A unique retail theatre event to be held in Sydney on May 25 is changing the lives of women in southern India for the better – all through fashion.
KOCO is bringing its collection of unique, ethically created knitwear – each item is individually handmade by village women in southern India – direct to the public for the first time.
And in keeping with the humble origins of the garments, they will be modelled by both professional catwalkers and everyday men and women – in a range of shapes and sizes – showing how the pieces work in everyday lives, KOCO founder Danielle Chiel said.
“Because our garments are made by real people, we want real people to model them,” Danielle said of the May 25 event at Paddington Town Hall.
“These models will each be paired with and representing a knitter from India, showing their creation on their behalf here in Sydney.
“KnitOne garment, because that is exactly what the ladies do – they knit one whole garment themselves – and Change One life,” Danielle added of the inspiration for the name KOCO.
“These village women were previously living subservient lives simply cooking and cleaning for their families – now I am thrilled to call them my ‘sisterhood’ of strong, independent women and to be bringing their amazing artisanal, handmade designer knitwear direct to the fashion-loving people of Sydney for the first time.”
KOCO’s KocoMania “better for the world” collection of quality, yet affordable, luxury garments – which is available for one night only in Sydney on May 25 – pushes the boundaries of contemporary design, and what people might think possible with traditional hand-knitting.
It features 35 unique styles, ranging in price from $350 to $1200, in coral-themed colours and all made from a lightweight mohair and silk mix which is suitable for both indoor and outdoor wear. The exclusive range of knitwear features not just jumpers but scarves, shirts, hats, pants, and dresses for both men and women.
Designs include ombre, intarsia (multi-coloured), and a twist on cable knits through to elegant transparent nets created in collaboration between KOCO and a knitwear designer who has previously worked with Burberry and Alexander McQueen.
The ticketed event starts at 6.30pm and will continue until guests have had a chance to order, or take home, their own KOCO creation.
An antithesis to fast fashion, these unique pieces will not only be treasured for a lifetime, but they are also changing the lives of women and their families in some of the most remote, rustic villages in southern India.
KOCO was born in 2011 when Danielle – who was taught by her aunt to knit when she was age 10 – took her knitwear label designs to the Tamil Nadu villages of southern India, where she in turn taught an initial group of 10 women how to knit by hand.
It was a new skill for all the women who until then had spent their days caring for their families with what little income their labourer husbands could occasionally bring home to their remote villages.
Becoming a United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development B-Corp certified enterprise, KOCO grew to a “knitting sisterhood” of 250 women across at least five villages, creating individual handmade garments which were sold via various fashion labels across the world.
What in essence was the simple act of teaching a group of women to knit became life-changing for so many.
Women who until then lived in mud-floored huts, with bedraggled clothing and poor hygiene became financially independent. They could finally afford better homes, fresh food, and clean clothes and to send their children to school.
For many women, it also broke the cycle of domestic violence – and Danielle ensured each woman who worked for KOCO had her own, independent, bank account.
As well as learning the skill of knitting, the women discovered their self-esteem. While some women were naturally more inclined to certain knitting skills, they learned everything needed to create entire garments on their own.
In fact, KOCO prides itself on the fact each garment is created by a single knitter – not only are there no machines, but there are also no production lines, even simple ones – and each item comes with a photo and short bio of the woman who created it. By herself. By hand.
Each woman knits for about six hours a day, creating on average three garments each month.
The process was also life-changing for Danielle, who first arrived in India unable to converse with the women in their native Tamil language. Now, she counts the women as her “sisterhood” and she shares their stories with the world.
But while KOCO – KnitOne (garment), ChangeOne (life) – became a socially-conscious success story, with village women supplying a commercial quantity of handmade knitwear to high-end fashion labels, such as Alexa Chung, it all changed when Covid-19 struck and the world shut down.
Covid hit KOCO hard and left the women unemployed. Even since international restrictions lifted, many fashion houses were looking for cheaper (fast-fashion) options.
Seeking to keep her sisterhood of female knitters not just employed but also strong and self-sustainable, Danielle realised it was time to think outside the square to keep her women financially independent by also selling direct to the public through exclusive events – starting in Sydney.