Category: BEHIND THE SEAMS

BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC GARMENT PRODUCTION IN NORTH INDIA

In North India we visited the production partner of the newest brand in our agency portfolio, POPUPSHOP.  We took the train from Delhi to Agra station from where it was about an hour drive to the Kishor factory

Kishor exports is a family business founded in 1979 when Mr. Satish Agarwal and Mrs.Sneh Lata Agarwal, left the USA to settle down in India. Today their company is run by their son Mr. Deepak Agarwal, who showed us around the factory and proudly told us everything about the Kishor company. 

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Having lived in the US, the Kishor family realisess how important it is to have certifications. Even though it brings along a lot of adminitrative work and costs. 

‘Our company is certified by GOTS (for global organic textile standards) / FAIR TRADE (by flo-cert) & SA-8000.

‘More importnatly we are a manufacturer & exporters of organic cotton clothing in India and we have been exporting to Europe since 1979. Our factory is a modern and sophisticated factory.’ 

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Interesting is that Agra isn’t necessarily known for being a garment factoy area, there is actually more shoe manufacturing.

This means it isn’t the easiest to find a lot of skilled tailors, like in other areas in India for example. 

‘But we think it is important to bring econimic benefits to this area, as well as fair and safe working conditions. Most of the tailors working in the factory have been with us for a long time’. 

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Mr. Deepak explains us that he and the company have a strong social comittment to serve the society. Therefore they are for example supporting the organization ‘TEARS’, a local Institute & Hostel for Mentally handicapped Children

He took us to the big school building where we met the teachers and the children. Mr. Deepak pasionately told us about the work of Tears and how important it is to support this beautiful initiative. 

‘Love, care and protection are what these mentally handicapped children need as their toys, to bring back in to their lives the childhood joys.’ 

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‘Another institute supported by Kishor is SEAM (Skills for Employment in Apparel Manufacturing), which is operated and supported by Kishor for skill enhancement & upliftment of women who are living in rural areas near to us.’ 

‘Here we give training to women from rural areas near by our factory and try to make them skilled workers for Apparel Manufacturing and later on we offer them a job opportunity in our company.

In this institute we provide good infrastructure, stitching machines &equipments, accommodation / hostel facility, meals and trained faculties.’

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BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC COTTON FARMING IN INDIA

Cotton is the world’s most commonly used natural fiber and is in nearly 40 percent of our clothing. Cotton is grown all over the world with India being the second largest cotton grower. 

Although cotton has a natural and clean image the truth is that cotton drinks up more of its fair share of water and is one of the most chemically dependent crops in the world. Nope! Absolutely not as sustainable as it might seem…. Neither does growing cotton bring economical benefits to India’s cotton farmers. Instead the unstable cotton prices and resulting debts the farmers are in, often makes Indian cotton farmers choose suicide over distress, leaving their wifes and children behind with the loans… 

Luckily there are organisations like Chetna Organics, who are working with small and marginal farmers towards improving their livelihood options and making farming a sustainable and profitable occupation. When we visited India we had the honour to meet with the organic cotton farmers in their villages, which are supported by Chetna organics and hear about their stories and achievements. 

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Our trip to the Organic cotton farmers started with a short morning meeting at the Chetna headquarters in Hyderabad, where we were explained about the history of Chetna organics, after which we soon left for a 4 hour drive to meet the farmers in Andhra Pradesh.

The Chetna Organic & Fair Trade Cotton Intervention Program started in 2004 as a composite pilot on Organic / Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) & Fair-trade supply chain development, in response to the agrarian crisis in India. The intent was to improve livelihood options of smallholder farmers by making their farm systems more sustainable, profitable and creating access to ethical and fair-trade markets in cotton.

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Established with the aim of addressing the poverty related distress of small and marginal cotton farmers in the region, Chetna Organic today runs a multi-faceted program that aims to create a 360 degree support intervention around the farmer community so as to empower them to take better action on their own decisions. Chetna Organic works with over 25,000 farmers spread across Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Orissa.

In Andhra Pradesh we met Mr. Ashok who would show us around the area, whilst passionately explaining us everything about organic cotton farming, working with the farmers and making sure that we got enough to eat ;)! 

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The way Chetna organics works is not by means of charity but by venturing philanthropy so as to empower farmers by engaging them to build an ethical supply chain for cotton. This is supported by the Chetna Organic Farmers Association (COFA), which is a farmer owned not-for-profit association that engages in technical and social extension, capacity building, institution building support to farmers and farmer co-operatives, promotion of CSR investment in farmer communities and policy and advocacy work on rain-fed agriculture and related issues.
Mr. Ashok is one of the people to bring this technical knowlede to the farmers and help them with agricultural developments. 
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Simultaneously, at an international level, Chetna Organic works closely with organisations like Solidaridad (Netherlands), Made-By (Netherlands and UK), Max Havelaar, Fair Trade Foundation, Fair Trade USA and Shop For Change, and with the support of its donors Solidaridad, ICCO and Rabo Bank and the Ford Foundation towards promoting markets for organic and fair trade cotton garments in the developed countries, develop supply chain partnerships to address such market demand (Spinning mills, CMT Units, dying units etc) and promote organic and fair trade farm systems in India..

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We were invited in the Pamulawada village to see their fields and chat with the farmers. They explained us how they could support their entire village from the organic cotton production and asked us what kind of crops we grow where we are from and what the clothes look like, which are made from the organic cotton they grow. 

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After meeting the people in the Pamulawada village we drove onwards to neighbouring villages where we visited more cotton fields and a school in the area. 

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BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC GARMENT MANUFACTURING IN DELHI

Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a pioneer in organic garment manufacturing in India and is People Tree’s production partner for a large part of the knitted organic cotton pieces in their collections.

When we were in India Mr. Sanjay showed us around the two multiple stories Rajlakshmi factories he manages in Delhi.  We were guided through the production process floor by floor, as at both premises every floor houses a different department. 

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First a bit of history: Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a family business, which was founded in 1932 in Calcutta. In those days Rajlakshmi was specialised in making yarns and selling fabrics and later on developed into a company that produces high quality textiles, from fashion to bed linen. The company is located in Calcutta and in Delhi. 

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Mr. Sanjay explains us that in 2000 the owners of the company realised that running an ethical business and taking care of the environment is also good for business.

‘People want to know where the clothes they buy have been made and they don’t want to feel guilty’.

The last 15 years the company started to work backwards in the supply chain to make every step in the production process as fair and sustainable as possible. Rajlakshmi became the first Indian factory with a Fair Trade certification and is also organic certified.

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Mr. Sanjay tells us that the factory receives mainly production request from ‘smaller’ companies.

‘The costs for an organic and fair product are higher so making an organic product is not so high on the agenda of the bigger brands. But we realised this before we started to go in the organic business as we knew we would be more expensive and we would have a slow growth. It takes time for companies to pick up on this. But the environment has been exploited very badly and we believe the day will come where everybody will say enough is enough.’ 

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Although Rajlakshmi is mainly working with the ‘smaller’ brands at the moment, the size, facilities and neat organiation would suggest oherwise. Mr. Sanjay prefers quality over quantity though and chooses his partners carefully. 

At Rajlakshmi we work together with brands who share the same vision, like People Tree. Story telling is important, I believe that people who know about what’s going on behind the scenes of the fashion industry won’t run away from their responsibility.’

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When we ask Mr. Sanjay about how he feels about certifications he explains that an organic certificate can’t guarantee everything.

‘It is also about trust, having an ethical mind and humanising a company. One of the things I try to teach the people in the factory is not the be scared and to be honest about how their work is going. I believe that you can solve 9 out of 10 problems by being transparent. In our culture we are taught that saying no is a bad thing. But people will respect each other and take care of each other more when you are transparent.’

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One of the brands we produce for is a Fair Trade USA member, meaning a 5% premium is paid on everything they buy from our factory. A committee, which is operated by workers decides where these premiums are spend on.

A few examples of what the premiums have been spent on so far are induction plates + utensils and monthly health kits.

If the premiums are spend in a good way this is also good for the business.  I used to receive about 10 applications a day from workers who coudn’t come to work because they needed to get cooking gas.’

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Rajlakshmi was the first company in metropolitan area of Delhi to offer this Fair Trade premium.

Rajlakshmi works together with Chetna Organic to ensure Fair Trade is practiced throughout the supply chain right down to the cotton farmers. Chetna Organic works with marginalised farmers from Maharashtra, Odessa and Andhra Pradesh towards improving their livelihoods and making farming a sustainable occupation.

Together with the Chetna project, Rajlakshmi has helped to set up many vocational training centres for women in rural farming villages. This educational training and support enables women become more financially secure.

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In addition to this Rajlakshmi has sponsored organic vegetable gardens in local schools, as well as contributing to more advanced school facilities such as science laboratories.

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BEHIND THE SEAMS: CREATIVE HANDICRAFTS EMPOWERS WOMEN IN SLUM COMMUNITIES IN MUMBAI

Mumbai, known as the financial centre of India, but also a city of immense poverty. Roughly half of the metropolitan area’s 22 million people live in informal settlements, or slums

Although India is developing fast, the increased wealth doesn’t reach the poorest of the poor. One of the causes is social discrimation, still rooted in the country’s culture. 

