Women's Journal

Weaving Tradition, Sustainability, and Women Empowerment in Meghalaya

Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos
Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos

In 2016, Iba Mallai founded Kiniho, a brand specializing in a diverse array of products such as clothing and accessories, all of which are made from Eri silk. This initiative was born out of Mallai’s dissatisfaction with her corporate career and her desire to make a meaningful impact in her community in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district.

Iba Mallai spent nearly a decade in various corporate roles but found herself increasingly discontented. Raised in the Ri Bhoi district of Meghalaya, Mallai was deeply influenced by her community’s textile traditions. Her affinity for nature and traditional crafts led her to pursue further education in textiles and fashion. After completing her business management degree, she specialized in fashion design at JD Institute of Fashion Design in Bengaluru in 2014. With an initial investment of Rs 3 lakh, she left her position at IBM to establish Kiniho, an ethical clothing line.

Kiniho aims to blend heritage with contemporary design. Mallai describes each Kiniho product as a narrative that encapsulates ancestral weaving techniques, folklore, and the natural beauty of Meghalaya. The brand’s core philosophy revolves around responsible creation, which is why Mallai chose Eri silk as the primary material. This protein fiber is derived from the cocoons of specific moths and is both sustainable and cruelty-free.

Kiniho offers an extensive range of products, from clothing items like dresses, tops, and shirts to accessories such as neckties, bags, and earrings. The brand has also recently expanded its product line to include table coasters and runners. The pricing for accessories ranges between Rs 500 and Rs 4,000, while clothing items are priced from Rs 3,000 to Rs 12,000.

Kiniho employs traditional heirloom weaving techniques and collaborates with community weavers proficient in hand-weaving. All products are manufactured in-house in the Ribhoi district, employing 18 weavers on a daily basis. The brand also practices zero-waste by creating accessories from leftover fabric.

Kiniho’s products are available through its website, Instagram, and Facebook pages. Additionally, it operates an offline store in Shillong and caters to customers in various Indian cities as well as international locations like the UK, Australia, and Italy.

Kiniho has a dedicated team of 18 in-house weavers and collaborates with approximately 30 weavers from nearby villages. Many of these weavers are students who had to discontinue their education due to financial constraints or are unemployed youth. Mallai aims to provide these individuals with better livelihood opportunities.

While Mallai has been fortunate to not face gender-based discrimination, she acknowledges the challenges of entrepreneurship. She encourages other women to persevere through difficulties, emphasizing that the journey, though challenging, is rewarding.

Iba Mallai’s Kiniho is more than just a brand; it is a social enterprise that embodies tradition, sustainability, and empowerment. Through its diverse product range and ethical business practices, Kiniho is making a significant impact in both the fashion industry and the community it serves.