This summer, a few friends and I are taking a road trip across the country on a mission to find American success stories. We didn’t have enough money to do it ourselves, so we reached out to our favorite restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory, to see if there was a way to do it in partnership with them, and they enthusiastically agreed to sponsor our trip. What we didn’t realize is that The Cheesecake Factory is also an American success story. Over the course of the trip we will interview artists, craftspeople, entertainers, and entrepreneurs who are dedicated to their work. We aim to highlight a diverse set of talents across a few different regions of the country including the northeast, the midwest, and the west.
Karthika Audinet talked to us about her work with St. Coletta, a DC-based organization that empowers disabled adults to work with textiles and designs. Karthika’s experience with design and industry shows off her fine attention to detail and focus on craftsmanship in each of the high quality artisanal products in St. Coletta’s Collection.
Karthika has two masters degrees, one from the National Institute of Design in India, and another from the ENSCI, the French National School for Advanced Studies in Design. To Karthika, “design is the perfect balance between being artistic and giving meaning to your art,” and she has always been interested in the tiny details. “I was always very interested in what they call savoir-faire, which means the fine craftsmanship. Like if you’re making a cheesecake how do you make that beautiful frill that kind of folds perfectly like that. And the same kind of thing works in textiles. So I kept looking for opportunities to improve my understanding of woven textiles. All of the structures that you have in woven textiles can be very complex.”
She joined St. Coletta because of a desire to have a social impact. She says that St. Coletta wanted her to add some “oomph” to their artisanal crafts. They were working on all sorts of projects, but they didn’t have any cohesive collection. Karthika helped develop the Coletta Collection, which is a full catalogue of artisanal products.
She is currently the creative director, which means two things. “First, I study trends, just like in the industry. I set up trend boards, I direct them, I direct teams to develop prototypes, pricing, and descriptions. I help them with color, texture, what the market wants. On the other hand, I also train.”
A lot of work, time, and attention goes in to each product. “The first month I put trends together. I work out volumes, size, and pricing. With this bag, I cut it out on thick paper. That way I had all the measurements. And once that’s done, then we started developing the colors. Here for example, this, what looks like black, is not a flat color, it’s two colors. It’s a blue and a black.”
“This is the French sensibility of detail. It’s what makes high-end high-end. Then we order yarn, set up warps, and the first prototype is made. We look at it, and say, ‘Are there problems with stitching, volume?’ And it’s only after the first prototype is made that we launch production. It takes a good six months.”
Developing high-end products this way is a win-win, and the participants love it as well. Karthika told us about a particular success story, Nadia. “She’s a lovely person and always happy, always thrilled to be at St. Coletta’s. There’s a sense of community, there’s a sense of purpose, there’s a lot of one-on-one help. She gets fits, so sometimes she has to wear a helmet. So for her we have set up a small table loom. She comes every day to St. Coletta, and she loves it, she gives high fives to everyone, she weaves, and she loves weaving. She participates in our product-making, and tells us ‘This is too dull, I want more color.’”
Here are some pictures from the Coletta Collection catalogue.
We had a great time talking to Karthika at The Cheesecake Factory in DC! Watch the whole interview here: