Female empowerment has never been so prominent and 2018 has already seen some big shifts towards change. The Twenty Mile Club are huge supporters of this change, which is why the timing of featuring female entrepreneur Alice Van Grutten, behind KRAIT has been golden. KRAIT London is first and foremost a womenswear brand and what sets KRAIT apart from most other brands is the story behind it. KRAIT produces ethical clothing from fabric that is eventually destined for landfill. Alice’s designs are brought to life in collaboration with the Indian NGO Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development. Like any entrepreneur, she’s had her share fair of learning on the job- but that’s what makes KRAIT all the more great! It’s no wonder she has super stars knocking on her door asking if they can wear her clothes at the Grammy’s…
Alice van Grutten
Currently, my home is split between London and India
Did you go to university? How clear-cut were your choices to you?
I was one of the few who didn’t go to university from my year at school. I thought I had a clear-cut path anyway, but it didn’t work out as I had planned. I turned up in London, young and naïve ready to work in the fashion industry; I interned with large fashion houses across London and then took myself off to Florence, Italy to study Fashion Marketing and Communication. I completed that course, ended up working in a pub and then headed off to Istanbul. However, will you believe I ended up in property before I started up KRAIT?!
What is KRAIT and when did you launch?
KRAIT launched in June 2017. KRAIT London is first and foremost a womenswear brand. What sets us apart from most other brands is that KRAIT is about story telling and creating emotional bonds between women through clothing. KRAIT produces ethical clothing from fabric that is eventually destined for landfill, we promise not to produce any new fabrics for our designs. My designs are brought to life in collaboration with the Indian NGO Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development.
How did the idea for KRAIT come about?
After leaving the property world and London behind me I flew to India to start a fashion line. Hauling myself around Delhi visiting factory after factory and witnessing the horrors of conventional fashion production in India, I decided that KRAIT wouldn’t be part of that. That an industry as enormous as the Fashion industry should be able to pay wages that cover a basic but totally acceptable standard of living. The more I looked into the fashion industry and the problems within it, the more determined I was to do it differently. I wanted to understand what was missing in the exchange of purchasing clothes and I came to the conclusion that there is no emotional connection when you shop on the high street. There are no stories, no faces, no lives- it is all so hidden from the customer and hidden because if you could see it, you wouldn’t buy those clothes. To create a brand with a transparent supply chain, which had social responsibility at the forefront. A brand that was able to connect the females who wear KRAIT, and the women who make it. I wanted KRAIT to be able to offer an insight into the lives of the women who created the clothes and how, you as a customer can improve their quality of life. These stories and this honesty seemed sacred in this world of hidden textile horrors.
Why do you think the sustainable movement is picking up?
I think the Millennials are much more aware of the impact and damage that has been done to the earth. The resources that have been used up and not accounted for in manufacturing costs, such as water or agricultural space. Millennials seem to prefer to do business with corporations and brands with pro-social messages, sustainable manufacturing methods and ethical business standards.
There is a feeling of social responsibility and that we are the ones to make the change. A drive among the youth to step away from mass consumption and unnecessary spending, with the internet and cheap airfares we have had the opportunity to see things first-hand and feel a obligation to be fair in business practices and to support corporations that perform this.
Have you left full time employment to pursue KRAIT full time?
Yes, I left full time employment before I launched KRAIT. It was probably very naïve to do so, but I still believe if I was comfortable in a full time job with a good salary KRAIT wouldn’t have happened. The thought of working on KRAIT after a full day in the office is unimaginable and giving up your weekends seems feasible in discussion, but in reality you need that time out.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for KRAIT?
Honestly, everything was a challenge! From landing in Delhi at 1am with a broken phone, empty ATM’s and a dream to start a clothing brand. I really had no idea how to achieve this, where to start, what was reasonable, nothing. I just had an ambition and ton of determination, I wanted to prove everyone who said I couldn’t do it wrong and most importantly I wanted to prove to myself I could.
Learning to build websites, teaching myself how to draw designs again. Working out the areas of India that I wanted to source fabric from. Finding credible factories, NGO’s, good tailors. Every step has been a challenge, but I wasn’t expecting anything else.
How do you go about finding a manufacturer? Any tips you can offer…
You have to start on the ground unless you are lucky enough to have been told about a manufacturer. I headed to markets in Delhi where they sold samples from established brands; from Paul & Joe to Primark, some garments had labels on saying the factory name. I would then find the factory details and arrange meetings. I spent hours in fabric markets asking about the factories and where they were. I then came across Madhu Vaishnav, the founder of my partner company by word of mouth, when I was in Rajasthan for the second time.
Are you raising investment?
I self-funded my first two collections and then took out a very small loan. Investment is something I am looking for in the future, but it has to be from the right person or place. I would love to out source my PR.
Have you got a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor at the moment but it is something that I am working towards and would welcome whole-heartedly. I think having a mentor is a great asset to any entrepreneur.
Who do you seek out for support and advice (if not a mentor)?
I am lucky enough to have the most supportive family and friends. It feel like they are willing me success with every breathe in their bodies sometimes. I turn to them, their patience and support has been unwavering. They have modelled for me, written pieces about me, helped with logo designs, website problems, the list of support is endless. Most importantly, they have been there to give me a kick when morale is running low.
What’s the best thing about being a single founder?
It is all down to you and you alone.
What’s the worst thing about being a single founder?
It is all down to you and you alone.
Do you ever doubt yourself?
I think self-doubt is completely natural; of course I have days when I think what the hell am I doing! Self-doubt can be a fantastic thing, I think it helps you walk the fine line between self-confidence and hubris it is also good for rationalising situations and often anchors you to my humility. As long as you don’t let self-doubt de-rail you or stop you seizing every opportunity.
How are you marketing KRAIT?
Predominantly through social media, social media is the most fantastic tool for sharing messages and stories and it is free! Having boutique stores selling KRAIT spreads the word wider and word of mouth has played a key part in the growth of the business.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
In hindsight, I am sure there are many things I could have done differently which would have made the process smoother, but I am happy I did it the way I did. The mistakes I have made have taught me an immeasurable amount and have forced me to be increasingly adaptable and level-headed in situations of chaos!
Anything you would tell yourself then, that you know now?
It’s going to be harder than you imagined!
What’s a typical day for you working on KRAIT?
I wake up at 6am and do an hour of yoga. Then it is coffee whilst checking orders, packing and posting. I often have stylists asking to use my clothes for photo shoots, so that all needs organising and delivering. Instagram plays a huge part when it comes to sourcing fabrics, marketing and collaborating, this takes up a large portion of time. The world of social media and the contacts I have made growing up abroad all my life, have allowed me the opportunity to source fabrics from some of the most hard to reach countries. The rest of the day is largely focused on PR.
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
This sounds awful; every success seems to immediately be followed by the feeling of wanting to achieve ‘bigger and better’. I have also discovered, that I am quite a perfectionist when it is my work and I am not doing it for someone else!
Any fuck ups along the way?
Oh, so many! I mean, everything I planned to go wrong didn’t, and everything I thought would go right, didn’t.
I had problems with clothes not being finished on time or correctly. Being sent a fabric with faults in it and the factory not telling me, which meant having to pay for a lot of coats which I couldn’t sell. The list goes on…
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up KRAIT?
It has to have been the time I was contacted by a celebrity stylist, asking me to lend a pretty big name an outfit for the Grammy Awards 2018. Oh, being stocked by Wolf and Badger was also a milestone!
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
Patience, grit and determination are key. KRAIT is the most rewarding thing, and it puts a new perspective on hard work. These ventures very rarely become successful overnight but it has been worth every minute so far! Not working in an office for someone else feels like freedom, you have so much control over your life and that is priceless!
What do you think is next for KRAIT in the next year?
We are looking to expand the number of NGO’s and artisans that KRAIT work with. Towards mid 2018 I plan on venturing to Morocco, Uzbekistan and Mongolia to find fabrics and skillsets. There are discussions with a Berlin based documentary maker who is interested in featuring KRAIT’s story and supply chain in a short film and a few collaborations, which aren’t yet set in stone.
What’s the dream?
The dream is for KRAIT to continue to support females and artisans from across the world, and for the label to be a leader in the movement of socially responsible fashion. As a designer, the dream is to be able to continue making unique items of clothing from excess fabric and vintage pieces, to be as sustainable as possible, and to be able to travel the world sourcing fantastic fabrics. On a personal level to be able to keep expanding, exploring and learning.
Finally if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
If I had to guess, I would probably be roaming around India and Asia teaching yoga.
Just for fun…
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are…
Travel, how I would decorate my house if I had one, what being stupidly rich would feel like
When I look at my bank statement after a night out I usually…
It’s sad that I haven’t had a PROPER night out for so long. I used to just feel physically sick and imagine myself eating tinned lentils for the next month.
The Twenty Mile Club is….
An honest platform, which allows people to share real experiences.
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