Kate Davis started her business after a backpacking trip throughout South East Asia and coming face to face with large communities of women living in extreme poverty. She felt compelled to do something to help women in Cambodia have access to meaningful, dignified work and help them on the road towards economic equality.
Kate’s company Collective Humanity makes hand loomed textiles that are not only beautiful but help support over sixty artisans in Cambodia. Made out of botanical dyes in kilns which are fueled by scrap rice husks from the surrounding fields, sustainability plays a major role in every part of her process.
We recently sat down with Kate to have a conversation about living a creative life, the most beautiful places she’s ever been to and the first thing she does when she wakes up.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Marion, Massachusetts, a tiny town in Buzzards Bay.
How and why did you start this business?
I started my business after a backpacking trip throughout South East Asia after coming face to face with large communities of women living in extreme poverty. I felt compelled to do something to help women in Cambodia have access to meaningful, dignified work and help them on the road towards economic equality. I had quit my job to go travel and had very little savings so I started by bringing back a suitcase of handcrafted goods and selling it on the side of South Congress Ave in Downtown Austin.
Those first few years I did countless shows and popup events, anything I could to get the word out about the beautiful quality handcrafted pieces and make good on my promises to continue to buy more and support these communities that I had met. One thing led to another and within 4 years we were selling at major trade shows in NYC and featured in boutiques all around the country.
What part does sustainability play in your designs and life?
Sustainability plays a major role in design. Working in developing countries teaches you a lot about the practicality of sustainability. More often than not the most economical option is to reuse scrap materials…nothing goes to waste. I’ve learned so much from these communities about sustainability in regards to natural resources. We dye most of our products with botanical dyes that are harvested from the local lands surrounding the village where our weavers live and work. We are able to use the scrap rice husks from the rice fields that most of our weavers husbands farm, to burn the kiln to heat the dyes. It is a very traditional process and one that we are incredibly proud to support.
How does where you are located inform your designs?
We weave mostly traditional patterns. Many of these techniques have been passed down over generations in Cambodia and many of the patterns hold great spiritual significance for the communities. We work to blend these ancient techniques and patterns with more modern designs and colors to bring our customers something new and timeless.
What’s your favorite material to work with and why?
I love our cotton products because they are incredibly durable and get softer and softer with every wash.
What do you consider when sourcing your products?
We do all production in house so I just consider everyone’s capacity and wellbeing and make sure we keep growing and expanding what we can produce.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
To not take advice from anyone whose life you wouldn’t trade places with. Think for & believe in yourself!
The weavers I work with!
Song you have on repeat?
There Will Be Time-Baaba Maal and Mumford & Sons
How do you decompress?
I exercise everyday, even if it’s just a 2 mile walk. I meditate as regularly as I can and I take baths. The most rejuvenating thing I do for myself though is travel. It is when I feel most connected with myself and the world around me.
What are some actions you take to live more sustainably?
I try to expand my definition of sustainability past consumerism… so not just thinking about it in the sense of what I eat, or buy or how I recycle (although those things are all incredibly important). I think of sustainability as the energy of slowing down and making intentional decisions that are more in tune with the natural flow of life.
I try to connect with that intentionality throughout my entire life. For example, through my work I build initiatives that have sustainability in mind. I understand that this work is a marathon, not a sprint and I have consciously worked to build a business that will sustain through the years and will create lasting impact. I don’t do anything randomly, it all has a deeper intention.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
My husband makes me espresso and we spend some quality time together. It’s my favorite time of the day!
Do you consider aestheticism or functionality to be more important?
I don’t think of it as an either or game. With all of the advancements in the last fifty years I don’t believe consumers have to make that choice, most options can be both!
What’s your creative process?
It changes as I grow. Currently it involves staying inspired. The more inspired I am, the more things flow. Travel keeps me in a constant state of inspiration, so 2020 was really tough. But I recently went to Guatemala and visited Lake Atitlan and I felt that spark come back. It was like a light was turned back on and everything came flooding back in. So I do my best to travel and connect with my friends abroad to stay inspired and be more receptive to creativity and design.
What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
This is impossible to answer. I feel so blessed to have been fortunate enough to travel to so many beautiful places. Each one has its own unique beauty. Some of the places that resonated most with me are Chiang Mai in Thailand, Monforte D’Alba in Italy, Koh Rong in Cambodia (six or seven years ago it was a pristine island and we swam under the milky way with illuminating plankton all around us). The list goes on…
What are you working on now?
We have some beautiful new pieces coming out in 2022. We are branching out into more colors to help brighten the mood and lift the spirit after a trying two years.