Giving Indian saris a new life in the north
TEXT: SIGNE HANSEN | PHOTOS © HANNE BIRKHOLM
Charming plaids, colourful bags and stylish cushions – made from upcycled saris, all the products from Quote Copenhagen are truly one-of-a-kind. Behind the company is Danish Hanne Birkholm who, every half year, travels to India to handpick the traditional Indian saris for her designs.
When Birkholm arrives at Kolkata, in West Bengal, the locals know it is time to get out the saris – all of the saris. This is because the experienced entrepreneur is not content to have just any sari; she wants to sort and look through every single one of them herself. This way, she can ensure that the used saris she imports to Denmark are not just of the best quality, but also compatible with the distinct style of her popular home and garden accessories. This means that even though each product is unique and tells the story of its Indian life and use, the individual saris picked by Birkholm, and the way they are put together, give the designs a distinct Nordic character.
“What’s important to me is that the products are authentic and each tell their own story,” says Birkholm. “In theory, everyone could find a manufacturer that could make some colourful prints in the desired colours and patterns – and many do – but every single thing we make is unique.”
While Birkholm originally started out importing colourful plaids, Quote Copenhagen today makes and sells a wide range of home and garden accessories made from Indian saris, including mattresses, cushions, and bags.
Taking matters into her own hands
When Birkholm first began importing sari plaids in 2015, she, like most other western importers, bought the complete plaids from large retailers in Jaipur, India. However, she quickly realised not only that the plaids were of varying, and often not great, quality, but also that the colours and patterns were put together rather randomly. Consequently, she set forth to find a way of sourcing the saris before they were made into plaids – not an easy task, as information was hard to get.
After some persistence and a trip to the other side of India, she ended up on the outskirts of Kolkata, in the state of West Bengal. Once there, she managed to set up a special arrangement with the owner of the company collecting the used saris, and today, whenever she arrives, Birkholm is met by heaps of saris stacked up on the ground for her to sort through. “I look for special colours and then pair the saris to match in quality and style. Normally, most products are put together by the locals, and they have more of a tendency to choose the really bright colours and the big figurative patterns, whereas I go for the dull colours and abstract patterns,” she explains.
Their distinct character has made Quote Copenhagen’s many accessories popular with the Scandinavians. Many use the cushions and plaids to add a warm and colourful touch to their terraces and balconies, while bum bags and make-up bags have become favoured gift items.
A business that makes a difference
On top of the improvement to the quality and design of the final products, handpicking the saris that go into them also means that Birkholm gets to see the production and meet the people involved. Today, there are about 100 women sewing plaids and other products in a small village a couple of hours’ drive outside Kolkata. In a community where regular work is very hard to come by, the women’s income has a huge influence on them and their families’ lives, says Birkholm. “The women involved are treated very fairly – it’s something I can 100 per cent guarantee. The owner of the business, for instance, is very keen on making sure that the children of the women working for him get the opportunity to go to school, meaning that buyers not only enjoy the skills of the local women, but also the comfort of knowing that their purchase will support their children’s education.”
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