Anyone who has met CURA Founder, Kiko Eisner-Waters, knows that she is intense, passionate, and committed to being a positive force in the world. She’s also not inclined to go on and on about herself or her personal experiences, but she’s had that look in her eye lately. CURA is about to turn one year old, and she just returned from a transformational trip to Cambodia, so I asked my brilliant friend and business partner a few questions about her reflections on 2019 and vision for 2020 to share with our CURA fam.
Kiko, you’ve been creating CURA for a couple of years, but 2019 brought the opening of our shop in the Central District of Seattle. Tell us a bit about what it felt like to close out this landmark year. What was the most profound thing you learned about yourself and about our amazing customers?
Oh my, 2019 was big, so many profound learnings, I can’t narrow to one, but I’ll do my best to keep it tight!
Just Ask. Asking for help is not my MO, but I asked for help more than maybe ever and wow, it’s a lovely thing to receive. Don't underestimate how much people want to share.
Don't look back.I've some PTSD from my past life in the corporate world and privately I lingered in that trauma for a long time, but this year I didn’t have the mental space to spend there, and it was profoundly healing.
Do it anyway. Starting your own business is downright scary, I’m afraid of failing all the time and still despite my fear, we did it, are still doing it and love it, fear and all.
Let it go. Progress over perfection. It will never be perfect, end of story.
But without a doubt the most divine learning of 2019 was that people really do believe in CURA. The immediate enthusiasm and loyalty of our customers and community was incredible. Our return customer rate is statistically way better than I would’ve dared to imagined and while we’ve a long way to go, this proof that we’re resonating keeps me forging ahead especially so on the days when it feels really hard…. I’m so, so grateful to our customers, it makes me all sorts of emo.
Oh, I love the emo and those mantras: Just ask, don’t look back, do it anyway, and let it go...
You just returned from Cambodia with that gleam of inspiration and intention in your eyes. We’ve seen some photos on IG and FB, and the trip looked amazing. We source globally, tell me about why you chose Cambodia for our first apparel collection?
The short answer is I looked toward the leaders in the sustainable/ ethical fashion movement. Who also happenedd to be two of our best selling partner brands, Tonle and Fair Anita. They from my perspective out of all of the brands who were really doing it differently and doing it now, literally changing the system and making a real difference without investment capital or big marketing dollars both do production in Cambodia. Tonle is not just a brand btw, they are a vertical operation and is who we are doing our first production with out of the gate.
The longer answer is, I realized very early on that if I’m to use my skill set fully and if CURA is really going to drive change we need to actually produce in a way that can compete at scale. What I've discovered and I say this without documentation, by the way, just from conversations and observations, Cambodia is massively growing; foreign investment has exploded there in the past 20 years with little regulation or oversight from the Cambodian government. Specifically apparel manufacturing continues to expand and neither the government or the foreign partners who own the factories are prioritizing positive impact on the Cambodian people or Cambodia’s natural resources. On the other hand, there are growing numbers of social enterprises and mission-driven efforts there as well, so the opportunity we have to both create and make a difference on the ground could be be truly more immediate.
Also, after sifting through so much noise in the sustainable and ethical fashion space, it’s my opinion that upending the apparel manufacturing system can’t be a retro fit, it can’t be a claim of carbon neutrality by 2025. And while regeneration, organic fabrics, transparency, resale, rental, recycled fibers, circularity, block chain etc. - all the hot topics on the front page of fashion publications are fantastic solutions as we look ahead, what can we do right now? It has to start today, with a long view vision yes, but now while we're in CURA's beginning, we can choose how we will write our impact narrative. We have the good fortune to work in Cambodia. It feels like the the right place for us to begin, again because we've the best partners learn from, the opportunity to build in the way we believe will be the most impactful and to manageably scale over time.
How important is it, as a designer, to get into the field? Did your design concept change as a result of this field visit?
It’s is essential to know, meet, see and problem solve your production in person. There is no substitute for collaboration in real life. Seeing the operations, understanding logistics, understanding machinery, skill sets, basically the who, what, how and why of your manufacturing partners. It is critical for creating product with the most integrity and positive impact.
And yes, the visit cemented the vision for both the designs and the way we will produce for the foreseeable future.
During your trip, you posted several portraits of women makers who were simply radiant. Tell me about them - who are they, how are they connected to CURA, and what matters to them?
They are a few of the women that will be constructing our first collection. We had a language barrier so there wasn’t a lot of direct conversation, but certainly our non-verbal communication was so warm. Their radiance and openness come through in the photos because their humanity is put first in this workshop. They feel empowered, independent, they enjoy their work, are respected, valued, and paid well enough to care for themselves and their families.
Thank you for sharing your stories and reflections – I’m glad I took your advice and ‘just asked.’ Stay tuned for details about our one-year anniversary celebrations coming in March – we can’t wait to thank you properly !