Fabric of my Life.

I’m always excited to discover independent homeware brands that are giving a global platform to small artisan makers, so was delighted to come across Kalinko earlier this week, which proclaims itself as the first online homeware brand from Burma (Myanmar).

Founded by Sophie Garnier, who moved from London to Burma two years ago, the premise of Kalinko is to shine a light on the country’s best crafters. Named after the ka-lin-kaw tribe in the North West of the country —known for their hospitality, lack of gender and class discrimination, and their unbeatable weaving skills— Kalinko work with independent producers across Burma, giving them the chance to sell to customers worldwide and develop long-term sustainable livelihoods, all the while upholding traditional Burmese values and age-old customs.


The collection focuses on contemporary home and lifestyle products, including cushions covers and throws which have been hand-woven on wooden looms in remote villages and dyed using all kinds of natural colourants, such as fresh indigo leaves (blue), teak leaves (pale pink and grey) and onion skins (burnt orange), and traditional rattan furniture that can take many days to produce by hand. While there’s a lot of colour saturating the collection, there is also plenty to keep a more minimally minded bohemian like me happy, and plenty of natural rattan and bamboo to satisfy my current obsession for these materials too. 


Alongside the homeware range, Kalinko also run the ‘Jacket Project’, selling a selection of handcrafted jackets inspired by Burmese national dress, but tweaked to work with a contemporary wardrobe.  Proceeds from these sales are used to buy new looms, yarns and weaving equipment for the community. This investment is vital says Sophie, as the rise of cheaper factory-churned fabrics, and subsequent drop in demand for handmade wares, has meant that many of these skilled artisans are being forced off their looms and out into the fields, or into domestic service to supplement their incomes. “It’s sadly common to find weaving workshops where only two or three crafters are at work, and lines of old, disused looms which have slipped into disrepair are gathering dust,” she says. “We will therefore use proceeds from our jacket sales to help support our weaver’s livelihoods, giving them time to train their successors, and keep their traditional skills alive.

Sophie shares further insights into what life in modern Myanmar is really like —including the confusion around the name Burma/Myanmar— in her Burma Calling blog, but I wanted to put my trusty Coffee & Conversations Q&A to her to dig a little deeper into her daily routines, favourite dishes and dream destinations..

Let’s meet… Sophie Garnier, founder of Kalinko

Describe your weekday morning routine.

We live on the river in downtown Yangon, so I usually wake up to the dawn chorus of little boat engines buzzing back and forth delivering commuters to the north side of the bank. If i’m feeling virtuous, I’ll force myself to wrestle the traffic to yoga before heading up to the office and undoing all the goodness of the class with a huge Burmese breakfast of fried rice or noodles.


How does your weekend morning routine differ?

There’s one amazing deli in Yangon, so if I’ve been organised enough we’ll have a huge breakfast with rare treats from there like sourdough bread and croissants. I find Radio4 very comforting when I’m far from home, so I normally listen to back-to-back Desert Island Discs, whilst preparing lunch for friends, who usually turn up in their hoards at 2pm and stay all night.


Describe your favourite corner of your home.

I spend hours and hours standing at the huge window looking over the river. The best time is during monsoon season, when we can watch giant moody clouds roll towards us, drench the flat like a carwash, then rumble on past.


What’s your favourite home fragrance?

Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley. It reminds me of home.


Go-to comfort food dish?

I love Vietnamese Bun Cha noodles more than life itself, but I’m a massive pig, married to an even bigger pig, so anything goes!

How do you like to unwind on a Sunday evening? 

There’s a restaurant in Yangon who send a waiter literally to your kitchen table, where he pretty much plates up the food, pours your wine and gives you the receipt in one of those leather receipt holder things like in a restaurant. The novelty never wears off so we usually order from there, then watch back-to-back episodes of House of Cards (or Mrs Doubtfire if I win the toss!)


Where do you go for a weekend escape?

As deep into the middle of nowhere as possible! Lots of our weavers live in very remote villages which you have to take planes, boats and cars to get to. those are my favourite escapes, especially when there’s no phone signal and you can fully detach from the world for a bit.


Finally, whats your dream destination for a month-long vacation? 

I’m desperate to get to Japan, and a month would give us long enough to cover loads of ground, aaand fit in some skiing. Hmmm, so fun!

All imagery © Kalinko, used with permission. 

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10 Responses

  1. Really interesting interview, so interesting to here more about this, and i love that her little house looks over the river. Sounds lovely

  2. Brilliant interview Kate and lovely ethical products. I love the idea of “a restaurant who send a waiter literally to your kitchen table, where he pretty much plates up the food, pours your wine and gives you the receipt in one of those leather receipt holder things like in a restaurant.” We totally need this in the UK.

  3. She did the great job with setting up a beautiful rattan collection from Myanmar and make things working well.
    I have met her once at our Rattan factory in Myanmar a few months ago and didn’t happen to reach the agreement.

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