Gold is a Neutral: Interview w/ Sustainable Brand Founder & A Wonderful Journey Through Its Creation in India

Gold is a Neutral is about having fun. “It’s a choice to see beauty in the everyday: a seam of celebration running through the extraordinary ordinary. A state of mind, if you will,” says the founder, Ruth. “We make beautiful handbags with love and care, from sustainable materials that won’t harm the planet. Our bags showcase textile arts from around the world, one adventure at a time. Who made that sassy clutch? We know their names, and we’ll tell you all about them.

“This brand has emerged out of my obsession with textiles, travels and stories. After five years working in ethical fashion throughout Asia I’m more convinced than ever that the garment and textile industries need a revolution – and fast. But I’ve also had the incredible opportunity to get to know craftspeople one on one; I want to invite you along as we sit down over a cup of tea, and to share their treasures with you.”

“This is a brand that is centred on joy. Celebrating global textiles with joy. Generating fair income with joy. Accessorising your favourite outfit with joy. Doing business how we believe it should be done: with fairness, transparency and accountability.

“Gold is a Neutral: the very name came from the realisation that a pair of gold shoes would go with everything. How joyful is that?”

“Our first collection is called White Desert in honour of the Great Rann of Kutch, a vast ethereal salty landscape in Gujarat where we have worked alongside genius artisans on the feature fabrics for the bags: intricate hand embroidery, tie dye, block printing and handwoven organic cotton. It’s at the crux of our brand to get to know our producers, and the tailors who assemble the final bags in Bangalore were my colleagues for three years before I switched over to becoming a client of the production unit rather than working in-house on their communications and marketing.”

“Having worked in fair trade in India for five years, it’s extremely important to know that everyone involved in the production of these bags is being respected and kept safe & healthy in the process, and is well paid for their work. The tailoring unit stitching the bags is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, our plain cottons are certified Fairtrade and organic, and I’m thrilled to also be using Piñatex, a brand spanking new vegan leather alternative made from pineapple leaves!

“With Gold is a Neutral, I want each collection to celebrate the textiles of a certain region or country, and share travel adventures and stories from the producers so that people can really connect with the pieces on a deeper level. Starting in India, every region offers an astonishing candyland of textile arts but when choosing where to root our very first collection there was never a doubt: it had to be Kutch.

“The very mention of Kutch invokes an awed reverence amongst textile fans the world over. This colourful and culturally rich district in Gujarat state, close to India’s border with Pakistan, was once a major trade hub and still remains a vibrant meeting point of different people, faiths, traditions and languages. While nomadic and semi-nomadic communities have largely settled in the last hundred years, distinct tribal handicraft skills have been passed down through generations. Kutch is home to artisans renowned for their talent in embroidery, printing, weaving, leatherwork, metalwork and pottery; techniques that honour the past but also, excitingly, continue to evolve to this day.”

“At one point I liked the idea of shooting each collection in the region that it was based on, but as time went on the juxtaposition of fabrics and locations became really fun to me: not every product made in India needs to be photographed on an autorickshaw. Just as the heart of the brand is in exploration, so too do the bags travel, and these fabulous textiles made with love in Gujarat have their own adventures.  A bit cheesy but true! Our latest photoshoot captures a classic English summer and makes me dream of picnics, festivals and road trips; carefree and low key.

“It must go without saying that collaborating with such stellar textile artisans is a real honour. It means a lot to me that when I hold these bags I can picture the team of tie dye wizards in their pigment-splattered courtyard hanging each piece of cotton out to dry, or remember improvised conversations with no mutual language shared with the couple who dyed indigo yarn by hand. And rather than just treasure that connection myself, it’s what I really want to convey to anyone looking at the brand: that luxury of having a human connection with the makers of each item.

“Impossible to pick just one!” exclaims Ruth, when asked about highlights of the brand’s journey so far. “The first finished sample, or seeing my logo on labels, or having my products held and styled by real life people – it’s all been fantastic and makes the hours of spreadsheet madness completely worth it. But of course, I’d have to say the trips to Kutch come out on top – in particular, I so clearly remember the morning when I met Salma and Halima, two ladies from the Garasia Jat community, to finalise colours and designs for the embroidered panels that would adorn one bag design. Getting to know them and seeing them bring these patterns to life right before my eyes made me so giddy. This entrepreneur thing was really happening!”

“What I love about ethical brands is that more often than not, people are super ready to help each other out – a common goal of speeding up the Fashion Revolution means sharing knowledge, time, space, experience. During my years in India I fell in love with many gorgeous brands that sell internationally but are also doing brilliant work raising the profile of ethical fashion in the domestic market: just for starters, No Nasties, The Summer House, Poochki, Khara Kapas and Loomkatha all make beautiful things with a lot of passion.

As for exciting things in the pipeline, “We’re based in Thailand for a couple of years and I’ve been learning about Thai textiles, narrowing down some amazing artisans and materials to feature on a future Gold is a Neutral collection. Having become a bit obsessed with indigo in India, I’m especially excited to see this champion of natural pigments used in so many fantastic ways in Thailand too!”

You can find Ruth, “On a night bus… drinking lime juice in a cafe… chasing after my daredevil baby… tapping away at my laptop late at night…” but also on the links below.

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