Isn’t it amazing that we can travel all over the world for business or pleasure, we can Skype with family down under or across the pond, but it is still not easy to link up with the people who make our clothes or communicate across the supply chain. Clothes are pretty personal – they touch our skin, they send out messages about who we are, they provide us warmth and comfort. Somebody, somewhere has made them for us.
A fine Romance?
Where Does It Come From? has partnered with a great organisation in Gujarat, India called Moral Fibre Fabrics. Just as in romance, it took a lot of searching, first dates and even a failed relationship before we finally found each other. Moral Fibre (you can see their website here) have strong ethical values, are Fairtrade accredited and were very excited when we explained our idea of offering fully traceable clothes – so after getting to know each other better (fabric analysis, design consultations, sampling and lots of mutual feedback) we decided to make a commitment! Through Moral Fibre we are able to access the skills and experience of the Co-operative workers of Udyog Bharti. Many of these families have been using these skills for generations.
A Cry Across the Supply Chain
A recent McKinsey Global Institute work reveals that 56% of the population in India are living in extreme poverty and the case is similar if not worse in other garment producing nations. Supporting a demand for local skills can help change this. This is not out of pity, it is creating a channel – for us to get access to their lovely fabrics and for them to find a market. Our market here is saturated with cheap poly something or other fabrics sewn in sweatshops. A cry across the supply chain found this week shocked a Welsh shopper when she found a label in her garment saying ‘Forced to work exhausting hours’. It’s hard to imagine the desperation that led to this action. More tales of hidden labels are now hitting the press today.
Opening the Communication Channel
Protecting the good parts of a culture, whilst encouraging development for all people is a challenge faced throughout the world. India has been in the news a lot recently about how women are treated and hopefully this spotlight will encourage the changes that are needed. The women who make clothes for Where Does It Come From? are from a range of ages and backgrounds. As part of our project these women were interviewed. They were excited to tell us about what they do and even how they spend their wages! Some of the answers are not surprising– they all need the money for their household but the younger ones like to charge up their phones, buy make up, buy jewellery, while the older ones pay for their children’s education. What is enlightening is that their desires are basically the same as ours.
Here is Daksha, she is 21 and learned to spin at 6 years old. Her wages go into her family income but “I take out my pocket money from my salary and use it for my cell phone recharges, I buy myself some cosmetics!” Strong parallels to 21 year olds I know!
A different story comes from Saras. She is 60 and says “I enjoy this work because I can spin whenever I have time. I usually spin in the night as I have to look after my family in the day. I am from the Darbar community and women are not allowed to work outside their homes, so spinning has really helped me.” Not being allowed to work outside the home is a cultural difference that it may be hard to relate to but it is a key insight into how Saras lives.
There are, of course, men who work for the Co-operative. Jignesh has been weaving since he was fifteen – taught and inspired by his father who was an award winning master weaver. Family traditions are changing though – “Out of my four children, only my younger daughter, Ankita, has taken up weaving and helps me”, he says. Jignesh is a denim weaving expert who explains that “Quality is very important in Denim. I measure the threads as I weave to make sure it is consistent. It has to be 24 threads in the weft every time.” Here he is with his family.
So How Can We Build Relationships?
I don’t know about you, but finding out how these people live makes me feel closer to them. Our clothes are the links between the garment workers of the world and ourselves. At Where Does It Come From? we want to find ways for people to build better relationships both with their clothes and those who made them. We’ll be looking at some of the innovations that might help us do that in the next blog!