Our Changemaker Chats interview series tells stories from the front line of impact entrepreneurship, as we get to know changemakers from the #EthicalHour community.
Changemakers come in many different forms, but ultimately are united by one thing – the desire to leave the world a better place than they found it, and the proactive attitude to make change happen.
In this series, we invite them to share their story openly and honestly, the highs and the lows, to give the world a better understanding of what it takes to make an income and an impact.
By bringing together thousands of changemakers and highlighting their journey, we want to collect and showcase the things they have in common and what sets them apart.
Through this series we hope to create a roadmap for the changemakers that come after us, so they can learn from our mistakes and take our successes further.
Today we talk to Shilpa, founder of House of Bilimoria about her changemaker journey…
Shilpa Bilimoria founded House of Bilimoria in 2008 having grown up around the influences of her grandparents, who hailed from a long line of tailoring. Designing and creating from spare fabrics has always been second-nature to her and it was this that sparked the start of HoB. Shilpa has built the brand on a foundation of sustainability through the ethics, textiles and circularity of the items that create and re-create. With production being in-studio, she has always remained transparent in her practices. Starting out on her own, she has now grown to a team of four, which is a result of her perseverance and clear vision throughout the trials faced.
What first inspired you to become a changemaker? Why did you choose the cause you focus on?
My inspiration goes way back to my ancestral roots. I have my parents, grandparents and even great grandparents to thank for paving my path in the professional journey which appears to have chosen me.
My focal starting point for the business was to bring back the day of the dressmaker, stemming deeply into my families legacy. With so much now being mass produced, I felt that I needed to use my skills and passion in order to revive that handmade feel.
The basis of the brand is that customers know exactly where their garment is being produced and, most importantly who it is produced by. Since the very start of HoB, I had collected fabrics such as old sarees from relatives along the way, which now inform my RTW collections and sometimes become a part of bespoke orders.
As a business, the goal is for there to be zero waste when it comes to production. The idea has always been to prevent anything that comes into our hands from going to landfill.
Which of the Sustainable Development Goals do you focus on? How do you create impact against them?
Responsible Consumption & Production:
Our greater vision is for circularity, a HoB piece should never hit the landfill with our policies.
We promote responsible consumption to all our clients with an incentive, any garments they buy or have made by us, we are happy to have back when they are no longer wanted in return for 30% off their next purchase. Should clients wish to repair or up-cycle the garment further, they are able to come back to us at any time, no matter how long it has been.
When it comes to production, all our items are made in-house, by tailors and machinists that are paid above the national minimum wage and supported to grow.
We source our textiles from industry waste, those destined to landfill. No matter how large or small the waste, we find them a place in our creations. If these textiles were to go to the landfill, they would be incinerated adding to the increase in emissions.
It is important to our business that we do not play a part in sending even our strands of scraps to the landfill, instead we use these for label packaging and get creative with our window display. Those we cannot use are collected and then donated to companies who will make into insulation, animal bedding, or other uses which involved stuffing/small scraps.
Partnerships for the Goals:
We connect with those around the world that support textiles not hitting landfills. We work closely with fabric wholesalers, independent fabric retailers, sellers of secondhand and vintage to build our in-house range.
Our effort in building such relationships will remain integral in achieving our goals of zero-waste.
When you knew you wanted to be a changemaker, what was the first step you took?
This was in 2016 and I had two branches to the company, the larger was a production and sampling unit. We created collections, small runs, and produced for many small labels and even some more well known too.
It didn’t resonate to keep producing, even though we were sitting in the world of ethical production, and we had a good number of clients. My heart lay in upcycling, for turning old into gold.
I bit the bullet and closed the studio premises we had at the time, locked everything up in storage, and started all over again. This time it grew with baby steps- literally, we launched with our new childrenswear branch of the brand that is Mini*Bili by House of Bilimoria. That baby brand, sparked all the creative juices off in the right direction, that is what created that change.
How did you get your first customer?
Through word-of-mouth. Now in business terms this may be like Russian Roulette, gambling on whether that word gets through or not. But to this day, it has been the best thing for bringing people to us. And as a testament to what we do, people are happy and delighted to share. So it can’t be that bad can it?
How are you inspiring others to support your cause?
Since moving in to the new studio in Wembley Park last year, I have focused on driving out-reach to the local community by taking part in markets or organising local community workshops. Getting my story out there to the locals is extremely important for me to raise awareness of small business, start-ups and being a game-changer and speaking up in the local community to curb, connect the creative community.
As a business we are always attending events, taking part in them and networking with like-minded professionals at the various panels, and marketplaces that are popping up in London.
We’re building a presence in the press, and also amongst influencers, whether they are local or international. We have a list of our HoB inspirations who we endeavour to collaborate with.
Through social media discussions we are generating awareness about the volume of traditional, South Asian textiles that are left unloved and are still as good as new.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome in your journey so far? How did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacle has been not offering the customer a typical retail model that they see everywhere. We are predominantly a made-to-order brand, meaning that we have samples of our collections, and once orders are placed we produce. The customer has the option to choose specifics and give us measurements, or even yet have a full bespoke fit. It’s not very common in this moment in time, and sticking to our ethos on this has been difficult in the face of wanting our brand to reach people far and wide.
Overcoming this has taken constant reminding of our vision, alongside re-instilling, reading and continually being engaged with the issues within the industry and waste problems. Bottom line is that we don’t want to be another number that adds to that.
What’s the best decision you’ve made that’s had the biggest impact for your business so far?
To stick with our made-to-order and zero waste ethos. Rooted in the use and re-use of unloved South Asian textiles, many of which I have found in my own families wardrobes or charity shops. It hasn’t been the norm or an easy sell, though we are in it for the long haul.
Now it is finally taking great shape, with new people discovering us daily, and finding out what we do, and then running home and raiding their own wardrobes to pull out all their so very useful textiles to create some wonderful new pieces with sentiment and heirloom quality.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Done is better than perfect” – a quote from a podcast I listened to some time ago. We often spend a lot of time trying to be absolutely perfect- but- if you can start, keep learning, making things better along the way by learning through mistakes you are going to be racing a lot quicker to the finish line than if you hold out until you think something is perfect. There is really no perfect is there?
Where do you see yourself and the world around you in 10 years? What’s your vision for a more ethical and sustainable future?
I see myself in a much larger space with archives of beautiful textiles for people to view and discover, along with a made-to-order business model thriving systematically, ethically, financially and environmentally. My vision for the future is that people regain consciousness in each purchase they make, considering where the item comes from, the people that have made it, the impact it has on our planet, and longevity of its life.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring changemakers?
Go for it! There is only one way to start, and that is to start! Whether you have it all formulated or not, get out there, network, talk to people. You will find that all the required people, places, circumstances will come into play once you get that vision declared and into the world.
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