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Kriti Tula – Co-Founder, Doodlage

Kriti Tula is the creative director and cofounder for Doodlage. The brand champions sustainability in fashion and Kriti share her story and vision for her brand that has contributed towards Upcycled, Recycled and Ethically made fashion and that has also been acknowledged by several national and international platforms.

Transcript

Asil

And welcome to another episode of Turban Thinker Talks. Now, you know, there are two things that I’m particularly passionate about. India because that’s a strong part of my heritage and because I’m typically there five times a year and sustainability because that’s part of who I am and how I was raised. So today I’m so excited because I get to talk about both. Yay! I’m joined from Delhi by Kriti Tula and inspiring fashion designer and design manager. So Crazy has worked in the global fashion apparel industry for more than 10 years. But after pursuing her undergraduate at Pearl academy in fashion design in 2010 and working in the Indian fashion industry for several years, she moved to London to get her master’s in design management and moved on a full scholarship at London College of Fashion. So she’s not only incredibly creative and talented, she’s also super smart.

 

Kriti is the creative director and co-founder for Doodlage. Her brand champion sustainability in fashion and her contribution towards upcycling, recycled and ethically made fashion has been acknowledged by many, many and several national international platforms. So really super excited to have you here joining us today all the way from Delhi. So thank you for becoming part of Turbit Thinker talks. Hello.

 

Kriti

Hi. So thank you so much for having me over and having this conversation with me. I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of Turban Thinker.

 

Asil

Thank you. So glad to have you here. So, first of all, let’s talk a little bit about your background. So tell me more about the journey where it started and your studies.

 

Kriti

So I started my design journey, I think, as a baby. I think for as long as I can remember actually, I knew that I’m not going to be a part of the corporate system. I’m not good at this job. I think I discovered that when I was 13. Back in India, design wasn’t such a acknowledged, known kind of space. Everybody you knew was either a doctor or an engineer or a banker.

 

But something fixed so to know a relative or friend, anybody who was interested in fashion back in that age was really hard to come by. So I just happened to stumble upon fashion, actually, because that was the only known system for design and that’s where I joined fashion designer Pearl Academy in 2006, graduated in 2010, and I think in 2007 I already discovered that I am not sure if I’m in the right field because of, you know, I always felt already at 2007, one year down the college that there is already everything that is needed is already produced. So why do we need more designers, more putting more resources, using an exhausting more resources? Where is this waste going? So I really started questioning these things very early on in 2008. I told my faculty already that, you know, this is probably not the right path for me, maybe I should do product design or something like that.

 

And I remember telling my one of my senior faculty telling me that, you know, I feel that you need to stick around and give it like a shot. And she was a very well-travelled faculty, we had a German teacher back in Delhi teaching us. And so she said that, you know, explore the field and you would find it more interesting and you would understand various layers of fashion and things like that. And when I graduated or went throughout my studies, I got to sort of understand that, you know, even if that is everything that’s already been produced, we’re still producing to keep the economy running, get the people working. There are so many lives involved with fashion and attached to fashion that, you know, being a 16 year old, 17 year old designer was really hard to understand back then.

 

Asil

I mean, of course. And it’s you know, it’s interesting that you say that actually what you got out of it as you were studying was the fact that there was this like consumption behind it and you were questioning all of these, which I guess is then what leads to why you ended up with your focus on specifically sustainability and fashion and upcycling? But before we get into that critique, can you just tell us about when did you launch Doodlage and first of all, am I saying it right? Is it Doodlage?

 

Kriti

Yes. It comes from the art of doodling.

 

Asil

Are you a doodler? Because I am a lot, like I’d be sitting in board meetings and I’ve got pages of doodles.

 

Kriti

I don’t think I can stop. Yeah. I don’t think I can stop doodling. I think I was never a great artist, but I’m like if I’m sitting idle, if I’m sitting, I used to cover long distances for work, for college, for job, even in London. So you’d always have like a doodle pad. And I would sketch everything. I think as a designer, you just have a very visual memory.

