Rajni Singh Carney, the co-founder of socially-conscious company Une écharpe – Une vie, talks about her Donegal life and how the scarves she sells give a lifeline to women around the world.

Rajni Singh Carney has spent her life travelling around the world, and now she is bringing the world together through fashion and charity.

Une écharpe – Une vie means One scarf – One life in French. They are hand-woven by indigenous tribeswomen in Laos, the Philippines and Cambodia. This luxury brand is about empowering women and improving their lives.

Rajni is the Head of Business Development of Une écharpe – Une vie. Her base is outside Donegal town, where she lives with her husband Seán Carney and her son. Seán, a Corkman, is the General Manager at Solis Lough Eske Castle. Rajni is a native of the Philippines and has spent much of her career in the luxury hotel sector in the US.

A combination of Rajni’s background and her business partner, Christine “Tiffany” Domingo-Cool’s work as a humanitarian responder has provided the base model of their global outreach. The pair met in Switzerland and their shared experiences have brought their focus to developing countries.

“I grew up in the Philippines in the early part of my childhood. Tiffany worked for the WHO and gets deployed to these situations that people normally wouldn’t have access to. A lot of our focus areas are found through research. On the ground, we look for organisations with the same ethos we hold in terms of ethics and fashion,” Rajni said.

“The scarves are handwoven by tribespeople, and we focus on tribes which have marginalised people and then zero in on marginalised women. These women don’t get a formalised education, but what they lack in formal education they make up for in artisanship. Getting the woman on board helps to sustain a living for her.”

It takes two women up to three weeks to hand-weave a scarf. Forty percent of the sales of the scarves go to the women who make them. A breakdown of the profits goes to investment in health, education and an impact investment fund.

Breakdown image: Paul Gill, Sonas World

Each purchase of a scarf keeps the centuries-old tradition of handweaving alive, empowering women by giving them a living wage.

“We saw that these women valued life and sought dignity and respect, not a ‘hand-out’ but rather ‘a hand-up’,” says Raj. This is where their tagline “Stay warm. Give back.” comes from.

There are currently two collections on sale: Intricate and Eco-Luxe. The Intricate pieces are statement tribalux scarves in bold and meaningful patterns.

The Eco-Luxe collection is more raw and low-impact. It comes from raw material and the dyes are naturally made and plant-based.

“The tribespeople literally go into the forests to pick the young leaves of Indigofera and work them down to colour. Each shade gets created naturally, and that alone is a process. The organic cotton is grown by the people and used in the scarves,” Rajni said.

Ms. Mae Mai, Cotton artisan and indigo dye expert,
Savannakhet Province, Laos, Age 48. Image: Saoban

According to Rajni, “Fighting poverty with charity is not sustainable, but, addressing poverty through empowerment is.”

Rajni’s partner Tiffany is based in New York City, where Rajni also lived before moving to Ireland. Travelling is a major key player in her business, both through luxury hotels and Une échape – Une vie. Her list of former homes is vast, including the Caribbean, Alabama and Saint Lucia, but now her home is outside Donegal Town.

“I love it here. I travel all over the world but when I’m home I’m home. I’m used to the hustle and bustle of the city but when I’m there I want to be back in Donegal. I live by the water and it’s so quiet and peaceful.”

This Christmas, her company gained more national recognition when the Intricate Collection had a prime feature in Brown Thomas’ elite gift department – The Marvel Room.

“You talk about stores that you want to get into to be amplified in and we couldn’t have asked for anything better than Brown Thomas.”

“We’re always looking for amplifiers. We’re always looking for a louder voice than for ourselves. We only use fashion as a platform to help people.”

Despite the broad reach of the company, Rajni said it is still very much a start-up. “In the early days, I literally hustled and went from door to door asking: “Do you want to buy our scarves?”. We found outlets in the Havana Boutique in Dublin and The Front Porch in Killybegs.

“It amazing to see a scarf on somebody, because it’s no secret that we don’t have a lot of pieces. They are hard to make and take time so we don’t have a lot of them.”

Seeing the personal stories of the weavers brings everything about Rajni’s work into focus. Nari (pictured above, left) is a Cambodian woman who is creating an upcoming design for UE-UV.

Paul Gill, Sonas World, which is a charity that partners with UE-UV says: “Nari is unable to hear and speak, so it makes it a bit slow **work wise** but we love her work and she is a great woman. It was heart breaking to see that a lot of these weavers had given up on weaving as the mass produced imported silk products flooded the Cambodian markets. Nari couldn’t speak since her childhood but she has been independent and a self-confident woman who worked hard and was always source of inspiration for others.”