The Woman Who Creates Impact With Patterns
Renyung Ho’s path was cemented by her thesis, though it wasn’t the academic life she chose – the 30-year-old studied sociology at university and wrote her thesis on social entrepreneurship, which led eventually led to her socially conscious artisan-made label, MATTER. She’s all about forging and promoting connections, which is what’s carried MATTER this far in merely two years.
The Singaporean label, which sells affordable lux clothing and accessories that are crafted by artisans, has evolved tremendously – from its early days partnering only with artisans in Rajastan, India, to now engaging in 15 different collaborations, holding workshops and creating countless dialogues.
Renyung speaks to Asia For Good about the impact she wants to make on buying choices, why she thinks non-preservationism helps artisans and how we can all get involved with the communities MATTER works with.
On MATTER’s mission... We help to support the artisan craft and industry across borders. The effects that we want to have is conscious consumerism – that people are conscious about their buying choices.
On how and where she seeks to make change… MATTER seeks to create change in three groups: the artisans, customers and designers. For artisans, we seek to increase market access for them by highlighting their work. It’s a collaborative approach where we innovate [together] on how to bring their techniques to modern design – this is capacity-building. Going forward we would like to create more funds for artisans. For customers, we drive awareness. Our approach to customers is activist-oriented and educational: the more dialogue we create around the value of craft in terms of our cultural history as well as manufacturing process, the more value consumers will place on it. For designers, it is to collaborative, so we can influence and [let them] design. MATTER is involved with 15 different collaborations at this point – we influence them to want to work and have a new way of thinking. It is important for their craft to be sustainable and for this we need to work with designers who are future thinkers
On how much direct change MATTER brings… Impact is embedded in the supply chain, so we have committed that 40 per cent of every item cost goes to the artisan or artisan fabric.
On preservationism… I am unapologetically non-preservationist when it comes to craft. Craft itself as an industry is finding it difficult to compete with traditional fast-paced industries. I always ask – what are the parts that we can preserve and what can we mechanize? Craft is a high quality and high price and we want to price it at a good priced. For that reason, some of our ikat is hand tied and dyed but power-loomed.
On picking partners… I knew very early on that we have to work with partners and communities that are organized. We work with a range: for example, Srinath is an ikat artisan in Kuvapali – he’s independent and he works with and coordinates 20 families in the village. Another example is Dastkar Andhra, a non-profit in India working with thousands of artisans who has a team set up to work with MATTER. Dastkar Andhra’s aim is to facilitate participation and equity within weaver communities and demonstrate the viability of the handloom industry through transparency in transactions at all levels. I have four critieria when it comes to working with partners: the most important is if we can develop a long term relationship with them. Then it’s if they will innovate with us, are generational artisans and passion. I’ve found generational artisans have a different (better) approach from people who have just learnt the craft.
On their first traditional block-printing workshop… It was a collaboration with Singapore’s Gallery & Co and Foreign Policy Design. We brought Khushiram Pandey, a fifth generation block printing artisan from Sanganer, India to Singapore – it was his first time in Singapore and his first block printing workshop. We plan to do this again but will plan to crowdfund. Sessions like these will take place as and when it comes.
On getting more involved with the MATTER community… You can visit the artisans directly, or if you’re a designer, work with us or them directly. We’re happy to help direct customers who wish to travel independently visit the artisans in their country, but not everyone is able to take those trips. Come to our events or follow us on our channels because there is a lot to learn. Sharing the story on why craft MATTERs is also very important.