This entrepreneur is weaving tradition, sustainability, and women empowerment together in Meghalaya
Started by Iba Mallai in 2016, Kiniho specialises in a range of products, including clothing, accessories, and more—all crafted from the exquisite Eri silk.
Iba Mallai amassed eight years of experience in the corporate world in various roles. However, as the years passed, she felt a growing sense of dissatisfaction with her life and decided to change it all for good.
Mallai grew up in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district in a community that weaves and dyes its own fabrics. Her deep-rooted love for nature and traditional craft encouraged her to learn more about textiles and fashion.
After graduating in business management, she pursued fashion design at JD Institute of Fashion Design, Bengaluru, in 2014. In 2016, with an investment of Rs 3 lakh, she left her corporate job at IBM and started Kiniho—her ethical clothing line.
“Since a young age, I wanted to run a business, but it never happened. I entered the corporate world, and slowly, I started feeling saturated from my corporate job. Therefore, it was high time for me to take a call,” she tells HerStory.
The amalgamation of modern and traditional
Kiniho wants to be a mix of heritage with modern aesthetics.
“Every piece of Kiniho tells a story of age-old traditions, ancestral weaving knowledge, and lores strongly inspired by the natural surroundings of Meghalaya,” Mallai explains.
She started the brand with the aim of “creating responsibly”. Therefore, she chose to work with Eri silk—a protein fibre derived from the cocoons of Samia ricini or Cynthia ricini moths.
The production of Eri silk is sustainable and cruelty-free, as the moths are allowed to leave the cocoon before it is boiled, unlike other silk varieties where the silkworms are killed. Additionally, no chemicals are used in the rearing process.
“At its core, Kiniho is a combination of a modern approach to traditional textile, where traditional methods, innovative weaving styles, and colour blending techniques meet to create the aesthetics,” she adds.
The brand offers a range of products, including dresses, tops, shirts, and more. It also offers a range of accessories like neckties, bags, earrings, etc. Lately, it also launched its collection of table coasters and table runners. For accessories, the price varies between Rs 500 and Rs 4,000, while the prices for the clothes start from Rs 3,000 and can go up to Rs 12,000.
Kiniho has adopted the traditional heirloom weaving techniques and works with the community weavers equipped with traditional hand-weaving techniques. All the products at Kiniho are produced in-house at its production unit in Ribhoi district, where 18 weavers come to work daily.
The brand sells through its website, Instagram, and Facebook. Alongside, it also runs an offline store in Shillong. Kiniho caters to Delhi-NCR, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Goa, and Mumbai customers. It also exports its products to people in the UK, Australia, and Italy.
Mallai further explains that after the silk extraction, it is dyed using natural dyes obtained from flowers, barks, and leaves of turmeric, marigold, pomegranate, and iron-ore, among others.
After dying, the textiles are created by the in-house weavers. Once the textile is ready, it is sent to the brand’s Shillong studio, where two tailors make the clothes.
“We at Kiniho also embrace the concept of zero waste. So, we create accessories out of leftover yarn fabrics,” she says.
Empowering women weavers
Kiniho has an in-house team of 18 weavers and also works with around 30 weavers from the nearby villages.
“Some of our weavers are students who were unable to continue with their education due to financial issues, and some are unemployed youths. We want to play our part in assisting them by giving them opportunities for a better livelihood,” Mallai says.
Initially, these women weavers get basic training. Each woman earns from Rs 4,000 to Rs 10,000, depending on their experience and quantity of work.
Talking about her personal challenges, she says that she has been lucky to never face any gender-based discrimination as a woman entrepreneur. However, she encourages others to never lose hope when faced with challenges.
“I would only say that being an entrepreneur is challenging at times, but women should not give up,” she adds.
Edited by Suman Singh