Socks with soul from a man on a social mission.
You might remember a little post I did on Preserving Artisan Culture way back on the first of June this year where I featured a label called Tibetan Socks (a brand that got epic amounts of Instagram love). Since then Tibetan Socks founder Adrien Field and I have been pen pals. With all the chit chatting I’ve come to consider Adrien and the Tibetan Sock mission pretty gosh-darn fascinating and I figured that we might as well make the chit-chat available for you guys to marvel at too! A huge thank you to the lovely Adrien (second from right in the picture below) for taking time out to share some thoughts with the Sustainability in Style readers. His responses are so thoughtful and honest and I hope that you get a lot out of his mission to be the change he wants to see in the world.
For those readers out there that are being introduced to you for the first time would you kindly shed some light on the man and the mission behind Tibetan Socks?
I am not nearly as important in the story of Tibetan Socks as are the lady knitters for whom this work represents a generations-old handicraft and the ability to earn supplemental income for their families. I feel I am a messenger of their story and their work to parts of the world that wouldn’t have come across these special socks.
Would you be able to share your journey as a clothing designer and your adventures in India with the Sustainability in Style readers?
I travelled to India for the first time when I was 22. My best friend at the time was a designer, living between New York and New Delhi. Prior to that, I had been a magazine editor in New York and assisted styling for celebrities in the music industry. I had been around fashion in various roles, but never had designed before, nor did I go to school for fashion. I knew that staying in New York and working in media was not my path long-term and so when my friend was heading back to Delhi, she invited me to come with her. I quit my magazine job, gave up my apartment and sold all my possessions to go with her.
I ended up spending two months in India that time, and it was on that first trip to India where I fell in love with fabrics that inspired my journey into design. I had made just a few pieces for myself with a local tailor and brought them back to America. The reaction was good enough that I thought I could do this as a real business. I had met a friend in India whose family was into clothing production and export, and they held my hand through the initial stages. I started my label shortly thereafter, traveling three-four times a year to India to source and design.
That business did not prove financially viable, which was a difficult blow for me because I felt I had given everything to make it successful. My whole identity was tied up in what I was doing and creating, and I didn’t know who I was without my brand.
After two and a half years of that business, I was nearly bankrupt. I did not know what next to do, but I had a strong feeling that I had to get back to India – for what, I wasn’t sure. I had made one last sale to a store, which gave me just enough money for a round trip ticket to India. On that trip, I made my way up to the Indian Himalayas where thanks to a chance encounter, I found the product that was to become Tibetan Socks and was inspired to share this special product with the world as my new business.
Many of your travels were conducted solo. Did you find it difficult trekking into new territory on your own? Do you have any stories you might like to share?
I love traveling alone – and it’s often hard to find friends who are willing or able to take off for months at a time to travel to far-flung destinations. I tend to meet people wherever I go so I do not stay alone for long. Had I not travelled alone to Rishikesh in the Indian Himalayas, I would not have ended up finding Tibetan Socks. Originally a friend from Delhi was supposed to come with me – it was her birthday weekend – she backed out at the last minute because she was depressed about having just turned thirty so I ended up there alone.
It forced me to be more outgoing – which led me to start talking to a girl in the street from Russia who had been living in Rishikesh studying yoga for some months. It was the middle of Winter and I hadn’t appropriately packed for this somewhat spontaneous trip. She recommended that I visit a small Tibetan shop that was selling wooly socks – and hence that encounter changed my life.
I heard that you have just made a brave move from Los Angeles to Mexico with no more than your pooch and two suitcases worth of stuff. What provoked this life changing decision?
The universe was kicking me out of Los Angeles. Two days before I was leaving for a two-month trip to Asia, I got a lease termination 60-day notice on my apartment. I freaked out at the moment because it was pretty insane timing, but then I reasoned that I could take this time to really explore where it was that I wanted to be. Los Angeles is a great place and it is easy to get very comfortable there – but I had also become slowly dissatisfied with the cost of living and the worsening traffic, to say nothing of the political situation in America.
I had got to a point in the business where I could technically live anywhere in the word, so it made sense to live somewhere less expensive. I was craving a slower pace of life and more simplicity.
As I had done before, I sold all my possessions that I had accrued after 5 years in Los Angeles and said goodbye to what had felt like my first “adult” home. I decided on Mexico because it was a country that was easy for immigration and bringing my dog, also close enough to the USA to come in and out for business as needed. I live in Tulum on the Mayan Riviera and there is a wonderful conscious community here – plenty of vegan restaurants, yoga, gorgeous beaches. It is really paradise.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice you might like to offer people who are thinking about minimising their possessions and having a life overhaul?
