Meet Julia Kastner, founder of Eva & Paul, a socially-conscious, premium organic denim line for women, focusing on the perfect sizing and boosting sustainability, while supporting local farmers and artisans in rural India.
While traveling in Mexico as a Kiva Microfinance Fellow, Julia worked with artisans and farmers who were working hard to change their lives and the future of their communities. This not only inspired Julia, but it also fueled a strong desire to support their efforts through an initiative that was closer to home, one that raised awareness of the disastrous impact of the apparel industry on our planet. Through Eva & Paul, Julia’s not only able to help those who are less fortunate than her in remote parts of the world, but also able to solve an age-old problem that she’s been struggling with her entire life: finding the perfect pair of jeans. She knew she wouldn’t be alone in that struggle, and wanted to make a denim line for women that would actually fit. Fortunately, while at Harvard, she discovered that one of her classmates from India was the owner of Arvind Mills, one of the world’s biggest denim producers.
Upon graduation, Julia developed her ideas further and founded Eva & Paul, an entrepreneurial venture that makes quality denim for women, using the organic cotton from Arvind Mills and creating incomes for local farmers in Akola, Maharashtra, India. Eva & Paul also sources fair trade hand-printed fabrics from Ahmedabad, India in collaboration with N.E.S.T. and Moralfibre, organizations that support economic development through employing artisans.
Read on to learn more about Julia and her new social enterprise venture and to see how you can get involved.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I’ve always wanted to change the world through innovation. In the summer of 2003, during my first year at McGill University in Montreal, I had the opportunity to travel to San Juan del Sur to volunteer with a community center for local children. I stayed with Señora Carmen, who personified an important lesson for me about the intersection between entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation. She was the quintessential entrepreneur – running a bed and breakfast out of her house while selling various items, ranging from ice from her freezer to food items purchased by her daughter abroad to the rest of the town. Her multiple businesses provided her and her daughter economic sustainability and the freedom to travel, study, and afford leisure time. Her life was different than those of most locals I met who did not have the ability to invest in their ideas and secure financial stability. I knew then that I wanted to find ways to support entrepreneurs like Señora Carmen.
After graduating from McGill, I worked at the Beginning with Children Foundation–a charter school foundation, worked at the New York City Economic Development Corporation in a strategy and finance rotational program, and spent a year as a Kiva Microfinance Fellow in Mexico City. I later chose to attend Harvard Business School with the goal of starting my own company. I had no idea my path would lead me to denim, but I’m so glad that it has!
2) What was your inspiration for Eva & Paul?
While living and working in Mexico, I met many artisans and farmers who simply had access to microfinance (very small business loans) but were still struggling to get their businesses off the ground because they weren’t able to tap into the international market for their goods, keeping the prices low in their communities and their profit margins even lower. I wanted to start a business that would import agricultural or artisanal products. While at Harvard Business School, we studied companies like TOM’S shoes, Warby Parker, Patagonia, and Burt’s Bees, brands that were changing the world through their supply chains and responsible products. I also studied coffee and chocolate companies like Sweetriot (our current sponsor) that were using premium inputs and fair trade/organic practices to build sustainable brands. I decided that I wanted to make a product of my own. This was a major departure for me, because I had fallen in love with technology while working at Kiva. But I felt I could make the biggest impact through disruptive manufacturing. If it hadn’t been for my travels in Mexico, Pakistan, Thailand, Brazil, etc., I wouldn’t have understood how many beautiful things are made abroad that don’t make it to the U.S. markets.
I chose to make jeans in particular because I’ve always hated jeans shopping! I’d take dozens of pairs into the dressingroom and leave with my hands empty. I wanted to understand how jeans are made, why they don’t fit, and how we could make them better. I recruited Christine Rucci of Denimafia Inc. here in New York City, and together we’re rethinking jeans sizing and shape, working with sample shops in the NYC garment district.
3) What makes the Eva and Paul denim different from other brands?
We are targeting women who subscribe to an international, organic lifestyle. Our jeans look great on all sizes, but we think women who often struggle with fit will especially appreciate our extremely comfortable fabrics, thoughtful fits, and minimal styles! At our trunk show in Boston, one of our customers thought our jeans would do well at Anthropologie stores – they have the same sense of adventure and wonder. We agree!
4) Where are you planning to sell your denim? When will you start distribution? How much will it cost? What cuts are available?
Right now, we’re running a Kickstarter campaign to accept pre-orders of our jeans. Our first three fits are a slim fit, boot cut, and trouser – all with the same rinse wash. We want to keep our washes down to preserve water – the average pair of jeans uses 42 liters of water, whereas we only use 14 liters. We plan to launch our full e-commerce site in a few months and we’ll start distribution throughout boutiques and select yoga stores – stay tuned!
Our prices will start at $148 – we want our jeans to be accessible in price but we need prices high enough to afford our special materials and practices.
5) How will you ensure that the farmers/local artisans in India receive their fair share of the deal?
Our partners in India share our social mission to increase the incomes of the artisans and farmers we work with. Both Arvind Agribusiness (http://www.arvind-agri.com/) and Moralfibre (http://www.moralfibre-fabrics.com/) track the impact of our programs. We also work with nonprofit N.E.S.T. to ensure positive outcomes and fair practices, and external international certifications (Organic and Fair Trade) ensure compliance.
Most importantly, I am extremely fortunate to be working with people who share my passion and international perspective. I was connected to Arvind Ltd. through my classmate at Harvard, Kulin Lalbhai. His family has run Arvind for eight decades and has always been dedicated to social and environmental responsibility. Punit Lalbhai, a graduate of Yale University, saw the exciting growing opportunity for organic cotton in international markets.
Shailini Sheth Amin, of Moralfibre, is an architect and social activist with a vision and international experience in the design and business worlds. Originally from India, she also spent many years in the U.K., so she understands both the local context in India and international demand.
Currently we work exclusively with Indian denim and produce in the U.S.A. I unfortunately have never been to India, but I am excited to visit in the fall (after our Kickstarter campaign) and depending how fast we grow, I’d be open to exploring fabrics from Africa and Latin America as well!
6) How can people get more involved?
Please watch and share our Kickstarter video and contribute! We’ve raised more $11K of our $20K goal, so we still have a long way to go! Thanks for your support!