Internet goods come from her home in the Himalayas
By ANNE WARD ERNST
Monalisa Bora traded technology for
textiles when she left her Silicon
Valley job to run an Internet retail
business from her Sunnyvale home. Last
fall Bora launched Dreams on Looms, an
online store that sells woven home
décor products, such as pillows, place
mats and napkins, sewn by women in a
village in India. Her business brings
wages to a group of women in her
"The tribe that I work with is the Bodo tribe of Assam, a state in northeast India in the
foothills of the eastern Himalayas. I am a native of Assam and lived there until I finished high
school," Bora says.
Assam is largely agricultural, known mostly for its tea production. Often families rely on the
sale of vegetables to supplement their income. But, she says, almost every home in Assam has a
loom. Weaving is a regional tradition there and part of the lifestyle. Girls learn to weave at
young ages, and then as women they weave rugs and clothing for themselves and their families,
not for business or production. Bora aims to find a world market for these women and their
craft while growing a fair trade business that provides them living wages. She believes
marketing and selling the products made by these women in their spare time will create a
sustainable economy and help preserve weaving traditions.
Bora works with a production designer and a textile designer who live in the villages. Together
they blend traditional motifs with contemporary styles to create products marketable in the
United States. "The weaving takes place four hours from the city of Guwahati, where I grew
up," Bora says. "This year, I have started engaging with the Karbee and Dimasa tribes as well."
Bora says each tribe has its unique style of weaving and traditional motifs, all inspired by
nature. Designs found at Dreams on Looms will not be found in stores such as Pier 1 or Cost
Plus, Bora says, because of the uniqueness of each region's styles. Woven Indian products sold
in those stores likely come from other states in India where men dominate the weaving
profession, she says.
The Bodo tribe uses 100 percent cotton and all-natural dyes to create its vibrant, colorful
designs. "All our products are dyed in environmentally safe ways. We want to make it as natural
as possible. The dyes don't hurt the ground water in the villages," she says. "[Being
environmentally conscious] is a strong pillar of our business." In addition to the Internet
store, she has sold the products, which include desktop items such as photo frames and journals,
at art fairs and festivals. Bora's goal is to get the products into existing stores where
consumers can touch and feel the quality of the high-density weaving.
Though Indian herself, her target market is not the Indian community. She believes Indians are
accustomed to paying low prices for the products from their homeland and would balk at Dreams
on Looms' prices, which she says are reasonable for the high-quality workmanship. "On a
relative scale our products are considered expensive for Indian products," Bora says, "but I
don't think paying $10 for a hand-woven place mat is expensive at all." The products are not
mass-produced, such as what would be found at Target or Wal-Mart, she says. Also factored
into Dreams on Looms' prices are the costs to bring the product to this country.
Plus, she says, the weavers are receiving living wages for their work, and that's what it's all