When I went to India, I was shopping at the Anjuna Night Market and stopped more than once at the stand of OMkhadi...after a while a nice old lady and her husband started talking to me and told me the story about OMkhadi. Turns out the woman I talked to was the mother in law of Ondi McMaster-Chullil founder of OMkhadi. OMkhadi is a label which follows the swadeshi production. Swadeshi is a way of producing clothes, which is embossed by Ghandi - it means basically an eco-friendly and fair way of production.
Different than normally, I will let Ondi tell her story herself, because she is the perfect example of expressing a combination of culture, art, history, tradition, liberty, ethics in fashion. I am very happy that I got to know her and her label - being inspired by her story. So here is my interview and her story:
Ondi McMaster – Chullil founder/director of AtelierOM (USA)+ OMkhadi(India)
How did you develop the idea about AtelierOM + OMkhadi?
It’s been brewing for a long time and maybe it’s a bit of once upon a time story, actually.
I had so many influences and inspirations that gave me the faith in myself to simultaneously enterprise both AtelierOM+ OMkhadi.
OM are my initials and khadi, well, that is a lifestyle of understanding stemming from “My Own Experiences with Truth” as Gandhi recommended.
My last year of highschool in the USA was abruptly halted and I was redirected to Tokyo where I had the great fortune to meet Issey Miyake and attend a few of his fashion shows among every other benefit that comes from living in Japan at the impressionable age of 18.
I was instantly inspired and still remain deeply moved by his vision for the universal aesthetic of textiles, prints and silhouettes.
I attended Mills College in Northern California where I completed a double major in Asian History and Studio Art, with a minor in Costume Design as taught by San Fransico Opera’s own designer Richard Battle.
There I began designing and making one of a kind collections on a 1920’s foot pedaled sewing machine.
I decided to fulfill the dream of traveling to India where I set my sites on a Master’s Degree in Textile Design at The National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Thus financially I was unable to pay the full 2 years in advance, so I simply decided to set off on the more economic prospect of adventure travel between India + Nepal with the sole intent to discover as many ancient crafts and textiles first hand.
I began to hand-stitch apparel samples from the historically traditional textiles that I found along the way. I learned so much about India, myself and craft in that 2 years.
After the money ran out, I returned to NYC with a suitcase full of journals of notes/drawings, samples, swatches and photos about textiles, artisans and local designwork. I instantly found a job with my new inspiration and opened my own in the same time. But I guess time wasn't ready for my ideas by then. After some serious financial desperation I was traveling back to India again.
I received an invitation to participate in ARTKARAVAN which travelled 9 cities across India in 9 weeks with over 100 Indian and International artists participating therein to create publicly through renegade installations & performance that would challenge any preconceived notions of art and Artists. I began handmaking all my thematic performative costumes and installations with khadi textiles found in each city and evolved all my “artwork” around spiritual & swadeshi philosophy.
Everyone on the KARAVAN wanted what I was wearing. A few said you should make and sell us your designs. I said ok next year! My swadeshi business was actually conceived in 2010 along the ARTKARAVAN.
What’s unique about your products?
90% of my textiles are khadi, in some cases handloom, mostly natural dyes and some are vintage. Everything is designed and overseen by me. Within each piece is an undeniable positive energy of everyone who assisted to produce it all.
What are your main goals in production?
I have a few goals that come to mind immediately.
maintain an aspired standard whereby we are committed to improve the quality of all of our materials and products which in turn educates/ nurtures our partners toward their own comprehension of global standards
innovate constantly and evolve more conscious materials and systems - designers create sustainability by their supply choices and a customer’s demand follows, which in turn encourages the whole cycle to scale up responsibly.
offer competitive pay and more steady work on the local level which ensures a more hopeful livelihood for the rural young generations of Artisanal Craft to become entrepreneurs and also so as not to loose that traditional bond of apprenticeship, the generational legacy of sustainable skill sets, passed down to these next gens, who only seem attracted by the pull of unrealistic urban corporate promise of a faster life in a more modern future.
create less waste in all areas of production - this is a SWADESHI duty, not a goal
Ondi works with her SWADESHI production in India and the States now and plans to expand to Guatemala and Mexico in 2018. About the people she works with in India she said: "They are local, simple and generous. They make me want to work harder for their children’s benefit. They have to be “alive” and interested to improve life on our planet by their choices."
Ondi sees herself as a part of a system when she talked about herself and the way her business is developing:
"It all keeps evolving and so do I."
"To experience Truth by one’s own self is the most fair and valuable asset.", producing Swadeshi is so important to Ondi and her team because "to trust and know your sources well, to see everything with one´s own eyes."
When I asked her about dreams in the future she describes with wonderful words:
"Oh I guess….. I could dream about some full circle whereby my products are highly coveted in Japan and maybe even one day have an OMkhadi shop there. Europe, USA could be included in that dream also, to some degree, but since I espouse “Slow Fashion”, I have to be careful for what I wish …. for as Gandhi preached “ NOTHING too large can be sustainable” except if we could convert every cotton farm in the world to organic, maybe?"
When did you start your business with it?
It only took me one year of research on the basics of sustainable fashion. I read everything by SASS along with necessary lectures on karmic management led by a western Tibetan Buddhist teacher. A lot of research and updating of previous Indian contacts was required within potential Artisanal areas with partners where I wanted to begin. By January of 2011, I landed in Ahmedabad with the intention of beginning at the beginning. In 6 months, I found many of my Artisan partners with whom I remain loyal and created my first Atelier OM wholesale collections of blockprinted khadi textiles, womens, mens, kids and accessories - all in the best eco - ethical swadeshi fibers.
Economics of export will also challenge both AtelierOM + OMkhadi, for as there is an increase of living wages all along the Indian supply chain of khadi, to offer a competitive advantage to Artisans as per global standards of similar craft that require as much skill, we will come to understand why our product’s price point may eventually evolve more toward a luxury market both in India and abroad.
Gandhi suggested that everyone who bought khadi should also spin khadi to guarantee that it would always be accessible, and that is definitely not what is happening.
To finish with another nice fact about this Label: It all started with a love story.
"In 2011, I married into a wonderful Indian family who has jumped on my bandwagon and settled in GOA, where since 2012, we have established our successful retail business, OMkhadi. One of the adverts of Slow Fashion would be “made and sold locally” thereby our work is in India, so we sell in India. USA is where I am from and I have established a cohesive support network over the years that welcomes and celebrates my accomplishment of creating the awakened lifestyle brand, AtelierOM, plus I Have a loyal following for my products all across the nation.