“The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.” Since connecting with Sophie Planet earlier this summer, this line about her new found home has really struck a chord in me. Sophie, originally from Paris, France, moved to Auroville to propel her career in sustainable fashion in 2017 when she started Kimaya (meaning miracle and divine in Sanskrit), a sustainable fashion brand using organic and natural textiles. Her values: co-creation, respect for people, and creating a connection with nature and the simplicity of life. I quickly saw the alignment between why Sophie decided to launch such an incredible, sustainable brand in the heart of a universal town with an aim to live in peace and progressive harmony.
Auroville, an experimental township located in Tamil Nadu, was founded in 1968 by spiritual leader, Mirra Alfassa, a French-Indian Hindu. Matrimandir, the town’s focal point, is a futuristic, spherical temple covered in gold discs that took 37 years to create. Currently surrounding it, 2500 Aurovillians reside from over 50 nations, inclusive of all age groups, social and cultural backgrounds. “Auroville represents for me unending education,” states Sophie, as she explains the diverse and unique township. “Auroville is a laboratory, where we all experiment and learn how to grow individually and collectively. I’ve learned so much [about myself] since I’ve been here. Of course sometimes it is challenging but it is worth the work for making a change and manifesting something”.
When Sophie originally reached out to me, I was instantly drawn to her designs, bold with asymmetrical lines and feminine flair, combining soft Indigo, pastel pink hues and clean whites. Her spring/summer 2018 collection is quite diverse, allowing various pieces to be mixed and matched for a variety of occasions, from lounging in the park on a hot summer day, to a night out in the city. I’ve enjoyed afternoon meetings in my ABIGAL dress (tied up in the photo above) and ROMY capri pants, and my super soft ELIJAH romper on overnight buses to the mountains. All items are made from 100% organic cotton sourced from south India, with a focus on sourcing directly from within Tamil Nadu.
After quickly falling in love with the Kimaya vibe, I wanted to dive deeper into understanding how a gal who studied in Paris went from designing high fashion to settling down in a small, progressive village in south India to develop a brand completely built on loving local. India is one of the largest fashion production countries in the world and infamous for its natural dyeing processes, yet seems to be leading in chemical and artificial dyes thanks to large producers valuing price over quality, economic stability and mother earth(!!!). Therefore, showcasing brands who understand the damage that chemical dyes cause to our natural resources, communities and air quality is a huge advocacy stance for me. Especially as I sit here cringing in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, watching women wash clothing in the natural water streams coming down from the lower Himalayas. Oh how I need to start talking more openly about grey water...but I digress.
See below for a full Q & A with Kimaya designer, Sophie Planet, on what brought her to Auroville, the community of talented artisans she works with in south India, and how they use natural Indigo to dye their organic cotton collections.
Tell us about your personal and professional background! What led you to India to work in sustainable fashion?
I am French and grew up in France. Since I was a kid, I knew fashion design was my thing. It came naturally. At 6, I was making clothes (actually I just tied dish towels together) and I was organizing fashion shows in my parents’ living room. People in the first row weren’t journalists or editors, but my family members. At 15, I studied in the school of arts. I painted a lot at that time. Then I went to a fashion school in Paris and right after my graduation, I started to work as a designer for different brands. Lifestyle in a city can be stressful so around 20, I’ve started to practice yoga and meditation, to eat local organic food, to pay attention to my skincare, to read spiritual books. And then my connection with mother Earth started to become more alive and I educated myself on sustainability and other possibilities.
How has Auroville influenced your lifestyle?
Before settling in Auroville, I was already very influenced by spirituality, environment, ecology… My lifestyle was healthy and as conscious as possible. Here in Auroville living in the forest, it is easier. Pace is slower. I take time in nature everyday, to watch the sky, to cook, to meet my friends… My life is very simple.
Coming from France to India, how have you found both these worlds have inspired your designs?
Both countries inspire me and I guess will always inspired me. France has shaped who I am today. India is such an inspiring country [filled with] colors, fabrics, crafts, cultural diversity.
Have you found that your approach to fashion has inspired others in France as a fashion haven?
I’ve connected some of my designer friends in France with the dyers and the weavers with who I work with. We are all co-creators and I believe by sharing and helping each other we can stimulate a change.
Tell us about the community of artisans you are working with.
They are all independent and skilled artisans whose knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation. They also share the same values as Kimaya, like creating beauty.
Our relationship is based on a win-win collaboration. Manufacturers fighting for international orders are always looking for ways to produce cheaper. Workers are the first to pay the costs. Rather than be a part of the problem, I want to make sure none of the workers or their families, anywhere in my supply chain, would suffer from making Kimaya garments.
Give us an overview of the natural dyeing process you use.
My love for natural dyes finds its roots in concerns for artisans, environment and a passion for the craft and natural hues. Nowadays, environmental and societal issues linked to synthetic dyeing are bringing natural dyeing back into the sunlight.
Chemical waste is being released into our ecosystems around the world and particularly in countries without proper governmental supervision or technical means to ensure proper treatment. Chemical dyeing poisons workers, their families, our air, our soil and our rivers.
My choice for natural dyes isn’t limited to side effects of chemical dyeing. I love natural colours and their healing and energetic properties. With colours coming from roots, nuts, flowers and fruits, we can achieve incredible hues, all matching beautifully together.
During the dyeing process, fabrics will absorb and react to the dyes differently, creating a variety of shades.
Since the process is entirely natural and harmless for the environment, water left in the dye baths after dyeing is used to irrigate fields surrounding the facility.
For the 1st collection, I’ve mainly worked with natural indigo dyeing. Our true Indigo (Indigofera Tinctoria) is grown locally in Tamil Nadu, South India. True Indigo is a plant that I love and to which I owe a lot [of].
Soapberry nuts are naturally foamy, and perfect to scour our fabrics and produce whites (they’re also a great conscious alternative to chemicals to do your laundry!).
Some other natural dyeing options [include] Yellow Myrobalan nuts, Common Madder roots, Pomegranate rinds, Himalayan Rhubarb and Acacia amongst others!
How do you connect sustainable development to Kimaya's vision and values?
I connect with sustainable development at different levels: care for the planet but also care for the people. It is important to take care of the planet and its limited resources with organic fabrics, natural dyeings, recycled papers and plastics, conscious consumerism… But it is even more important for me the way we do things and the respect we have for people. Relationships with my partners is primordial and as I said before, it is a win-win collaboration. How we support and help each other is essential. Energetically it changes everything.
I would like that people wearing Kimaya feel the consciousness, the love, the energy and the care we put into every piece. Also that they feel happy and beautiful.
“Let Beauty be your constant ideal. Beauty of the soul, beauty of feelings, beauty of thoughts, beauty of actions, beauty in work, so that nothing comes out of your hands that is not an expression of pure and harmonious beauty. And the divine help will always be with you.”
- Mira Alfassa, The Mother
Check out Kimaya on Instagram by clicking here.