 

Asil

So you just I mean, tell us about when you launched it, why you launched it. And, you know, when we were speaking the other day, you mentioned that it’s a lot to do, of course, with sustainability, but preserving, you know, artisans, the communities that talk to us a little bit about that.

 

Kriti

So I started the label, actually registered the label in 2012, which was very early on in terms of a conversation in India around sustainable fashion for a millennial audience. India has always been like a production-based country. So knowing the artisans, being familiar with art works of cotton production,

printing block prints, all of these things are very hands on in terms of, you know, it’s available everywhere. You see all of this work already everywhere.

 

So I started in 2012 and I registered the label, but nobody was really talking about sustainability in terms of a younger audience. And the only point of reference was like a very small space of brand or look. Or you could find it in our costume where you could find it in saris. You could find sustainability and connecting artisans to a product in suits, wedding wear, but not so much like everyday essentials. And, you know, the clothes that you would find more and more people endorsing and wearing. So I started the label in 2012. I registered it and then I got a scholarship to move to London and I got a chance to see.

 

Asil

Just before you talk to us about London, I just want to know, so you registered it in 2012 and you mentioned just now that obviously when you took or made that decision, you know, sustainability or the lack of wasn’t really a hot topic. And certainly, you know, on anyone’s agenda in India, I guess also and globally, I mean. So how did you get across that hurdle? I mean, what made you believe that even though it wasn’t on anyone’s agenda, it would become an agenda.

 

Kriti

I feel that it when I started the label, it wasn’t something that I wanted it to become like, I didn’t know how long it would take for it to become everyone’s agenda. But I knew that there’s a need for this agenda to exist. There’s a need for consumers to be connected to what goes behind making fashion. There’s a need for that communication to make them aware that, you know, you need to shop a certain way. You need to, fashion is a lot more than what you see as a glamorous façade.

 

There are so many elements that go into making fashion and you have to make sure that you purchase more things that are less harmful for the planet, more local, if it has to be. You need to know what raw materials are going into your clothes, what you’re putting against your skin, how that material is being disposed and, you know, what is that artisan making by the end of the day. You cannot continue to purchase your products based on how heavy it is, heavily it is discounted and how many more clothes you need in your wardrobe.

 

So I think those things just kept coming back. And I knew that if I have to start a label in fashion, it would be around this communication and the need for this communication. So I wasn’t even sure in 2012 that I’m going to actually make clothes. It was more like, you know.

 

Asil

The vision that you had.

 

Kriti

And, you know, connect people. It could actually just be a repair centre. It could just be people coming in and, you know, advising them on how to upcycle things that already exist. Add a little something to help them repair, add something new to that product. But, you know, as you grow, as you learn, you sort of understand that while we did start a communication, there was a need for a sustainable business model as well that, you know, there were very interesting production houses that were just coming around fair wage units that were still coming around, large manufacturers changing the way that they process and produce.

 

So I felt that it was about time that there has to be. A brand in the forefront. You do have a lot of options available in the supply chain side of things, but there needs to be a product that a consumer can actually buy.

 

Asil

So talk to us. So you registered and then you went to London College of Fashion, so you didn’t actually kick start the brand.

 

Kriti

OK, so actually I had registered the brand in April, and I had applied for a scholarship in April. I was you know, I had completed like a tenure with a good, I think, three or four years of experience with a well-known designer in India. I started at work with exports and worked with advertising and promotions and fashion publishing and fashion. So it was about time that, you know, either it’s this or it’s, you know, applying for a scholarship. So I’d pretty much done both. And I knew that I could always come back with a lot more experience back to the brand that I had started building. And so I took the scholarship. I went for my masters. I spent about four years in London and got a chance to work with spaces like Centre for Sustainable Fashion. The Fashion Revolution and connect with a lot more like-minded people.

 

Asil

Yeah. And I think, again, when we spoke last time, what really struck me was that you have quite a commercial focus. Clearly by listening to you, you know, you’re very grounded in what you want from the vision of your business. You know, you’re very astute on how to run it, which is also quite unusual because typically creatives don’t have that commercial acumen. I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the hurdles. As a young entrepreneur, you have this vision, you know, you’ve got your learnings. You’re back in India and you have this brand that you want to launch. But we all know how very, very difficult it is to launch a business and to keep it going. So talk to me about some of the challenges you faced.

