Who made your clothes? Do you know where they came from? Beyond the “Made in ______” label, we usually know nothing about the origins of what we wear. And often, this secrecy hides some real inexcusable stuff in the form of deplorable working conditions, child labour, discrimination and poor wage levels, among other issues. You know the dirty word we’re talking about, right? Sweatshops. They’re a real problem. They’ve cost us human lives.
Now, the pollution caused by the fashion industry is frequently under the spotlight, but opaque supply chains in developing countries can be NASTY too. But we’re not having any of it. Nuh-uh. We’ve sworn to never be a part of the problem. No Nasties means NO. NASTIES.
What we want to do, rather, is make a positive difference to the planet and everyone on it. From FARMER to FACTORY to YOU. Which is why how our clothes are made and who makes them are both equally important to us. So #whomadeyourclothes, then? The awesome folks and technicians at Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills!
How our partnership with Rajlakshmi came to be
All No Nasties’ organic clothing is made by Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills (RCM) at their facilities in Kolkata and Noida in India, while almost all the cotton we use is bought from the farmer-owned cooperative Chetna Organic. One material, one source, one factory. Yep, we’re completely transparent about how we steer the ship at No Nasties.
When we were starting our brand, we actually found Chetna Organic before RCM, because we knew from day 1 that we would not use any materials other than 100% organic cotton. We then followed Chetna’s cotton downstream and discovered that most of it went to RCM. We also love that RCM helps Chetna Organic’s farmers pre-finance their produce and the fact that they actually own a 10% stake in RCM. How’s THAT for leading by example?
You may not have heard of them, but to call RCM pioneers of organic, Fairtrade clothing in India would be an understatement. RCM is a GOTS, Fairtrade and SA-8000 certified company, using organic cotton to make a range of products from apparel to bed linens. They’re super committed to the cause of farmers, organic, small brands and a better planet. It was because of this alignment of values that working with them turned out to be a no-brainer. Oh, and the quality of everything they make is EXCEPTIONAL.
Their support to local brands to grow the movement is so significant that they are perhaps the reason we could start small way back in 2011; while staying true to our vision of the kind of quality, meaningful product we wanted to create at No Nasties.
The joy of visiting the organic cotton factory of RCM
We don’t know how much of a coincidence it is that RCM’s main facility is in the City of Joy - Kolkata. But joy is sure as heck how we’d describe our experience there. Every. Single. Time. The factory is in a congested industrial area and getting there means crossing a number of buildings and complexes with chimneys and smoke, but once we reach RCM, it feels like we’re in a different world.
The single most fulfilling part of our visit always is the vibe we feel when we’re there. We can’t describe it in any way other than happy, bright and purposeful. It’s chaotic, but determined. Industrial, but human. It gives us immense affirmation as well as satisfaction to see the set-up and circumstances within which No Nasties’ clothing is made. Kudos.
We’ll be honest. Back in the day, we began dreaming of our clothes being made under blue skies in the midst of green, rural pastures. But soon enough, we realised we had to approach this a bit more pragmatically. Here’s the thing: The ready-made garment industry employs almost 13 million(!) people in India. General working conditions, by most accounts, are terrible and unsafe. So it’s actually the structured manufacturing sector that needs attention and fixing. This is why we turned the spotlight there. This way we could increase awareness AND contribute towards making a difference where it really meant something.
We figured we’d much rather work on existing problems than go with the idyllic notion of how we’d like to make our clothing. If it meant working in an industrial setup, so be it. Though y’know, having this so-called industrial-setup isn’t always a bad thing, as we realised with RCM. We told you about the joy we feel, yeah? That’s because even within this construct that makes efficiency a priority, it’s never considered higher than human factors at RCM.
Apart from their own founding values, the Fairtrade and SA-8000 (developed by Social Accountability International) certifications also go towards demonstrating the kind of standards and safeguards they have in place to ensure fair, equitable conditions for each of their employees.
This guarantees a few things to us:
- No child labour or forced labour
- No discrimination
- Payment of fair wages including overtime
- Freedom to form or be part of labour unions
- Strict adherence to health and safety standards
We visit RCM once every few months when putting new designs and styles into production, and are able to see this play out in front of our own eyes, which is so reassuring. They go FAR beyond what these standards stipulate and require, and this goes to show they’re not just in it to check boxes and meet compliance.
A day in the life at Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills
Here’s what the actual scene is like at this sustainability-first factory. We enter to the sight of green lawns and flowers on one side, with HUNDREDS of bicycles neatly parked on the other. Inside the building, it’s all segmented and nicely organised, but from the faces of those behind sewing machines and the way all the different textiles are spread around them, there’s a sense of goodness and warmth to the entire operation. Safety instructions and signs are EVERYWHERE. Whether for fire instructions or protective equipment that needs to be worn.
It’s during chai break that we get to have a chat with some of the people working here. Some of them have been with RCM for more than 10 years! Loyalty seems to be the trend - quite a change from what we’ve generally seen elsewhere in the industry. The employees universally attribute it to how well they’re treated.
All workers are provided subsidised hot vegetarian meals, they’re given health benefits, overtime, buses to commute to and from the factory as well as accommodation in many cases. And on the subject of meals, the hot, fresh rotis they give are a TOTAL weakness of ours. We’ll sheepishly admit they’re one of the highlights of our trips, and we really go to town on them every chance we get!
You know what’s the icing on the cake, though?
Apart from all this genuine, social good they do and the ideals they stand for, they really make a GREAT product. From their well-calibrated machines to the skilled workers fashioning garments - it’s all done to a very high degree.
We’ve seen our share of factories working with organic fabrics, but we didn’t find them offering the kind of quality material and superior final product like RCM does. A true case-in point is our collection of sweater knits. They’re so luxuriously soft and wonderfully finished, if we may say so ourselves. It’s an added bonus that they’re each made using a zero-waste process.
Interestingly, RCM have been able to operate at such high quality because they have worked with some of the biggest international names with extremely exacting standards. No Nasties was actually the first Indian Fairtrade brand they worked with. You see, till a few years back, India was exporting most of its organic cotton clothing and very little was being sold in our own country. No Nasties wanted to change that, and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing since the day we started out in 2011.
It’s heartening that the organic movement is now growing here too. We’re trying to do our bit and are so glad to have found a like-minded partner in RCM. Because they care like we do.
Here’s a little video that shows how it all comes together for No Nasties from fibre to garment:
No Nasties- Factory // Process from Soham Mukherjee on Vimeo.
So that’s that. This is where the magic happens.
These are the lovely people #WhoMadeYourClothes for No Nasties.