I have such happy memories of my 2017 visit to Joe’s gorgeous studio in the village of Kalathilpady in Kottayam district, about two hours from Fort Kochi. The studio is in the garden of his family compound, where he lives with his parents, his French wife, Murielle and his two children. Joe and I share some mutual friends and when I began researching Love Kerala, it was clear that Joe would be essential to meet. Joe specialised in pattern making at the prestigious National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and since then has created his own very distinct path, eschewing the norm of the fashion business in India. Well known for his collection made with traditional Kerala handloom fabrics, he also designs for dance and theatre and ease of movement is at the core of all of his work. I was deeply moved by his Move Ability Clothing (MAC), which is a collection of clothing and accessories solutions for differently abled people that make dressing and undressing far easier. Joe is a sensitive and thoughtful designer; he is generous and innovative and has more recently started teaching yoga at the Ayurvedic centre run by his wife.
Our conversation took place In July 2020 during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
What were you just thinking of?
Very dark chocolate, 80% cocoa.
What are you doing for the rest of today?
I am working in my garden studio to make face masks, which are mandatory in public spaces in Kerala. I started this project at the beginning of the pandemic and roped in my daughter, Tilotama,to help me. Tilotama is being home-schooled so I made it part of her project and we even made a video on making masks: https://youtu.be/7_9bkoQl2iQ
I have bags of leftover fabrics which I use as a part of my project - reuse, redesign, re-energise and it was great to get creative with the little amount of fabric that we needed to make a mask. We started making and giving them away for free to neighbours, delivery boys and vendors. We have also made a three-layered mask design with a nanotechnology water resistant cotton fabric we had in stock from our "Move Ability" (clothing solutions for differently abled people) collection. We made some new designs for masks with Kerala cotton, as that is a staple in our collection, which we have supplied to "Mandalay Hall" concept hotel in Jew Town and are also in talks with other hotels.
How ‘real’ does the threat of the virus feel? Do you know anyone personally who has contracted the virus?
I have friends who are middle aged who had contracted it, but they came out of it in self-quarantine without having to go to a hospital. You hear so many stories and it is mind boggling how much information, probably too much, and disinformation, that I just stopped looking at my WhatsApp groups messages and listening to the news chatter. I follow safety protocols, but more importantly I am staying healthy with daily yoga practice and being positive. I learned how that impacts our lives a lot earlier in life from my wife Murielle. This was a key effort we all made at home, more importantly reinforced, during this period of confinement.
If your own health and that of your family/friends is ok; then what is the greatest impact on your life (and on your work) of the pandemic?
Kerala has been through floods and an earlier Nipah virus outbreak, so things were very well handled by the state administration. Also there are a lot of grassroots level organisations/initiatives and the socialist element has really helped the people in Kerala even though it is one of the poorer states, tax revenue wise. Since the lock down was over a few weeks back, everything is open and running. Masks are mandatory in public spaces or you could get fined. But the economy has definitely been hit with the number of shops shuttered down and very limited number of people allowed inside shops. We have closed out store in Kochi for the time being.
The pandemic has given me the time to work in our garden making compost beds with layering of green and brown, preparing the soil to plant later. This direct contact with the earth has been very energising. It has also made me understand that if we don't think of long-term goals of looking after this planet, then we as humanity will surely fail. I am very grateful about the here and now and am being mindful ensuring each day during this pandemic is lived fully.
What are you looking forward to post pandemic?
I am hoping to go back to Bodhi Zendo in Kodaikanal to do a Sesshin (retreat). This is a Zen Buddhist mediation Centre (bodhisangha.net).
Has there been anything positive from the pandemic?
The number of fruits and flowers we had this year. It is amazing how much positively the environment has recuperated without all of us running the rat race. As sentient beings, we need to really look through the Maya that we are living and make a course correction / paradigm shift. This period has given us the perfect opportunity to make that necessary change and evolve in a new direction.
Is there an innovation (service, product, science, media) that you have been impressed with?
How much content and information is out there! It was great to see so many people come out with different ways to tackle this crisis situation. Humans are creative by nature.
What does your personal future of travel look like? When and where will you go first? What are you dreaming of?
Murielle and my daughter Tilotama went back to France on a special flight that Air France operated in mid-June. Also, my son has been in France since last year and now he just joined another arts programme, which is a 3-year course. So, he won't be coming back to India in the near future. I would like to go and visit them later on, once regular flights are operational again.
What are you finding inspiring now?
I am inspired by the book "The Hidden Life of Trees" written by Peter Wohlleben.
What has made you laugh out loud most recently?
Bill Nighy in the comedy/drama ‘Sometimes Always Never’.
If a reader would like to make a contribution, can you recommend a specific organisation/initiative that could do with the support?
Save the loom is an NGO that was set up after the severe floods in Kerala in 2018. They have created a fund to support the artisans impacted by the recent cyclone in Odisha and West Bengal. Email email@example.com or within India, donations can be made here savetheloom.org/pay
If you would like to buy directly from Joe, please take my reference, and contact him via email firstname.lastname@example.org or via WhatsApp +9193495 09133. Courier and postal services are working within India and internationally, just allow a little more time.