Material world

Local company General Sleep is supporting traditional craft on the other side of the globe. We quizzed its co-founder Greta van der Star.

Born in 2017 out of Auckland friends and co-founders Greta van der Star and Bailey Meredith’s love of lounging around, General Sleep is a favourite for sleepwear and night-to-day pieces you’ll be happy to be seen in if you happen to leave the house. How General Sleep garments feel is as important as their appearance, so central to Greta and Bailey’s success are fabrics that support movement, are hardwearing and look great, inspired by their mum’s soft old nightshirts.

So Greta, where do you source your fabrics from? From the beginning it was important to us to have traceability and employ fair practices, so we took our time and did a lot of research using the Ethical Fashion Forum’s directory of companies with a conscience before finding the right maker to help launch our idea. We work with handwoven fabrics from India and companies dedicated to good working conditions and fair wages, and are constantly seeking out unique practices, like-minded people and transparent supply chains.

What did you and Bailey set out to achieve on your recent first trip to India? Our main purpose was to connect with our fabric developers, weavers and sewing team. We also wanted to time it with the production of our summer fabrics, and capturing them on the loom was a very special part of the trip.
In Sausar in Madhya Pradesh, we connected with the Kala Swaraj Foundation, who we’re working on a new project with. A not-for-profit organisation, their sole purpose is to preserve the craft of hand-weaving, so they provide work for traditional weaving villages and pay a living  wage, which empowers families to work from home and take on as much or as little work as they like.

ABOVE Greta says her and Bailey’s visit to Sausar was the highlight of their India trip. “We were welcomed into so many homes, and handed babies and cups of chai while sitting around the looms. We watched some very skilled craftspeople at work, and left with full hearts and in total awe of the work being done there.” The weaver pictured here (with his family) is Manoj Gokhe, and pictured in the main image at the top of the page is Kusum Bai Gokhe.

What’s life like in Sausar? It’s a large cotton-growing area, and a river runs between the villages, which is how the cotton was transported before roads. The villages are rural, so people live in traditional mud houses, and when you wander the pathways between homes, you’re drawn around corners, through doorways and onto rooftops by the hypnotic click-clack of the handlooms.
The loom is almost always the first thing you see when you enter a home. Sometimes it takes up the entire living room and there will be kids napping beside it to the unwavering rhythm.
It feels like the heart of the home, and it was magic to see families operating their businesses while being able to tend to their children.
The experience was even more special than we could have imagined. Watching the fabric coming to life and connecting with the weavers and families we work with was momentous. We feel very connected with the process, the preservation of this skill and the people we’re working alongside.

ABOVE Weaver Ishwar Gokhe. “Meeting people committed to keeping traditional crafts alive was amazing,” says Greta. “India is a country so rich in craft, but much of it is being lost to industrialised production — except for a generation of people relearning and reviving it before its possible extinction. The hand-weaving process is learned by watching your parents, a passing of skills through family that if lost would be forgotten.”

Has this changed the way you work? We really were blown away by the technical skills we saw and the precision required when developing checks and stripes. Learning about the process and technical aspects of handwoven materials has definitely helped us with developing ideas. We’re feeling inspired to try new things and be a bit more playful.

Will visiting India be a regular thing for you now? We maintain communication with our producers throughout the process, but being on the ground opens up another level of exploration, so we definitely plan to return.

TOP Fabric destined to be made into General Sleep’s new children’s romper, above.

General Sleep’s latest collection expands your range beyond clothing — what else are you offering? A few new things that support sleep, such as eye masks, and homeware items including incense holders made in collaboration with artist Ryder Jones — small objects to enhance the comfort of your bedroom.
We’re also excited about the kids romper we’ve created for The Library. It’s made in New Zealand using a checked cotton fabric handwoven at a home in Sausar, in a style that’s loose to accommodate play and sleep.

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Greta van der Star

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