I am a lot happier having less things than I was when I was living a materially-oriented lifestyle, because ultimately all of those things tie you down. I learned the joy of spending money on experiences versus possessions and now I am careful to really analyse if something will truly add to my life. It can be an intimidating process but at the other end of the tunnel it’s very liberating to realize that you don’t need so much “stuff.”
Tibetan Socks came about from the decision to help support the Nepali people. Can you share why this is so important in the wake of the Nepali Earthquake disasters?
My original inspiration was to create a socially-motivated business that helped women and children in India, a country very close to my heart. My friend is an actress in Bollywood and she stared in an independent movie in India that shed light on the staggering number of female infanticides in India. It made me question what I could do that could actually make a positive impact on other peoples’ lives, rather than pursue an ego-driven path of designing expensive clothes for rich ladies. When I was in the Himalayas and found Tibetan Socks a month later, I knew that I wanted it to have a social-good element. It made the most sense to support the communities from where the products are derived and so from the beginning we have partnered with local NGO charities to support children’s education and women’s health in India, Nepal, and Tibet.
What does the Tibetan Socks manufacturing mean for the women in Nepal?
Nepal is severely behind the rest of the world for women’s access to education and employment – it actually ranks in the bottom 20. Knitting is one of the few occupations available to women, regardless of their education level, and gives them the ability to work from wherever. They are able to be at home to help raise their children, or get together in social groups to knit together.
Do you feel optimistic about natural disaster response for future scenarios given that prediction is for more frequent and intense extreme weather events? Why or why not?
Not in Nepal, sadly. Many homes are built without stable foundations so another major earthquake would have the same devastating impact. Also, the government has been exceedingly slow to release disaster funds, despite the huge international outpouring of support after the earthquake. Still, a year and a half later, thousands are without homes and living in tents.
What challenges do you face working with remote and disaster-affected areas? Do you have any tips for those who would like to start projects like yours?
It is a continuous challenge. For example, we are finishing up a very important order now and are on a time crunch because the whole country is going on a national holiday for two weeks where everything shuts down. Also, due to the nature of our product being hand made, there is a very human element and scale to what we do. It is not machines churning out an exact quantity of socks per day, so that adds to the challenge of meeting production deadlines. Communication is difficult because here in North America we are separated by at 12-hour time difference, which makes it extra challenging to get information when you need it.
Given that you are a bit of a travel guru. What are your top tips and/or items for packing well?
The more I travel over the years the less I pack. I was given a red monk’s shawl by a Tibetan Buddhist lama whose school lunch program Tibetan Socks supports. This shawl has supplemented my need for most outerwear and doubles as a blanket on airplanes. There are a few clothing items I designed that often end up on my travels because they are versatile and comfortable.
I am really in favour of owning less things and that the things you own are so good you don’t need multiple varieties. For example, there was a pair of hand-made leather sandals I bought in Goa for around $16. I wore them until they fell apart – they were actually the only footwear that I brought on my recent two-month trip to Asia that spanned Bali, Kathmandu, and Thailand. By the end of the two months I had to throw them out, but they had lasted nearly two years.
All the people I’ve known who have visited Nepal have fallen in love with the people and place. Can you surmise the feeling or life motto that you think makes Nepal and its people so special and unique?
I can only speak about my experience in Kathmandu, as I haven’t yet had a chance to visit some of the more natural and picturesque places in the country. Kathmandu is not an easy place to spend a month – it is a hectic city with a massive amount of pollution, noise and general sensory overload – and I am used to India.
That said, the people I met, especially the ladies who knit for us were remarkable and kind. There was one woman living in a tent because her home was destroyed and who ostensibly had nothing, but still she invited us in for tea and sweets.
What I loved in Kathmandu was the combination of Hindu and Buddhist culture. There few even make a distinction between the two paths and many Hindus also worship the Buddha. There are many magnificent temples and monasteries all over which creates imbues a sense of spiritual devotion.
And finally! The fun question! If you could kit out anyone past, present, and/or future in Tibetan Socks and take them camping, who would it be, what socks would you put them in and where would you camp?
This is an interesting question because you bring in the future tense as well. I think the most exciting person would be someone I haven’t met yet – someone who may be my soul mate. I would like to go to Pokhara in Nepal, where I was supposed to visit on this last trip but we ran out of time.
A huge thank you to Adrien for taking time out from his busy schedule of World saving to chat all things knitting, travelling, and camping with future soul mates with us. If you have cold toes head on over and buy yourself a pair of Tibetan Socks. What did you love about this interview? Share with us!