One of People Tree‘s production partners, Creative Handicrafts, is a social enterprise founded in the slums of Mumbai with the aim to build sustainable communities where respect for people is held high and there is no differentiation based on caste, gender or religion.  

We visited the Creative Handicrafts Head quarters, which moved to a nice office building in Mumbai 5 years ago and a few of the production facilities still located in the slums.

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Mr. Johny Joseph joined Creative Handicrafts in 1999 and explained us a bit more about the history of Creative Handicrafts first. 

Creative Handicrafts was founded by Sister Isabel Martin, who during her work in Mumbai felt the suffering of the women, uneducated and unemployed. She felt the best way to help people overcome poverty was to provide them with the opportunity to work. In 1984, she started Creative Handicrafts, training poor women to make toys, bags and home textiles.

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Today, Creative Handicrafts provides training to the women to produce garments and fabric handicrafts and to market their goods to earn a living.

Creative Handicrafts currently employs over 300 women. Before the ladies start in the so-called Cut, Make and Trim departments they get a 6 months training  to learn all the tailoring skills.

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A lot of women want to work with Creative Handicrafts but there are two criteria, which might sound a bit odd, but unfortunately this is the situation for a lot of women living in Indian slums. These criteria are that the women: 1. Have a difficult life situation and 2. Have no skills. 

This difficult life situation often hasn’t only to do with being poor and living in the slums but also with the fact that they have an abusive husband or a husband with an alcohol problem. It’s important for these women to be able to take care of themselves and their families, without being dependant on their husbands.

 

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Women who do not make the grade as tailors aren’t sent back on the streets but they are trained in cooking to join The Lunch Box Catering Project. This project is supplying lunches to hundreds of office workers around Mumbai.  The Lunch Box Catering Project is located in the Creative Handicrafts Head Quarters, which houses a professional kitchen.  

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The Creative Handicrafts HQ is very modern and they work with the newest textile techniques.

‘Fair Trade or not, it’s trade!’ Mr. Johny Joseph explains. ‘We can not compromise on quality, nor on style or delivery.’

‘When I started here in 1999 it was a question of make or break and we had to change the kind of products we were making to be able to guarantee the demand from our international customers and our long term growth.’

People Tree started to work with Creative Handicrafts in 2011 and together they have developed a new organic cotton collection.

To guarantee the quality all of the product development, pattern and sample making is done at the Creative Handicrafts HQ by highly skilled tailors and garment techs. From here the pattern parts and technical drawings are divided over the cooperations in the slums.

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When we were there they were working on the latest People Tree collection, made of the sustainable fabric Tencel®. 

This fabric is new for Creative Handicrafts and People Tree is currently running a crowdfund campaign to start a production line of this new innovative fabric at Creative Handicrafts.

Working with Tencel® is a chance to up skill the workers and provide them with a greater range of fabrics they can offer to their clients, providing more business opportunities and, eventually, more job opportunities within the community.

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The cooperatives where the actual production takes place are located in the slums.

‘It’s a terrible logistic nightmare of course but it’s so valuable to be there’.  ‘We want to reach the women where they are and it’s important for the women to be able to stay close to their families.’ Mr. Johny Joseph explains:

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Many of the hundreds of women who work for Creative Handicrafts are the main bread winners for their families.

Creative Handicrafts runs a crèche, providing day care for the toddlers of working mothers living in the slums.

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Being in the slums and facing poverty straight in the eye we had a very open discussion with Mr. Johny Joseph about whether the women are really able to work their way out of poverty. Even if they receive a fair wage…..

His honest answer was no; ‘It’s still not enough, even though it is Fair Trade. You have to realise that the background the women come from is not so great and they still receive low wages. You have to imagine that most of the time they live in a room of two by two meters in a not so nice environment, not suitable for studying for example. Working for a fair wage gives them an opportunity to be able to besides feeding their families rent a small house (still in the slums but safe and ‘private’) for their family. Their children can go to school, these are English schools and good schools – my children go to the same schools. Basically earning a fair wage enables them to give their children a better chance for a future out of poverty.’

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Further reads and information about Creative Handicrafts and People Tree:

 

 

BEHIND THE SEAMS: HIGH QUALITY ORGANIC COTTON KNITS MADE IN NEPAL

To see where the knitwear of the Studio JUX collections is made we visited their production partner in Kathmandu, where the kind manager Mr. Ram Singh showed us around the two factories. We spent the entire day with Tzering (the production manager of Studio JUX in Nepal) and Mr. Ram Singh, who patiently explained us everything we wanted to know about the production of knitted garments, organic cotton and the people working in the knitting factories. 

