Harjit Sohotey-Khan is the founder of Jewelled Buddha, a brand that she founded after going after her vision to bring ethical and beautifully handcrafted accessories to a global market.
With a story that is empowering, a brand that is inspiring and a future that looks bright, we spent some time with Harjit to find out more.
Tell us about the journey that led you to launch your brand, Jewelled Buddha
I was working the 9-5 in a stressful job in the city. In reality it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’d always worked in a creative environment but instead found myself in the corporate financial sector, which was the last place I thought I’d end up. I was tired of the daily grind. For at least a year, I’d been feeling as if my life was just uneventful and that this was all I had to look forward to until I’d retire. My husband felt the same. We were both free spirits and being pigeon-holed felt restrictive and soulless. So we both quit our jobs.
We’d always dreamed of travelling. You know the kind of travel that’s inspiring; where you tick off your bucket list, have amazing adventures and experience things you never dreamed of. So we did just that. Several months down the line, we had made plans and handed in our resignations.It wasn’t easy to make that leap. We had responsibilities and it was scary. There were times I thought I was running away from life and I’m sure some people thought we were crazy, especially as we were in our forties! But it was the best thing we ever did.
We’d only planned to travel for a few months, but ended up backpacking for a year. We started in Nepal, covering India, most of South East Asia and as far as New Zealand, China and Tibet. It was whilst I was travelling that I came across so many communities of women weaving. Whether it was India, Nepal or Indonesia, I’d see women hand looming beautiful fabrics. Techniques that had been passed down through generations. I’d always loved handmade clothes and fondly remember my mum embroidering her saris with colourful threads. It was an inherent part of my Indian heritage. In between the joy and exhilaration of travel, I learned a bunch of life lessons. I learned to let go of a lot of things. Whether that was materialism, wearing the same clothes twice or not wearing make-up.I simple realised I didn’t need so much stuff. My backpack had taught me an invaluable lesson.
By the time I came back, I’d profoundly changed and I took another leap into the unknown. I started Jewelled Buddha. Style made to empower is my mission and as an ethical fashion brand, our products empower consumer with ethically made clothing as well as support artisan livelihoods, preserve heritage crafts and communities.
Your inspiration for the brand started when you were backpacking through Asia. Which part of that trip was the most poignant and why?
It’s difficult to pin-point one experience because each country I visited was so special. My top wanderlust moments have to be the sights and sounds of India, trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, watching the sun rise in the Temples of Bagan, Myanmar and Everest base camp in Tibet. I have to say Nepal is right up there. It was the first place we visited and hiking the Himalayas over two weeks was such a life-changing event. I remember we came across a woman by the side of a dirt road in Muktinath weaving a yak shawl. I’ll always remember her pretty weather-beaten face and loved how she worked the handloom so beautifully. I bought a yak shawl of course and still wear it to this day. I think this was poignant because little did I know then that it would stir inspiration for starting my business.
Ethical Fashion is at the forefront of what you do. Why is this so important to you?
I’ve always believed in equality in all its forms, whether that’s social or gender equality. For too long the fashion industry has compromised this through environmental pollution, modern slavery and creating trend-driven fashion that’s ridiculously priced.The artisans who make our clothing in India are paid a sustainable income, which enables them to invest in their families through health and education. The majority of artisans also tend to be women and culturally experience both gender and social inequality. Working enables them to feel empowered as they earn their own income and gain more status in society.
I feel particularly strong about the fact that it’s the developing world that suffers the most. Just as we in the West would expect to be paid fairly and treated respectfully, this is not the case for workers in developing countries who make clothing for the big brands and global corporations. It’s a colonial mentally that really needs calling out. There’s no equality and it’s simply unjust.
Our over-consumption has turned us into a throwaway society that pollutes the environment. We inadvertently feed the profit margins of large fast fashion brands who turn a blind eye to the injustices of garment workers and hold no accountability for their actions and inaction.
Artisan fashion is about slowing things down. Just like India, it is rooted in history and heritage, passed down from generations and a process that enables the consumer to connect, treasure and appreciate their clothes. Something we used to do in the past but have lost touch with since the advent of industrialised clothing processes.
