Hi! I'm Katherine.
I'm very happy to welcome you to House of Wandering Silk; my passion project & ever-evolving, all-consuming labour of love of over a decade.
Together with Maria and Reena, our little team in Delhi works with dozens of partners across India to create what I *humbly* think are some of the loveliest textile-led clothing you'll come across.
Katherine, founder & director
Born: Sydney, Australia; child of the 80s
Passions: travel, textiles, tea
Favourite thing about running HOWS: working on new textile designs with our partners - the creative scope is endless and the results are always beautiful, even if they may not be usable in a product
Can't live without: Reena's ginger tea
Personal values: equality, freedom & independence
Maria, operations manager extraordinaire, working at HOWS since 2014
Born: Manipur, India; child of the 70s
Passions: weaving & knitting
Favourite HOWS product: upcycled sari necklaces
Can't live without: Reena's ginger tea
Favourite place in the world: her village in Manipur
Personal values: honesty, hard work & kindness
Reena, office angel assistant, working at HOWS since 2019
Born: Delhi, India; child of the 90s
Passions: learning about and experimenting with fashion design
Favourite thing to do at HOWS: learn about the textiles we work with
Side hustle: sells her own clothing designs to friends & family
Can't live without: parents
Personal values: creativity, perseverance & loyalty
Let's get personal - our founding story
I can't tell you the story of HOWS without telling you my story - they're essentially one and the same. So here goes...
I was born in Australia but consider myself rootless & feel at home anywhere in the world. Following six years of living full time in Delhi, I I currently split my time between Berlin, Ithaka island in Greece & Delhi, where Maria & Reena manage all our daily operations. When I'm not deep into HOWS work, I'm likely to be off traveling somewhere - or daydreaming about distant lands.
Despite building a fashion brand, I have to admit that fashion has only ever really been on the periphery of my interests. In High School back in Aus, I shortly dreamt of becoming a fashion designer (as one does). I took a few illustration courses & did my work experience at a well known Aussie fashion brand.
But life took an unexpected turn when I moved to Japan at age 18. I lived in Osaka & just outside Tokyo for over five years, completing an undergrad degree in International Relations. This time, spent with international students from around the world & solo traveling all over Asia during holidays, was a real eye opener for me.
I left Japan in 2004 with a strong desire to work in International Development. I interviewed, unsuccessfully, with Safia Minney; fair trade pioneer & founder of the incredible organisation, People Tree. That meeting was the kernel that lodged somewhere in my brain, slowly growing over the following years into what would become a compulsion to build my own fair trade company.
I moved to London and interned with a range of organisations like Human Rights Watch & Oxfam, trying to get my foot in the door. I was thrilled when, six months later, I got an offer to work with an International NGO in Afghanistan. I gave up my tiny, shared-apartment in grey & wet Clapham South for sun-soaked, chaotic & other-worldly Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of country.
That was the beginning of almost a decade working in the Humanitarian Sector, spending years living in Pakistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Myanmar, Vietnam & Kyrgyzstan, chasing conflict, floods, typhoons & earthquakes.
Baba Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
Blue Mosque, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan
Swat Valley, Pakistan
Textiles & travel are inexorably linked for me. Throughout my travels, I was constantly fascinated by the varied costumes I came across & the people, in particular the women, who kept alive their sartorial traditions.
Throughout all my travel - some 70 countries to date - I always, always have one keen & roving eye out for hand crafted, authentic textiles & the artisans creating them; textiles that tell a little of the story of the place & people I meet - pieces of great beauty showcasing ancient skills & dedicated labour.
Textiles were one of the few things that I could easily squeeze into my backpack & carry with me from place to place. Plus their versatility made them functional as well as beautiful. It's no wonder they were used as a currency in the days of the ancient Silk Road.
Whenever I imagined my future fair trade company, there was no question in my mind that the focus would be hand made, traditional textiles.
Visit our journal to deep dive into some of our textile & travel stories.
Working with local NGO partners, I was involved in dozens of livelihoods projects targeting the empowerment of women; inevitably this meant training women in handicrafts & opening marketing channels. Well-intentioned but vastly wasteful & investment-heavy, such projects would more often than not fall by the wayside upon the completion of the project & ending of external funding.
I grew increasingly frustrated; vast resources were being pumped into so-called "sustainable" programmes. But at the end of it, after the donors and NGOs had moved on, the local communities were left with not much at all.
I failed to see anything sustainable about this system.
Over time, I became convinced that sustainability could only be achieved when all parties had a vested self-interest in a shared outcome; a self-interest that would fuel progress, encourage commitment & ensure sustainability. Tools like micro-finance & fair trade resonated with me.