Kolkata in August. Thundery, muggy, hectic as ever.
For an hour and a half we nudge through city traffic, marvel at classic yellow taxis crossing the iconic Howrah Bridge, and make our way into the industrial suburbs where eventually, the Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills compound emerges as a peculiar kind of oasis. Oh, it's still busy and chaotic here – very much so. But in a sea of nearby chimneys puffing pollutants into the sky, Rajlakshmi is noticeably different. It's the fair trade, organic powerhouse where No Nasties garments come to life – and there's even real-life Palmae in keeping with our current collection on site!
Every visit to the factory is a super valuable opportunity to work directly with garment technicians on our samples and designs, and we always come with a looooong to-do list that somehow gets even longer before it gets shorter again. So what have we been up to this time?
- Checking up on current orders for No Nasties and white label work for other brands around the world. We arrange custom printing of our bunny-soft t-shirts for organisations and NGOs including brand new designs for Reality Gives in Mumbai. We've just sent a shipment by sea to the good folks at Toddy in the Maldives (so cool!) and packed up tees for the Happy Startup School's summer camp in the UK (more on that soon – we're heading there next week).
- It's full steam ahead for the No Nasties fall collection and we're buzzing around like busy worker bees (hint, hint) to get that finalised and in your hands before you know it. With just a tad of last-minute scrambling to finalise fabrics and get samples ready for our photoshoot, we're confident that you'll love the pieces as much as we do! The fall collection is (almost literally) the bee's knees!
- We're also investing a lot of time prepping for future collections and expanding our range even further. Kids wear for sure! Accessories, you bet! New prints and fabrics? Sooner than you think.
- Lunching! There's no way we can't mention it. The piping hot rotis and tasty subzis served up at the factory are a true highlight in long days otherwise fuelled by coffee and lemon tea. Y-U-M.
A lot to squeeze into a week! But it's so inspiring to be around all the fabrics and the processes, both old (expert screen printing) and new (precision cutting with LASERS!).
We carefully choose our super-soft cottons from the excess stock left from other brands' orders. It's more sustainable, saves water and money at both the farming and processing ends of the production chain, and ensures nothing goes to waste. It also allows us to stay on trend and have so many more fabric choices than if we had to order huge volumes of our own made-to-measure fabrics. All that to say, the fabric stores are always a treasure trove for us. There are now three dedicated warehouses for fabrics, packed floor to ceiling throughout - all organic, all fairtrade. A designer's dream!
As our week at Rajlakshmi draws to a (somewhat hectic) close, we can't help but marvel at the growth we've seen here since our relationship with the producers first began. The factory itself has expanded hugely, onto numerous different sites. The number of people employed here - under safe, fair trade conditions - has naturally shot up too. Cotton consumption has grown significantly, with Rajlakshmi cementing its place as a majority buyer of Chetna Organic’s fair trade, organic cotton grown across Maharashtra, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh (from 234 farmer members in 2004 to around 35,852 in 2014!)
We've loved seeing more product diversity emerge at the factory too, from home furnishings to activewear and generally an increase in younger, more urban design brands. With our goal to create a consumer movement for fair trade in India, we're particularly excited to see more Indian brands starting to produce their garments here. (Check out Stretchery for some great organic yoga/activewear and Brown Boy for fair trade tees!)
While exports have been strong for a long time, we were the first domestic fairtrade brand to work with Rajlakshmi; five years on there are four more Indian brands with lines in production, including some we were able to connect directly with our supply chain. This is one of our core tenets at No Nasties: "to be a lighthouse" to other brands wanting to join the ethical fashion movement by being transparent and helpful. We don't compete, we collaborate. Here's the recipe - let's make a bigger pie together, shall we?
Things are looking good for the scaling up of the movement. Ethical fashion is growing in India and it’s a privilege to spend these crazy weeks right on the floor of the fashion revolution.
As they say in Kolkata, "aabar dekha hobe" - see you soon!