How do you want people to feel when they wear your designs?
Inspired by travel our aesthetic celebrates relaxed silhouettes, indulgent textiles and handmade artisanal design. I want our customers to feel the wanderlust of the fabrics, the beauty of handcrafted materials and boho chic vibe. I think it’s important for consumers to know how their clothes are made and how they align with their values. After all our clothes represent our own style and personal expression, so it makes sense to wear clothes that embody sustainable values.
Who’s involved in the business and what are their roles?
I’m currently a solopreneur, but I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of my wonderful husband! He’s always there when I need to pick his brains. Plus he’s great with tech so he’s on hand to help out. I do occasionally get the help of freelancers to dip in and out of the business when I need them. The great thing about running your business is connecting with others in your community and sharing the highs and lows. There are so many amazing people out there.
What advice would you offer for anyone who wants to start their own ethical clothing business?
Where do I start! There would be so much to cover I could write a book about it. I’d say research your industry thoroughly especially when it comes to ethical fashion. Enlist the support of a mentor and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Running a business can be very lonely and it’s important to have a work life balance that gives you time to relax as well as nurture inspiration to keep you going. It’s crucial to keep learning. Whether that’s marketing, blogging or SEO, it’s so important. At the beginning the learning is quite steep but over time as your brand evolves, it’s more about learning what your business needs in order to grow. Finally, don’t let perfection stop you from moving forward in your business.
Do you have plans to expand the range in the future? If so, what can we expect?
I usually travel to India every year to source products and meet with artisans and social enterprises. I’ve not done that for a few years due to the pandemic but hopefully it’ll be on the cards. It inspires my wanderlust and allows me to connect with those who make our clothes, learn about the handmade processes involved and of course enables me to ensure everything is above board when it comes to ethics. I’ll be looking to expanding the clothing and homeware in the future, using handcrafted processes such as block prints. As for the rest you’ll have to wait and see!
What is your go-to quote when lacking motivation?
There’s something I read recently which really got me thinking. It goes something along the lines of “There are people out there less capable than you doing great things”.
Our readers love to travel. What destination is on your must visit list?
That’s a tough to answer. I genuinely loved every country I visited. But if I had to pick I’d say Myanmar, China, Tibet and Indonesia. We visited Myanmar when it just opened up and it was like stepping back in time. Amazing people and such a beautiful country. China was epic. Witnessing a country progressing at break-neck speed was a real lesson globalisation. The history and scenery is so beautiful and we found the people so warm and friendly towards us.I’m sure there’s at least 30 people in China walking around with pictures of us on their phones! Tibet was a dream come true. We visited as part of an organised group and spent eight days visiting all the temples and monasteries and finally seeing Mount Everest was a divine ending to a year away. Indonesia is so diverse. You can go from Bali with it’s temples and beachy vibe to the Torajans in Sulawesi, who still bury their dead in caves and perform ancient death rituals. It’s totally surreal!
What was it about travel that empowered you to start a business?
For me travel gave me a sense of self-confidence that I’d never experienced before. It broke the monotony of life, challenged me in so many ways and exposed me to new people, languages and food. It broke a lot of habitual behaviours, which we all succumb to in our daily routine. As a result my physical and mental health was the best it had ever been. Most of all it changed my perspective on life. This didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process, a sort of awakening. I gained a lot of self-knowledge worth and with that came a realisation that I wasn’t just little old me, but someone who was more capable than just sitting in an office wishing her life away!
What does self-care mean to you?
These days self-care for me is as simple as taking a walk in nature, spending some time alone or simply meditating. For both myself and my husband, travel is an important part of self-care. I find that I need to get away from the UK at least once (if not more) a year and experience different things to even feel inspired about life. Those who travel know what I mean! It’s a permanent case of itchy feet, which can work against you. I find my bar for excitement is set so high now, that I get bored easily. My two-week holidays tend to involve two country destinations with three stops.It sounds chaotic but it satisfies our love of on-the-go adventure. You won’t find me sitting on a beach for days on end! I just can’t sit still anymore.
Where can people find out more?
Everyone is welcome to follow me via my website or social media: