By now, you’re well aware that we specialize in unique prints and original designs – we create our own clothing and jewelry from start to finish. The prints come from us, patterns for the clothing are developed in-house, and we learn a lot with each collection we launch. One of the best parts of fair trade is remembering that there are human beings behind every piece we make, but we usually think more of the artisans physically producing our products than of the people designing and planning. Our Design & Production team here in Chicago is so involved and experienced with the immersive process of designing and creating garments and jewelry that we wanted to spend this Q&A hearing from one of Mata’s early employees and our Designer, Kristin. She joined the team in 2010 and will be taking her 10th trip to India & Nepal next month! Here’s what she had to say:

1) What is your favorite part about traveling to India/Nepal?
The first time I traveled to India and Nepal I had no idea what to expect – it was overwhelming and new. Now, it has become such a part of my life, a familiar place with familiar people. I have so many favorite parts: the animals – cows, donkeys, dogs, an occasional camel or elephant sharing the road with your rickshaw, the vibrant colors – organized chaos is the best way I can describe it. I can’t get enough of the food, the daily cups of chai, and the go with the flow attitude.

2) What is it like working with the artisans directly, when you visit?
I love working with the designers and patternmakers at each of our co-operatives, these are the people I email and talk to the most – having that global network of friends makes part of traveling so easy. A lot of my favorite memories are the chances we get to visit their homes, meet their families, and eat some of the best home cooked meals I’ve ever had. Visiting the artisans who stitch our clothing or make our jewelry and seeing the impact of our orders each season are some of the best parts about traveling. The feeling you get when they all pile in for a picture with you or their faces any time we get the courage to try and say a couple phrases in Hindi goes beyond any words.

3) Do you have any specific memories or stories of your first trip there?
Oh gosh, one of the funniest memories I have is when Maureen insisted on riding an elephant to complete my first tourist-y India experience. Not only was this elephant ride down the narrowest of all narrow streets – which ended up completely holding up traffic in both directions – but the elephant’s tail whipped and hit jewelry displays in front of small shops on the street, all while the owner riding with us used a wooden stick to hold the power line cords up so we didn’t run into them – or get electrocuted. True story, there is video evidence to prove it.

Fair Trade:

4) How did you first hear about fair trade? Was it something you had known about before working at Mata?
I had actually never heard of fair trade before I started working at Mata. Only left with an internship to complete before graduating college, I was searching through this huuuge binder of internship opportunities. Almost every page looked the same but somehow I stopped on Mata Traders. I went home, looked up the website online, and decided to apply for an internship. It wasn’t until then that I learned about fair trade and what that meant. Getting the opportunity to visit the artisans in India and Nepal is what made fair trade come full circle for me.

5) What is your goal, when designing for the fair trade fashion market?
When I’m designing sometimes I think back to 21 year old me and remember I wasn’t actively searching for fair trade items but attracted to unique pieces that caught my eye. Just because someone isn’t aware of what fair trade is or means, doesn’t mean that they don’t care. I feel like part of my job when designing to the market is to capture those people by their love for the product and to help them become passionate about the mission second. It’s all about reaching people in different ways.


6) What’s your favorite part of your job?
Favorite part of my job would have to be traveling and being able to be creative. If someone told me 10 years ago, this is where I would be I would have thought they were absolutely crazy. I’ve always loved to travel, but Mata has given me the opportunity to go so much further than I ever imagined. It sounds cliche, but it pushed me completely out of my comfort zone – teaching me a lot about myself and broadening my horizon in so many ways.

7) Do you have an all-time favorite Mata print?
Oh gosh – trying to mentally scan 12+ seasons of Mata prints and it is hard to choose! My favorite animal is a giraffe so when the SS13 collection came out with the giraffe print I was so excited! The delicate tumbling giraffes were just too cute! More recently, I am loving all the custom woven plaid/stripe designs we get to design. We are taking Mata to a whole new level!

8) All-time favorite piece (dress, top, etc.)?
Again…it’s so hard to say. Sometimes I just have a love/hate relationship with the styles designed. All the work in getting the fit right – picking fabrics, sometimes I have nightmares about them (not a joke). But then, once you see someone else love it and the way they feel in it – that makes it all worth it. One of my favorite memories of design would be the Shanghai Shift Dress (bringing it back to SS13 again) – mainly because that is one of the first dresses I designed and saw come to life. I’ll forever remember when I had my first “Spot a Mata” and saw a woman wearing it around Andersonville. It was the coolest feeling!

9) What most excites you about Mata’s future?
Having worked here almost 7 years already (which I can’t believe!), I have been so fortunate in witnessing how much Mata has grown in such a short time. Our staff has grown from 5 to 18 and with that growth so has the recognition for the brand. Most importantly, I’m excited to keep bringing more work to our artisans and to continue growing and building our relationship with our suppliers.  Design wise – there has been some talk about going deeper in some of our apparel categories…Mata blazers, shorts and pants may be in our future, people!

In case you missed it, here’s the last post in our Behind the Seams series, a Q&A with our Director of Sales & Social Impact.