February 9 2017

Bundle up and save a life with Une écharpe-une vie

What could be better for a snowy day than wrapping up in a beautiful hand woven scarf?  Only knowing that your gorgeous, cozy scarf was actually helping to change lives!  Rajni Carney and Christine Tiffany Cool have combined their desire to help those in need and their appreciation for talented artisans to create the very awesome Une écharpe – une vie.  Be sure to check them out at uneecharpeunevie.com and on Instagram @uneecharpeunevie:

Tell us about Une écharpe  – une vie? How did you come up with the name?

Raj: Une écharpe – Une vie (UE-UV) translated from French to English means  to “one scarf – one life.”  We wanted the name of the company to evoke the spirit of what we were trying to do. And what the cost of that scarf truly meant. Tiff was the mastermind behind our company name. We went for weeks without a name, and while doing laundry- it hit her: what we do as a company is to help sustain a livelihood; we help a life in need through artisanship, (which in our case are hand woven scarves), one scarf equals one sustained life. One scarf – one life.

What inspired you to start Une écharpe  – Une vie?

Tiff: We always wanted to establish a business for years. One that would represent our values, what we wanted to be as women and how we viewed the world. We each had day jobs and thought, wouldn’t it be great to pursue our passion of building a company that was for the beautiful, purposeful, thinking woman—that had the capacity to impact people for good? As an emergency first responder for the U.N. I would often be deployed into far flung countries, where people, women most especially, had a trade.  I told Raj about this and we thought, wouldn’t supporting this cottage industry in these villages be an amazing thing to do. The craftsmanship/artisanship is phenomenal and the need is there…what can we do to ensure this gets seen by literally everyone?  Most people think that one can fight poverty through empowerment, but what we are seeking to do is address poverty through empowerment. Charity is not sustainable but empowerment is. Our company is who we believe women are—strong, deserving of the best, intelligent, well-traveled and generous in spirit.

What is your mission?

Raj: Our mission is to promote and protect the centuries old tradition of weaving and profile and support the women who make it possible.

At UE-UV we want to slow things down and shift focus to the value of hand-woven scarves and handmade anything really. We feel like the value of these things has somehow been lost in translation being that fashion is extremely high paced and cyclical. There isn’t a moment to just breathe and appreciate craftsmanship and the beauty of something that was made by hands that tell a story.

Tiff: There is a story of a woman behind everyone of our scarves. You can almost say it’s like a woven “lifeline” that extends from our tribal weavers to our customers. Each scarf that you buy “connects” you to the amazing woman that made it.

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Is there a specific reason that you focus on helping and supporting women in your mission? 

Raj: Initially we were looking to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, a platform that would allow us to help a large number of people who needed it. We both have a heart for women and we wanted to do something that would empower marginalized women in developing countries. One of the most marginalized groups in the countries where we do our work are the tribal groups, most especially the women, because a steady source of income is hard to come by when you are living in remote mountainous locations, with very little to no formal education, and have maybe only knowledge of a particular trade like weaving.

How did you two become business partners?

Tiff: Well, we’ve been friends for more than a decade. We first met in Switzerland. Raj was still in Uni and I was working at the World Health Organization in Geneva, all of this seems like a lifetime ago. Times changed, Raj moved and married, I soon did the same but we always kept in touch.  We’ve always shared the same vision and values when it came to life and giving back so it seemed only natural to venture into this together. Plus we both work our butts off, we’ve got the kind of attitude and work ethic that doesn’t seem to register the word “can’t” or “impossible”. It’s just not part of our vocabulary.

What is the best part of working together?

Raj: Trust. There lots of great things that make this partnership work. But if we had to pick one and put it on the very top of that list, it’s trust. AND we can agree/disagree/ argue/ have formal discussions/ and talk about what our favorite “ J-Lo  look is” all in the same conversation.

Have there been any challenges or did anything surprising happen since you started?Raj: EVERYDAY something surprising happens to us. Une écharpe – une vie is a challenge that is constantly schooling us. There are lots to say about the challenges we face, especially being such a young name in the space that we’re in. But one thing is for sure, each challenge that we face is always an opportunity to learn and grow. Everyday we fall (sometimes we even get kicked in the face and eat dust), everyday we get up , dust our knees and keep going. And it is that attitude that has lead to surprises such as being included in British GQ magazine multiple times, getting the attention of taste – maker Nikki Creedon of Havana Boutique in Ireland, and Fashion Director of Brown Thomas (Ireland) Shelly Corkery.

How do you spread the word about your company?

Raj: We use various marketing tools: online, seo, social media, magazine ads, participating in events/pop up opportunities with stores and bloggers, word of mouth, cold calls, and lots of emails.

Tiff: We also rely on our clients heavily…we sell beautiful products that carry with them a beautiful story. The tide in fashion is turning and people are more informed about the things they buy and where they come from. The intention is there, and those who value luxury and beauty but also care about it being responsibly sourced come to us.  And that’s what we count on. Most of our clients are repeat ones.

Describe each other in one word.

Raj: Tiff is committed.

Tiff: Raj is a fighter.

Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

Raj: Take it one small step at a time. Make sure each step that you do take, you do it to the best of your ability. You only have one moment to shine, and when you do, make sure you’re the brightest.

Tiff: Faith. You have to have faith that what you are doing is your passion, because in moments when you feel like things aren’t working, that unrelenting passion is what is going to get you over that hump. Also, an almost delusional belief that you will make it is also extremely helpful. When no one else believes in you, if you know deep down that you are on the right path…you will be unstoppable.

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