Whenever or wherever I travel, I like to have a purpose. I often hear people say they want to go to certain places without giving themselves a reason. I sit and make a list of random things I want to do or achieve. Pondering where to go, will this be a pin on a map situation? that is something I will do my utmost to avoid.
I find myself scrolling through places in India on the internet. Then I see it. Blissful in colour and tradition. I was a make-up artist in years gone by and when I come across an Indian elephant with her face and trunk painted, I am inspired.
My first reaction was, Ooh! I would love to paint an elephant, that would be a really cool thing to do in India. I do my research. Jaipur is the place. Next moment I am scrolling down AirBnB’s in Jaipur. My message to them is ‘Can you help me find an elephant to paint?’ ‘Yes,’ came back the reply, ‘no problem.’
Excitedly I share coffee with my family in their Barcelona apartment. They pull faces for fun to express their thoughts of ‘Mum has lost the plot again’ “Shouldn’t you be going to visit temples?
‘No the Temples are not enticing me, I love elephants and it will be the biggest face I have ever painted.’ But first I have a trip to make to the UK. It is my daughter’s 16th birthday and this is where I connect my story to a pair of trousers. This connection is important.
The Ritz Hotel, London, England.
Quite honestly the Ritz Hotel in London deserves a blog post of its own, so I will keep this brief. It is a place to take your daughter to on her 16th birthday, the occasion she will treasure amongst her memories for life, well that is the idea. Afternoon tea at the Ritz for us humble beings, is a once-in-a-lifetime event. The cost becomes immaterial. Sandwiches you could make at home cause a small lump in your throat as you think of the cost. Grin smile, and enjoy the moment, as we celebrate the ritual of afternoon tea in one of the most famous hotels in the world. Joining our small celebration is my sister, my niece Becky and her young daughter Daisy.
This was a day to put on our finery. It was fun to get out of my travel clothes and don a nice black coat and scarf. Spending the morning at my sisters house, we busied ourselves in preparation for a special day out. We arrived by train to central London, and casually walked all together to the Ritz. However we are an hour early, so my sister suggested we went shopping. As my daughter’s face lit up at the prospect of going to London’s Oxford Street, I grimaced at the thought. Pushing through hoardes of shoppers in my uncomfortable new shoes did not appeal. But my daughter and her souleful eyes said ‘please mum, I really need a new coat.’
What went through my mind at that moment was this, ‘ I am just about to pay £60 for a plate of sandwiches for you and you want a new coat.’ I know. – pathetic as it sounds, I could not express that thought in wise words, so dragged was I to a busy store of sweaty shoppers, prior to afternoon tea at the Ritz. Looking at the photo of us standing outside the Ritz hotel, I am saddened that it has to show the HM plastic carrier bag, clutched securely in the hands of my sister.
When we arrived back at my sisters house later that afternoon I was surprised to see my neice and daughter go online to buy more clothes. It was an addiction I joked. Little did I know that this was setting a seed for bigger things to come. I spent the next month in Thailand, writing my book a Snazzy Tale.
Words flowing across my screen play with memories from my early life, crafting the stories of my mother who was a seamstress and her small workroom at the back of our house. My mother created clothes for my sister, me and practically half the neighborhood. A warm feeling began to drift as I thought back to those days, when our clothes felt beautiful and we all knew where they had come from. They were clothes made with love and you could sense that emotion in the fibres. Fashion was fun as we anticipated what length our skirts would be next season. There was no addiction to fast fashion. It was another era.
My next stop would be to meet my elephant in India and I arrived in Jaipur at 200am in the morning. Back in Europe Xmas frenzy had hit the high street and I was escaping it all. My Airbnb hosts were delightful and on my first morning I was invited to visit their NGO. A small school in a slum district, where they had set up a workroom for mothers to create garments, which they would sell to travellers passing through. As I walked into their workroom I was taken aback as imagery starts to paint a picture of when my mother used to make my clothes.
The smell of cotton mixed with the sounds of machines, whizz – pause -whizz – pause. I smile. I want to stay all day. Creativity is at work here and I am in a happy place. A thought comes to light. I will ask them to make something for Megan. I will document the whole process so she can understand this labour of love.
‘Can I have a pair of baggy trousers please,’ my daughter requested, show me some fabric.
I wanted her to know about everything that went into manufacturing a simple garment. This will be fun.
