Kinkaraco is a San Francisco based green business, providing elegant biodegradable burial and cremation shrouds, ranging in design from classic to ornate. These shrouds and other green burial products draw from a diverse history of sacred traditions — the company itself is named after the Kinkara, Tibetan Buddhist Deities and keepers of the cemetery. Kinkaraco founder Esmerelda Kent agreed to discuss her products and inspiration with SevenPonds.
Aurora: What inspired you to found Kinkaraco?
Esmerelda: When I was in sixth grade, I wanted to be a cosmetologist in a mortuary. So I’d always had an affinity for it, and then I went through the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and lost many of my friends. When my mother died in the rest home, I spontaneously washed and shrouded her in six yards of silk chiffon I’d brought from home and meditated with her doing a POWA chant for two hours. I had never seen anything like this done before; I just knew to do it. I then had a negative experience with a local funeral home…
Well, I had been working as a costume designer for the past oh, 25 years or so… and I was looking for something to do as I got older. One night, I saw the documentary The Young and the Dead on HBO. It was about a young funeral director from a big funeral home family, and he had a whole new vision for the way funeral service should be done. I knew I wanted to work for him. And when he bought Fernwood in 2004, pioneering California’s first green cemetery, I was one of the first people he hired.
At Fernwood, people could do whatever they wanted, as long as it was legal. And a lot of what they wanted was to be buried in shrouds. Historically, shrouds are made from a long strip of cloth wrapped around the body — so they just looked horrible, and were really hard to lower into the ground. SO, being a costume designer, I saw exactly what was needed [for both appearance and utility].
Aurora: As described on your website, shrouds have an incredibly rich, transcultural history. What do you feel is the significance of a shroud, versus a coffin or traditional cremation?
Esmerelda: One, I think they’re beautiful.
Two, for this time that we live in, shrouds cost less than any other product. And most of the green caskets are imported overseas, which isn’t a very small carbon footprint. These are made right here in San Francisco, and we are a member of SFMade. Our brand is very pro American manufacturing and pro American business, and local business. Everything we do is to stimulate that economy. Shrouds are sustainable, local and economical.
Right now in most cemeteries, you have to purchase a vault. A vault can be made of cement or stainless steel or copper — outrageous amounts of resources just to be buried in the ground. Cremation uses a lot of fossil fuels. Green burial is composting. It’s all about allowing people who aren’t necessarily religious to be buried in shrouds, and return to the earth.
So they’re very modern and very ancient, and we really love that combination.
Aurora: Which Kinkaraco shroud is your favorite?
Esmerelda: My new favorite is called the Versailles. It’s an embroidered silk shroud that we suggest goes inside either a wood or wicker casket. They look beautiful and can be lined in lavender. They’re from our Mort Couture™ line, and will be on the website soon.
Aurora: What are your thoughts on home funerals?
Esmerelda: I am a person who had both of my children in the bedroom without a doctor, so I really like doing that sort of thing at home — but it’s not for everyone. It’s bloody; it’s messy; things could go wrong. And it’s for the living, not the dead, so it’s really important that it be done right, and people be aware of what they’re in for. It is also of the utmost importance to find a sympathetic funeral director, along with a qualified end of life practitioner.
Aurora: I recently sent my mom a link to your website, saying “I think we should bury you in one of these!” How would you hope Kinkaraco’s products impact our cultural dialogue around death?
Esmerelda: (Laughs) Well, I think they already are. We’ve been selling shrouds to individuals and funeral homes for the past six years now, and it’s completely changed the way people look at shrouds. Just creating something this modern, and our whole marketing around it. We call it “Aroma-Deathcare™” — it’s a totally new concept to have shrouds woven with herbs! Also, we are very female oriented, while the funeral industry is very male oriented.
Aurora: Thank you so much for talking with us, Esmerelda!