Eight weeks ago, the husband and wife duo behind Picton-based business Paper Rain Project stepped off their plane and into the heart of Kolkata, India.
There, Indigo Greenlaw and Wills Rowe met the women employed at the companies behind their apparel – including The Loyal Workshop, Freeset and Common Good.
Their business, Paper Rain Project, started with the goal of being an “approachable” apparel brand with an aesthetic that people would be attracted to, both due to their values and their rustic appeal.
“All our clothes are produced by ladies who are either freed sex slaves or from backgrounds of severe hardship and poverty in India,” Rowe said.
“This trip was the first time we were able to see the true effect of our customers’ purchases on these women’s lives.”
The couple used the opportunity to get to know the women.
“The person whose story stuck with me most is that of a 12-year-old girl we met whose mother works in the factory where Paper Rain Project’s clothes are made,” Greenlaw said.
“We were invited into her 3-metre by 3m house, where she sat us down and served us tea and biscuits in front of an electric fan – items that are all luxuries in the slums where she, her three siblings and her mother all live.
“The fan alone can save people’s lives from the threat of heat stroke.
“We have set up shop in Picton over three summers and one winter in the past,” Greenlaw said.
“Picton is not popular over the off-season, hence why we haven’t held shop in Picton for a couple of winters.
“Business is growing, though, so that’s allowed us to explore other avenues.”
“Pop-ups allow customer interaction with the people who made the products,” Greenlaw said.
Auckland would be their first stop on their winter business route, with residents able to visit the Paper Rain Project store for two weeks.
“There is an established fan-base in Auckland, so it is a good place to test the waters.”
Residents from Wellington, the city where Paper Rain Project was first born, could visit the pop-up store for six weeks.
The couple also planned to change their business model in future to include a heavier online presence and more pop-up shops for New Zealand residents.
“We also want to expand our line to include more rideable short [skate] boards,” Rowe said.
“There will be some difficulties surrounding this product as it means steaming the blackwood or eucalyptus wood and flattening it into shape before going about the usual design process.
“We also hope to create organic duffle bags and expand our clothing range to include hoodies.”
Recycled wine barrel boards with art designs were Paper Rain Project’s most popular product due to their tie with the Marlborough region.
“On-board designs are curated from over 25 artists,” Rowe said.
“Boards are either sent to artists for decoration or the artist sends a file over to the factory for it to be printed onto the board.”
Despite the couple’s plans, both hope to return to their shop in Picton next summer.
“We want to return here because this is our home,” Greenlaw said.
“Above that, it has a nice lifestyle, an excess of wine barrels and an engaging community.
“Plus, the shop we’ve been using in Picton already has a pre-loved look, which aligns with both our creative aesthetic and business ethics.”
Being an ethical business was something the couple believed “all businesses can do”.
“Previously, life was all about survival and businesses, both big and small, reflected that,” Greenlaw said.
“But now people are becoming more and more aware of their purchases as customers.
“We are moving past that fast fashion stage and businesses should once again adapt, because the true cost of buying a cheap product is immense.”
Since Paper Rain Project’s launch in 2013, their strong ethical views had struck a chord with shoppers worldwide with products being exported to more than 27 countries.
Shops in Australia and the United Kingdom had also featured their stock in store long-term.
See thepaperrainproject.co.nz for more information.