Producing in the pandemic - the story behind my collection

Producing a line has never been as hard as it has been in these tough times. And at the same time, I have never felt so connected to the artisans and fabric producers of my line, as I have for my current Fall collection. I don't know if that is necessarily because I have been stuck in India the past few months and more emotionally tied to them or aware of their plight, or that I am simply more thankful for the work and effort that they make and understanding how one simple garment is made and comes about.

For these reasons, I wanted to share some more insight into that process, the people who make my line and what in general goes into producing clothes in India. I hope you can enjoy reading this, and treasure the work they do.
I often say how I work with artisans, and read how my contemporaries to large chains alike claim the same. In India at least, but I would assume many other developing nations in Asia, there are generally two kinds of Artisan groups that complete this kind of manufacturing work. One group is the kind that lives in artisanal villages where ancestors of artisanal communities have lived and developed a particular kind of dyeing or printing or weaving that the whole village might or community might be known for.

The most popular examples of these artisans in India are the printers and dyers of a village called Ajrakhpur, Rajasthan, or the 'Mal' (Indian cotton) handloom weavers in West Bengal. With traditions passed down from generation to generation there work is often amazing, with handmade details and intricacies only the hand can generate. With recent society trends of sustainability and promoting artisan workmanship, the newer generations in these families are often able to carry on their ancestral handiwork while remaining in their home villages.
The second kind of artisans completing manufacturing work are the daily wage earning kind, who usually migrate from villages around the country to the largest 2 or 3 manufacturing hubs within that country. Within India, the majority of these workers come to the metropolitan city of Delhi which is the biggest hub of garment export production units. Their background and skillsets come in all different types from embroiderers, tailors, bead workers, print screen makers, to garment finishers. If there are a need and a job, they will work to fill it.

They leave their children, parents, siblings behind to support the whole family to earn salaries over the minimum wage in India. They keep their overheads low by sometimes sleeping in roadside tents, or sharing a room with 5-6 other workers and eating street food. These migrant workers were the ones hardest hit by the recent pandemic and subsequent lockdown in India, as I highlighted in my article on the plight of the migrant workers and the humanitarian crisis they were facing. I encourage you to read that in case you missed it.

It is the first group of Artisans, who work primarily from their ancestral villages, have been luckier than the daily wage earning artisans, but have also suffered in a different way. These artisans, who primarily make raw materials with their hands using ancient traditions, have to work on producing fabrics months and months in advance. Taking into account the climate, monsoonal rains, power outages, and other factors that impact production as could only be the case in developing nations, they work seamlessly to produce fabric months in advance for future orders.

These workers are impacted when orders are canceled and the goods are no longer required to be produced. The fabric sits useless and idle in their homes, piled floor to ceiling. I use a specialised printer for my Indigo line this season, who does the most amazing work. He told me that he lost three indigo dye vats last week, with a full 12 kg of Indigo dye being damaged, and, therefore, rendered unusable. Indigo vats are almost like living things — they need constant tending to maintain their pH balance. Due to the lockdown, they couldn’t get to their vat, to add lime to manage the acidity, for example.

Reviving or re-starting these vats will now take them a further 3 weeks if they are able to do it at all. I also spoke to one of my weavers in Central India that supplies my Ikat fabric. He and his family work from their village and make primarily Ikat Silk Saris - as smooth and lovely to touch as you would imagine. Each one takes about one month to create, and now the finished products are sitting in the homes of the artisan weavers, as he struggles to sell them quickly as he is afraid they might not be well maintained sitting idle. This is the same case across artisans all over India.
There are very few international designers that primarily make their own goods in India and export them overseas. I am one of the few. It is a difficult and tricky and exhausting process to undertake for the simple reason that you become responsible for the production and every single step in the supply chain or making each and every single garment.

The much more efficient and cost-effective way is to employ an agent or factory and simply hand over a sample and specifications to one person to manage it. I came to this decision as I was sincere about my process and the goal of being a true artisanal company was most important to me. I wanted to know what went into each and every single piece I made. Which buttons were used. Where the fabric came from. How it was treated. Who the worker is who made each garment. I often question if I made the right decision, as it is so much harder and difficult than I ever could have imagined, and I have sacrificed so much in order to make it happen. Months stuck in India away from my son.

Despite these struggles, I know I have made the right decision. The decision to do things the right way. To support my workers when they cannot work or don't have money to support their families. I have done everything from electronically transferring money to their villages to recharging their mobile phone accounts and of course paying them their full wages.

1 comment

  • Shirlyn Chinnery

    Hi are you selling surgical masks for kids and adults?

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