Attire Accessories - Dec 2017/Jan 2018 (Issue 67)

ATTIRE 45 PROFILE TELL ME A BIT ABOUT HOW THE LABEL WAS STARTED .  Cocowai began almost by accident. I had been working and living in Nepal for several years and helped a friend start up his own shipping business whilst I was out there. After returning to the UK, and launching myself into university life – studying Ethnomusicology – the same Nepali friend appeared on my doorstep in London one day, with 10 beautiful pashmina shawls in his bag. He said, “These will be big, and you’re the first to have them here.” He was keen for me to start the business mainly because of our friendship, but he also felt that I needed a job to help me through university, and that the pashmina, while just beginning to gain popularity in the US, had not gained attention in the UK at the time. I think it may have also been a way of bribing me back to Nepal! WHAT WAS THE AIM OF THE LABEL WHEN IT WAS FIRST ESTABLISHED?  Our aim was to produce the best quality cashmere products – initially we just made the traditional pashmina – and we were one of the very first to do so. Our focus was to keep the quality high, work only with hand-loomed products, and have a completely honest and transparent business that cared for every person involved; from everyone working at the small family-run factory in Nepal, to our very end user. We’re proud to have kept these ethics and principles alive and well, and continue to work with exactly the same people as we did 25 years ago when we started. HOW WERE THE INITIAL PRODUCTS DEVELOPED, AND WHAT WAS THE RESPONSE? The initial products were developed in Kathmandu, Nepal where hand- loomed products have been traditionally made for hundreds of years, thus the skills were already there. We searched for the highest quality cashmere yarns, and looked into traditional dyeing practices too. We started with just 10 colours in the beginning, and launched them at Pure London at Earls Court in 1992. The response was almost immediate. WHAT CHALLENGES WERE OVERCOME WHEN THE COMPANY WAS STARTING OUT? We had very few challenges apart from convincing the UK market that this was an exquisite product and worth the money. Everyone loved it, but initially, there was scepticism about the price. As a result of my strong relationship with the team in Nepal, we had no production challenges, and the English-Nepali relationship was established completely on trust. WHAT SETS YOU APART FROM YOUR COMPETITORS?  We’ve never compromised on quality – we put people before profit, and ensured that everyone involved is equally treated. We’ve kept the business small and personal to ensure that we have been able to retain these ethics. We also offer more than 200 colours, and because everything is hand-loomed, we make small quantities. This enables us to give retailers the opportunity of making smaller orders than some of our competitors. ➨ Cocowai’s founder Francesca Macauley reveals how the pioneering cashmere brand introduced pashminas to the UK, developed an ethical production network and created a collection of more than 200 textile shades Route OF THE LOOM