Global Activism: ishi vest makes clothes based on fair trade, sustainability and equity

January 30, 2014

Courtesy of Harish Patel
ishi co-founder, Harishi, attends a training by Revathi, sponsored by Association of India's Development on the importance of Organic Farming and not using pesticides to grow cotton, 2010

While on a trip to India, people kept asking Harish Patel about the vest he was wearing. It made him "think hard" about how his clothes came to be - from pollution - to the worker exploitation it takes to make them. So Harish co-founded “ishi vest”, a clothing line that would guarantee what he wore would help provide a livable wage to the artisans that create them and also protect the environment. For Global Activism, we talk with Patel about his business model that strives for fair trade, sustainability and equity.

Patel calls ishi "Vests with Benefits":

"There's this joke in my family about how the young man who left India for Chicago at age fourteen to study hard and become the next Doctor Patel ended up... well, selling vests.

My story of transition, like the stories of most social entrepreneurs, is not accurately shared in a “portrait-frame” -- with me as an individual making all the right choices to get to where I am. Instead it is best shared in “landscape format,” with a whole lot of support and inspiration from friends, family, co-founders, mentors, and community members along the way.

On that note, ishi is a story of both individual and community transformation. It is a story of  a new kind of sustainable fashion start-up that is connecting communities in India and communities in the US, which share a desire to re-think consumption. To start caring about people and planet before profit.

There have been a number of turning points for me on this adventure. One came after I returned from a powerful trip to India with a handful of traditional Indian vests. Total strangers kept coming up to ask where they could get a vest like mine. Conversations about fashion quickly turned to the disturbing process by which our clothes get made -- polluting rivers and harming workers across the globe. A simple clothing choice became an invitation to connect -- and inspire.

After that initial spark, I quickly turned to my friends and co-conspirators, Rhea and Jackie, and together we began dreaming up how to create a hip, conscious clothing line that reminds us how our smallest choices can have a huge impact.

We're still in "startup mode," but we're thrilled to see so much love for the product and the vision in just a few short months of launching. Our community campaign on Kickstarter brought in more than double our hopes in seed funding and encouraged us to grow and scale what we're doing to inspire even more people.

This march, we will be adding Women’s vest, new scarves collection and new Men’s vest styles to our already existing Men’s vest and Scarves collection."