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All of those super soft organic cotton machine knits for the Studio JUX collections are made in the first factory we visited. We started on the ground floor with step 1; the knitting of the panels. The factory works with high tech knitting machines as well as hand knitting machines to knit the different panels of the garments. There are schedules for power network usage in Nepal, where certain areas can access the power network within certain time frames only. Therefore the factories need quite a bit of emergency power, which is provided more and more by solar panels in stead of batteries. Most of the factories we visited in Nepal and India are investing in sustainable energy. 

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When the panels are knitted on the high tech knitting machines only the yarns and patterns are manually put into the machines, whereas the hand knitting machines (mostly for the smaller orders and because they don’t need electricity!) are fully operated by people who move the machine from left to right and back again to knit the designed pattern. 

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For the next step we continued our way up to the first floor where the panels are linked together, a very precise job and this is where you see the amazing quality of the knitted Studio JUX pieces. It looks much nicer and creates a stronger product when the knitted panels are linked together and not sewn together.

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The next steps are the finishings by hand, the washing, ironing, and a thorough quality check of the product. The raw material wouldn’t actually need any washing because there aren’t any chemicals used. ‘The products are only washed because so many hands touch the product on it’s way to the end of the production chain.’ Mr. Ram Singh explains.

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The yarn which is used to produce those soft organic cotton fine knits in the Studio JUX collections is GOTS certified.

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We also spotted the beautiful jacquard knits for the FW16 delivery ready to be shipped. Mr. Ram Singh tells us about the amount of work and material that goes into producing a cardigan like this – for the fishbone cardigan in the Studio JUX FW16 collection 8kg per piece is needed!

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Mr. Ram Singh and his business partner run a second factory and this is where the hand knitted items of Studio JUX are made. We met a group of women gathered on the ground and chatting whilst hand knitting the more chunky styles. Often these hand knitted styles are made at the women’s homes. In this case the women pick up the material and design at the factory and finish the work at home so they can take care of their family at the same time. 

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It was great to visit the knitting factories in Kathmandu and to see the manufacturing process of knitted garments, learn more about organic cotton processing and chat about what makes a great quality knitted garment.

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Interesting fact is that for the manufacturing of a garment made of organic cotton a longer lead time is required. Why? Because the organic cotton is always last in line at the spinning mills where the raw material is spun into yarns, and these yarns are needed to produce the rest of the product. Organic cotton is last in line because unfortunately these are still always the least amounts that need to be processed and the bigger amounts of conventional cotton go first. Let’s call it growth pain, as we’re buying into more organic cotton we are slowly moving forward in line…..  

STUDIO JUX ACCESSORIES HANDMADE IN NEPAL

When we were in Nepal last month we visited Studio JUX’ own factory as well as JUX’ other production partners. It was great to meet the makers of the colourful and stylish handmade accessories that complement the Studio JUX collections each season. As it is Studio JUX’ mission to bring work and economic benefits to Nepal their accessory collections are made in the city of Kathmandu as well.

BEADS

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On a 2 minute stroll from the Studio JUX factory, the place where Studio JUX’ beaded jewelry is made, is located in a beautiful Nepali house with a garden overlooking Kathmandu valley. We were welcomed and shown around by founder and owner Ms. Nimdiki Sherpa.

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This passionate lady started her company 10 years ago to help Nepali women to be independent by providing them with a nice job. She currently employs 25 to 30 ladies, some of them working in this beautiful house in Kathmandu and others from their homes so they can take care of their families at the same time.

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The ladies we met like to dress up for a day at work – they looked so beautiful! Ms. Nimdiki Sherpa tells us that a lot of ladies want to work with her as the company provides good facilities. ‘Unfortunately there is only so much work.’

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The beads are bought from the local market and sometimes imported from India. Making a necklace can take up to four days. We saw the ladies at work, super concentrated – this job takes a lot of precision, skilled hands and patience, wow!

 

RECYCLED BRASS

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From the ladies to the gentlemen – After visiting the beautiful beads project we drove a few hours to see the recycled brass items being made in the workplace of Mr. Raj. Mr. Raj’s workshop is located in the so called ‘crafts area’ of Kathmandu. In this area you’ll find lots of small work spaces where people are carving wooden statues and instruments.

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Brass is made out of recycled metal from India. It consists of 70% copper and 30% zinc. Mr. Raj has been in the accessories business for 20 years and started his own company 5 years ago, employing 7 people from the area. Besides the brass jewellery items Mr Raj also makes the buttons for the Studio JUX garments, as Studio JUX tries to source everything as locally as possible.

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It was great to see how a piece of brass jewelry is made from a brass plate, which is then cut, hammered and finished by hand. Mind you, this is a precision job ladies & gentlemen!