With all the talk of cultural appropriation plaguing brands and consumers closets, Tribal Fare offers each consumer with the awareness of what they’re wearing, who made it, and the history behind it.
I had the pleasure of meeting owner and curator of Tribal Fare, Ojas Akolkar, in May of this year. We both attended The Cost of What You Wear, a panel discussion on sustainability in the fashion industry.
Over time, I have come to learn that some of the best things happen by chance. The sole purpose of attending this event was simply to see what I could learn and maybe share it on my blog; meeting Ojas was never in the cards. We shared the standard greetings, and briefly stated what we do for a living. She handed me her business card and invited me to her store, Tribal Fare. I was living in cultural oblivion for so long and didn’t realize it, until I stepped inside.
So, what is Tribal Fare you may be wondering? A quick trip to the company website will tell you it is a “locally based brand that specializes in offering one of a kind ethnic product”, at various affordable prices. However, my trip to the boutique gave me more than the website suggested. Upon entering, you are greeted by a table showing the name, mission statement and a guestbook to sign. The store space is filled with vibrant colors and intricacy of garments (ranging from skirts, dresses, blouses and pants), jewelry, pillows and bedding, and handbags. Tribal Fare was based out of Tech Town in Detroit.
Born and raised in Mumbai, Ojas has been in the United States for twenty years. Artisans are a part of her family background, add that to the fact she could never find a place to shop that was representative of her cultural style and you’ve got Tribal Fare. While major retailers use the “copy and paste” method, (that is, copying what walks down the runways of numerous fashion weeks and “pasting” it to the clothing racks), Tribal Fare offers something different.
The spread of education and inspiration to the consumer is ever apparent. Ojas eliminates the middle man and travels to India herself to gather the garments. Many of the artisans in India have no internet presence and their talent is virtually unknown. By acting as the mediator, Ojas brings two cultures together; educating the consumer and giving the proper acknowledgement to a country of artisans many aren’t familiar.
When asking about the staple pieces that make up Tribal Fare, Ojas informed me that she is “a huge hand block printed fan”. Hand block prints, done in Rajasthan, India, are a central figure for Tribal Fare, appearing on the collection of scarves. Block printing, a traditional art form, uses intricately carved blocks of wood that are dyed in bright colors and stamped onto fabric.
Up-cycled tire tube imported from New Delhi add a touch of stylish sustainability to the brands cultural motto. The sourced material is made from discarded inner tire tube and is featured on hand-painted wallets and handbags.
“A touch of culture, style element to any space or wardrobe makes your whole outfit”, Ojas beams as she explains to me the significance of connectivity to a handmade product and the work that is involved, “there is so much effort and patience that goes into these products.”
Kantha, specializing in hand stitched embroidery, is made in West Bengal and featured among the many different regions that make up Tribal Fare’s aesthetic. Kutch, another form of embroidery that features on the store’s handbags, involves vibrant colors, and an intricate mixture of patterns and mirrors.
Tribal Fare is truly a one-of-a-kind store, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how much Ojas embraces culture. The store is reminiscent of a well traveled closet filled with trinkets and souvenirs one would collect on a world excursion. She is a self declared “fan of culture”, a woman of enrichment, positivity, and light and those qualities transcend within Tribal Fare.
“Every time you travel it teaches you so much more than you could ever learn in books. To spread my culture, but immerse myself in another culture as well…. that’s the key.”
***At the time of this publication, curator, Ojas is expanding her brand and branching out to Mexico where she will live and work with the local artisans of that region. Her expected return date to Michigan is 2019. All items can be ordered on the store website. ***