 

Kriti

I think, when I started the label. Starting any label is difficult, being an entrepreneur is so challenging every day, especially when, you know, bank loans work a certain way, especially in India, you need to have, to you need to build assets to be able to get any kinds of loans in place.

 

And, you know, that was something that we weren’t sure we wanted to sort do that so all of us pitched in to save a little money, bootstrap the company, start working towards the vision that we had for the brand. And obviously we changed our ways several times. When we started, we actually started working with post-consumer waste directly, upcycling clothes that already exist. And I felt that India was, too. There’s so many layers of religious beliefs and that go along with second hand clothing, especially back then, that we had to sort of move into slightly more acceptable space. And thankfully, I was already connected well with the industry in terms of sourcing the wastages and we started working with post-production wastages. And the quantities of this is for anybody who was working in fashion.

 

Asil

It’s actually graceful and unacceptable. And I hope that if anything, we come out of this pandemic with questioning these ridiculous consumption. But anyway, that’s another subject.

 

Kriti

Yeah. So you know, I was working with factories, were producing forty five thousand metres of fabric wastages on a daily basis, which could be rejected on basis of any number of reasons. End of the line fabrics. Fabric that’s defective issues that it had panels that are cut. Stitching waste, cutting waste, just so many layers of it, so the first go to plan was to sort of figure out a new supply chain, something that we’re not procuring, making on our own, something that already exists and figured out how to scale with that.

 

So that was a clear focus that we need to be able to test a pilot and then prove that pilot that, you know, you can create repetitive connections out of fabric wastages that already exist. And then we just had to do a lot of competition combinations to figure out how to scale it, how many can we do in numbers and then just diversify in terms of looking at upcycling, then looking at re-cycling like giving us a lot more options there. Working with zero waste. So even if we couldn’t scale like vertically, we knew that we could spread this into various agendas which still revolve around the same organization.

 

Asil

What’s interesting is it is a huge commitment, right?

 

Kriti

Yes.

 

Asil

A lot of thought. Exactly to your point, you know, you’re not just going and purchasing endless, endless miles of materials and then doing your collections. You’re having to think twice as hard. And I guess that’s a big reason why so many brands, you know, it’s the easy way out, isn’t it? You’d rather purchase materials and figure out how what to do with all that wastage.

 

But one thing that was very also interesting that you said was that in the beginning of the conversation that you wanted to create a brand that spoke to millennials in a language that they understood because you felt that India was sort of at the time, definitely, as was the rest of the world, very detached to that kind of thinking. So can you explain to me what that language that you were referring to, what millennials would understand?

 

Kriti

I think the whole concept which was missing completely was to make sustainability cool for that age group that, you know, it’s important to care important to move out of that social media façade and actually care about the important things, and how you are consuming and that you have a power. And you since you have so much social media and so much access to Internet. And we were the first generation who got that access to, you know, to know so much and sitting anywhere in the world.

 

So I think it was a lot to absorb as any millennial and to find a path. And with Doodlage I felt that it was important to connect to that audience and show them that it’s important to care it’s cool to care. Understand what the commercial job jargons are, how to market to this audience. And I was one of them. So it wasn’t something that was very difficult to do. Everybody we knew fell into that same age group. And I feel brands were getting very disconnected to this audience.

 

Social media was just everything on everybody’s laptops and everybody’s hands and everybody’s mobile phone. So you could for the first time just directly connect to the consumer and see what you were saying and what you have to say. So even the media that we spoke to, we spoke to in that language when we connected with celebrities via targeted celebrities that, you know, that could talk about sustainability and at the same time were very similar to the age group that we were talking to.

 

Asil

And it’s interesting because, of course, the new generation, Gen Z, is very attuned to that and they championed that. And it’s all about preserving and safeguarding the planet. And so it’s very interesting, like you said, of course, from a millennial, you have this huge amount of consumption, which is what you’re facing on a day to day from social media and the strive to be, you know, a lot like the brands that you see in the images that you see.

 

 

And so it’s interesting that you’re trying to educate and change that mindset. And every brand in the world, their main focus is millennial, millennial, millennial. And, you know, but they’re focusing on it from let’s shove our product down them because we know that they consume versus why don’t we educate? Because, yes, they do have a huge you know, they do own that space and they have the command on the spend. But why don’t we educate?

 

And I love that. And then the other thing that you say is, first of all, I just have to be really honest with you. I’m going to steal that. It’s cool to care. So I’m putting it out there because I don’t know if you’ve trademarked it, but I will now so as long as you can, you know.

 

Kriti

We can mutually use it.

 

Asil

OK, ok. All right. we can mutually use it because you came up with it. But I’ll definitely be tagging that. But one thing I think you said that also is wonderful is your ethos is to create and communicate, and I love that, I mean, it’s precisely to the point that you’re saying, where many brands lack and I’m not talking about marketing, greenwashing or that kind of communication.

 

Kriti

So there are two things. One is to get the right kind of certifications and in place to sort of prove what you’re doing, like fair trade, creative to cradle stuff like that. And as a small brand, you know, very early in the days, I obviously understand all of these. And I’ve worked in the industry enough to sort of know where and how to go about them. But I felt that, you know, we’re not there yet to be able to invest in all of those norms. I want to be able to keep this simple and straightforward and just communicate what’s happening in the background that these people need. The people that we’re working with have or host kids from colleges to come over and see different kinds of processes, let media channels come in and have just conversations like this.

 

Yeah, and just that direct contact that there is. You know, there’s nothing for me to like. I want to genuinely be able to grow. But we have like, it’s a process. And as a bootstrap company, it’s a process that takes slightly longer because, you know, you’re investing your profits back into the business every year and piece by piece, vendor by vendor, we’ve been able to reach a lot of interesting vendors and support NGO’s and vendors who helps us produce in a more ethical way to allow us to ensure who are we working with, what are they getting? What are what is the working environment like for them and if other workers that we’re working with are happy or not. And I know that there is differences in wages, but, you know, everybody should at least make a living wage for it to be a beautiful system.

 

Asil

Especially, you know, I mean, the beauty of India, like we were discussing is the artisanal work is that craft, is that handmade product. It’s not mass-produced. You know, everything that comes out of there is so special. And then to add that layer, of course, of that fair trade.

 

Kriti

And design and the aesthetic and fair trade and if you like, if you break it down, the number of people who are working in this trade have reduced massively over the years because of the same reason, why would you know, me or anybody want their child to join the same craft, work or craft?

 

Asil

But that’s the really disappointing thing, isn’t it? Because, you know, there’s also a huge amount of ignorance out there that some of these skills and artisanal works require a certain age to start developing them, you know, require a certain technique to be able to produce them.

 

Kriti

Schooling like any other thing, you know, like you learn it’s a skill and it’s a beautiful skill and it’s a very tedious skill to have and own. But you don’t want anybody to make it, if I’m not making enough money for the rest of my family, I don’t want my family to join the same business.

 

Asil

Exactly. Exactly.

 

Kriti

And our artisans have been left to that, after working for years and ages. And even in their retirement ages, they don’t have enough to support their families. So it was very important to not just give them work, but work that they would, you know, want to do.

 

Asil

Of course, and be able to sustain and grow.

 

Kriti

And their artists. And most of the time when we work with them as designers, they usually know more than us.

 

Asil

Oh, yeah? Yeah. Of course.

 

Kriti

So things like that was important for us to communicate. And I was saying this earlier as well, that I think it made it very easy for us to communicate because of the transparency that we wanted to create in the system, to be able to just directly connect to the consumer and genuinely as a consumer today, like the

millennial or the Gen-Z is just so connected and so out there and so technologically advanced that old school brands just act it, but you cannot fool them.

 

Asil

No, no one hundred percent.

 

Kriti

They can choose to ignore it but you cannot fool them.

 

Asil

They can choose to ignore it. Exactly. But you can’t fool them. Well said. So talking about now, of course, you’re full on as the creative director of the Doodlage. And how would you describe your brand, sort of the style, the signature? Who are you appealing to and who is your ideal customer? I mean, as I look at your collections, they’re absolutely beautiful. They’re very contemporary. You know, they sort of appeal really to so many. But I’d love for you to describe your design, your signature, please.

 

Kriti

Thank you. Thank you for appreciating what we do. And it’s true that we don’t design for seasons. We don’t design for age groups. We design for body types. And as we’ve travelled, as you sort of see more people meet more people, a fifteen-year-old has a different kind of body types, a twenty-year-old, has different kind of body type.

 

Asil

Let me tell you a fifty-year-old has.

 

Kriti

Exactly, a fifty-year-old has different kinds of body types in that age group itself. So the clothes are simple. They’re easy. The idea is to be able to give them like a wardrobe that they can wear everywhere, style, restyle. Every product needs to be versatile enough to be able to be so that you can wear it in so many different ways and also according to your own style. And that’s really the agenda that whatever your body type, we should be able to provide some kind of style to you.

 

Asil

So that that’s incredibly smart as well, because you’re being very considerate of all of that as well as the sustainable part. So what are your average price points for a piece? Can you give an example?

 

Kriti

Yes. So it starts at about forty five hundred Rupees which is approximately I think for forty five pounds. Something like that. And it goes up so our average pricing would be forty-five hundred to sixty-five hundred.

 

Asil

So fantastically affordable, that’s a wonderful price point honestly.

 

Kriti

Thankfully like being designing and producing in one space, it just does cut off a lot of your logistic costs. Obviously if you don’t have that crazy overheads of running, you know, massive showrooms and stuff like that. So everything mostly is connected to our website and people can directly shop with us and we want to grow it step by step through that.

 

Asil

I mean, it’s all about e-com. And we were also discussing that earlier. And so basically people can shop the collections on your online platform. And I think you also mentioned that there are different platforms globally that you also, you know, you also showcase your collection on.

 

Kriti

So we do work with offline channels as well. We work with online channels globally and within India as well. A lot of Indian channels are available globally to shop even our website you can shop anywhere else in the world as well. So even with offline, we actually started with offline channels and then moved online, given the way we started, part-time, full-time, things like that.

 

Asil

And now you see yourself completely dedicated to your online. I’d imagine that’s going to be a huge part of your strategy and really driving that. And I really like the fact that you launched the gift card. And I think, again, that’s something that we were talking about. So what was the thinking behind that? Because you mentioned that you launched that during COVID, why?

 

Kriti

So the whole idea and the main agenda for during COVID was to be able to support the people, vendors, production houses that we were working with. And people were really sceptical with ordering things. And the first thing as we know you give up is all your luxuries, all kinds of fashion-based shopping or car or any kind of luxury items. Right.

So people were sort of getting like at least the two months of lock down sales were really slow. All our offline channels work and complete lockdown. People weren’t sure if they want to order and receive things from brands. But two months of non-operations lead to a lot of people who are directly connected to and indirectly connected to our brand and have very limited savings, even with decent wages. So it was important for us to keep our cash flows higher. So we sort of ran a campaign to push our gift card, allowing people to help them where we use hundred percent of the sales to support the families that we work with.

 

Asil

Wow, that is just fantastic, my goodness.

 

Kriti

And because it was it really was a difficult time, people were like walking back to their villages from wherever the hell in the city, there were thousands of kilometres and it was devastating. All we wanted to do at that point is to stay where they are and have enough money to support their families, and because travelling was just so much more dangerous back then.

 

Asil

Absolutely. I mean yeah, what a wonderful, absolutely wonderful initiative. And I mean, really, it’s, you know, it’s individuals like you and brands like yourself, Kriti, that really give everybody hope and make this world an incredible place. And I just want to ask you, you know, knowing that you are very clear on the vision that you have, would there be a or who is your dream brand or artist or influencer, even though influencers for me mean something totally different? But who are, who’s out there that you think, I would love to collaborate to strengthen my message and get the voice heard?

 

Kriti

I really don’t think I have sat down to sort of think about something like this, but there are a lot of people talking about a very positive message. And like I said, like my brand, anybody that we collaborate with, it’s important that they’re true to the word that they say. So whoever is you know, we love collaborations. And even in India, there are so many celebrities who have endorsed what we do. And just for the fact that they wanted to endorse what we do, and we’ve invested very little money ever in any kind of marketing, it’s always been very organic. I think that sort of adds a lot.

 

Asil

That’s the best way. Yes.

 

Kriti

And I think that helped us a lot in terms of getting the word out very organically and a very strong version of it, like people wanting to endorse what we said people wanted to reach out, media wanted to reach out to us to hear what we had to say and to cover what we’re doing. And I think that helped a lot.

 

Asil

But maybe when I do another podcast with you, you would have thought to reach at least a couple of people, maybe we can help you reach them.

 

Kriti

That would be great and generally be something that, you know, every time somebody genuine endorses what we are doing, it reaches to a lot more genuine audience. because you can actually connect to the right kind of people and they can talk the right conversation. It’s very disappointing when you want to endorse somebody, but they don’t really understand or resonate the idea of the brand.

 

Asil

Exactly. But, you know, I think a brand like yours, as many that I’m speaking to, are so inspiring. And, you know, they are they are the voice of the future, aren’t they? I mean, and that’s the thing. And the more that you educate people, the more that they will be able to have an intellectual conversation around that and have a bit more vocabulary to them and an appreciation.

 

Kriti

And reduce the whole greenwashing that once you know.

 

Asil

Oh, God, please, please.

 

Kriti

So that’s the thing that that’s what I say in a lot of my interviews as well, that, you know, it’s like any other thing, sustainability is a change in your lifestyle is like any other thing, you have to educate yourself. You have to know more. You have to take time to learn. It’s like learning a new language and spend time on it.

 

Asil

Of course, it’s a lot to do with education and greenwashing, bizarrely and ironically, it’s not sustainable so there you go.

 

Kriti

Yes, but it would be really great to sort of like, I would have definitely a decent list of people that we could collaborate with.

 

Asil

And I’d love to know that list and definitely support you on that. So on the last words, even though honestly, it’s been wonderful speaking to you, you know, your ambition, your drive, your commitment to the planet, to people, it’s so inspiring. And usually, I end my podcast and I always ask my guests to say a few words that would inspire, motivate, empower.

 

Asil

And I think we’ve said we’ve said about forty minutes’ worth of words to inspire, motivate and empower. But to end it from your point, what’s the message that you’d like to share with the audience?

 

Kriti

I feel that it’s, you know, the whole pandemic that we’re going to is the epitome of anything, you know, it leads you all, makes you stop and think where the world is headed, and it’s about time to sort of cut the bullshit and really, if you are genuine, just spent time on the good things and things that are worth it. And it would help, you know, inspire a lot more people and live your life during whatever years that you have to do good and do more good. And if you have the capacity and the space and the commitment to do it, just learn more and do more.

 

Asil

Well, hopefully with people like you in the world, we are definitely going to be doing more and learning more. And for sure, it’s very, very, very, very cool to care. So thank you so much Kriti for joining us today. It was such a pleasure. And we’re definitely going to be speaking a lot more to each other. Thank you so much.

 

Kriti

Thank you Asil, thank you for having me. It’s genuinely wonderful to talk to you and I would love to sort of reconnect.

 

Asil

Definitely a thousand percent. Thank you so much and have a brilliant day ahead.

 

Kriti

You to.

 

Asil

Take care. Bye

 

Kriti

Bye.

Turban Thinker talks to Kriti Tula, an inspiring sustainability driven fashion designer, creative director and cofounder for Doodlage. Kriti has worked in the global apparel industry for more than 10 years, with a masters in Design management from the London college of fashion. Doodlage champions sustainability in fashion and contributes towards Upcycled, Recycled and Ethically made fashion which has been acknowledged by several national and international platforms.