. They believe that these traditional arts are too beautiful to lose, and that their platform for creating beautiful, eco-conscious accessories can popularise and modernise the tradition in a way that builds strong livelihoods and inspires new generations to continue to learn these skills.
Not only do Kantala’s ethics stand up in areas of the environment, manufacturing, animal protection and economic development in Sri Lanka, their bags really are wonderful. They were kind enough to send me the Artha Zip Around Wallet and and the Adhya Tote to field test, and I couldn’t help but fall for them. The skill and talent that culminates to create a Kantala bag is so evident, there’s something really special about being able to support something that is rooted in tradition and craft that existed long before the fast fashion fads and mass consumption fever took over so many of us. Practically these bags are also great storage (they can really hold a lot!) and highly durable, and I’ve found the pineapple leather stays cool on a warm day, so you can avoid that icky, sticky feeling that comes with some leathers and synthetics. They’re so easy for being on the go, but also bold and beautiful enough to be dressed up for an occasion, making them the ideal flexi-accessory. Essentially these bags are a perfect summer statement item to easily stand out, especially if you’re a capsule wardrobe-r working mainly with basics who wants to spice it up a little, or an ideal gift for a fun loving friend or family member.
Photos by Gianna Scavo.
Wearing – secondhand dress (I got this for £2 in a Salvation Army shop, can we just appreciate that)