Meet Benita and Jesus, Levi Strauss & Co Collaboratory Fellows

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Benita Singh: Founder and CEO of Le Souk, the first online global textiles marketplace.

Tell us about your business and the work you do.

Le Souk is the first online textiles marketplace where designers can search, sample and source directly from leading mills and tanneries around the world. Our mission is to provide unparalleled transparency to designers and brands looking to build direct relationships with trusted suppliers.

We started the platform to provide market access for suppliers who could not afford the high cost of attending trade shows. As the model began to prove itself, established suppliers, many of whom do attend trade shows, began to approach us to showcase their latest collections as well. Four years later, we’re hosting the online showrooms for suppliers in over 19 countries – from repurposed salmon leather from Iceland to vegetable dyed cotton from India.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

For us at Le Souk, it means bringing transparency to the sourcing supply chain. Too many designers don’t know where their materials come from, not because they don’t want to know, but because it’s simply impossible for them to trace where their fabric comes from. By working exclusively with textile mills and leather tanneries, we work only with suppliers who spin and weave (or tan) their materials.

This model means that designers can communicate directly with a representative at the source of production. This facilitates greater ease of access to information and certifications. And for suppliers , they’re closer to the market (and can increase their gross margins.)

How important is water to what you do?

It needs to become more important, which is why we’re thrilled to be a part of the Collaboratory. Water usage is largely overlooked when it comes to fabric sourcing, and it needs to become top of mind for more designers. Through the fellowship, we want to inspire and challenge our suppliers to re-think their modes of production while at the same time, bringing those materials that use less water to the forefront of Le Souk in a way that educates designers.

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

More knowledge on water impact from industry thought leaders will better position Le Souk to be an even greater resource for our 18,000+ active designers – both in terms of content but also in terms of materials that are water efficient. It’s our job to communicate the importance of this issue to designers, and by participating in the fellowship with both brands and companies that interface with brands, we look forward to coming up with creative ways to inspire the industry to take a hard look at how it uses water.

What’s your Levi’s® story?

My relationship with Levi’s® goes back to 2006 when the non-profit that I co-founded, Mercado Global, was fortunate enough to receive one of its first grants to advance its work with artisans in Guatemala from the Levi Strauss Foundation. Ten years later, it’s a thrill and honor to be collaborating with Levi Strauss & Co. again.


Jesus Ciriza Larraona: Founder and executive director of The Colours of Nature, a natural dye company specializing in indigo.

Tell us about your business and the work you do.

In 1992, I spent time in Kashmir, India, designing Persian silk carpets and exploring manufacturing approaches. It was during this time, by the beautiful lakes around Srinagar, that I became aware of the environmental impact of the dyes and finishing processes used to make the carpets.

As I had also seen industries destroy rivers where I grew up in Spain, at this point I decided to try to find alternatives for the chemical dyes being used. Naturally, I looked to the ancient traditions of natural dyes, for craftsmen and industries alike. I founded The Colours of Nature (TCoN) in Auroville, India. TCoN is a company exclusively dedicated to the use of eco-friendly natural dyes. Over the years we have been dyeing organic cotton yarns and fabrics, as well as making fabrics, including batik and shibori fabrics, and garments. Last year we started to dye cotton fiber, which is relevant as dyeing at this stage, before yarn- or fabric-making, can really help reduce water.

What does it mean to you to create a more socially and environmentally responsible apparel industry?

For me, both go hand in hand, as the pollution of the industry also, in many cases, affects those who work in it, by polluting local aquifers.

Whilst protecting the environment is the reason we are in business, we are also focused on improving conditions for workers. Exploitation of workers in the textile industry in developing countries can make it impossible for workers to lead dignified lives, in turn limiting their choices and power to create a sustainable future. So again, for us, social and environmental responsibilities go hand in hand.

How important is water to what you do?

It is well known that good drinking water is becoming increasingly harder to come by in many countries and that many industries all over the world do not pay enough attention to the environmental impact of their activities.

In 1993, working with dyers from a small village in India (Guledagudd), we recovered an ancient natural indigo dye fermentation process which was almost forgotten. This biological process works for many years using the same dyeing water. In fact, the natural indigo fermentation dyeing water currently in use at TCoN has been in use since 1993. We have a working prototype to up-scale this natural indigo fermentation process for industrial purposes at our premises. It’s a process that can be used by craftsmen or industries!

What do you hope to get out of participating in the LS&Co. Collaboratory?

Our aim is to share our learning with regard to natural dyes, and to learn from the other Collaboratory participants.

*This story first appeared on Levi Strauss

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