My airbnb hosts offered to take me to a cotton wholesaler. They were so obliging. Meanwhile I started to learn about some distubing facts that would put a darker cloud over our fast fashion trip to Oxford Street. Faced with an opportunity of buying some organic cotton I noticed how much nicer it felt. I had forgotton how good quality cotton used to feel. Researching further, I was shocked to realise only 1% of the cotton used in the clothes we buy today is grown organically. Could this be why the quality of some of our clothes feel cheap? I was aware that organic cotton was an expensive product. It never used to be when all cotton was grown that way. I was becoming aware of the global impact non organic cotton was having on our planet. This all seemed crazy. There must be solutions. I felt I was on my own voyage of discovery and I wanted my daughter to know the true facts.
At the cotton wholesaler in Jaipur, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the organic cotton was not that much more expensive than conventional cotton. Happily I bought three metres. Next stop was to find someone to print the design. Once again my Airbnb host Nitin Sharma came to the rescue. Sitting on the back of his moped we negotiated our way through busy traffic, the busy street was lined with small workshops. It was evening and dark so many of the artisans were found working under artificial lights, carving intricate and detailed designes on blocks of wood. Nitin informed me that it takes them about three years to become skilled in the craft and they can take up to 30 hrs work on some of the designs. I took photos to send to Meg, and she chose a leaf design. One block can cost from between 10 and 40 euros so you can understand, nobody is going to make a sustainable living, creating these beautiful works of art.
With my three metres of organic cotton and a design block bundled into a bag, we travelled on a packed bus to the village of Bagru, 32 kilometres away. Bagru is famously known for block printers. Nitin and I walked through dirt side roads amongst the stray cows and pigs to a building which we accessed across an open courtyard. Lengths of blue indigo dyed fabric lay stretched out on the ground, drying in the warm sun. We were met by the owner who took us to a long building. I held my breath; the pungent smell of natural dyes filled the air. Inside were half a dozen men standing in front of long tables. they were printing designs using hand carved wooden blocks. I was impressed how quick they worked and how acurate their designs were spaced and overlaid. The fabric was cut into 6m lengths: the exact size for an indian sari. Some designs were having borders printed. In Bagru, printing skills are passed down through generations. Here everyone seems to be in the printing business. It is a place where creative magic is happening on every street corner. We are guided to their showroom where we sit on the floor and negotiate a price for them to print my three metres. I have to understand, it is a small piece for them so I agree to buy a sari from their collection. We leave the fabric for them to pre-wash and print, it should be ready in a week.
The fabric came back from Bagru and it was a darker colour. This was because they had to wash it in a chemical wash. I was told, this part of the process unfortunately was needed prior to printing. I later found out this did not have to be the case, and later found a printer who would wash without using chemicals. My not so organic fabric is now back in the workroom and a lovely lady is cutting and sewing it into a pair of trousers for Megan. The thought of a pair of trousers hanging on a rail in London’s Oxford Street, marked down as a cheap throwaway item is soul destroying. When did we stop valuing our clothes? Megan followed this story and will never throw these away after only a few months of wear. This lead me to thinking. Our mindsets really do need to change. How do we get people to change the way they value their clothes and to start appreciating the work that goes into them? When we pay little attention to the story behind our clothing then we devalue the lives of the people producing them.
If you want to value your clothes, it is necessary to understand the impact of what this necessity, to purchase so many items, is having on a global scale. The fast fashion industry has developed because of market demand. We are on a treadmill and we need to get off it. The deadline is before we completely trash the earth. Leading fashion brands are aware of the problem and want to be seen as addressing the problem. Personally, I believe it will be our actions that fulfill the changes.
The label says 50% off. You flick through the rails, convincing yourself the pair of trousers clinging on to a hanger is a great bargain. 15 Euros, there is no point in even trying them on. At home, the reflection in the mirror portrays ‘I slept in my clothes look’ you roll them up and put them in the cupboard where you keep your other bargains.
You are going out on a date or with friends, you want a new dress, a new bag, maybe some different shoes. You want to feel nice. Clothes are cheap, they will not break the bank. In three months’ time, they will be forgotten and heading for a landfill. On the next night out, you open your stacked wardrobe and think to yourself., ‘I have nothing to wear’ I get it I really do but you are helping to trash the planet, whichever way you look at it or try and justify it. If you think you are keeping poor people in jobs, then you need to pay a bit more and demand that conditions improve for them. Not only that you need to demand that the few pwnce more that you pay is truthfully going to the workers.
Try this – next time you buy something, ask where it was made and has it been made under fair trade. Just ask the question. You will be surprised at the response. If you cannot get an answer, put it back on the rail. If we all start doing this, stockists will begin to take this problem with a degree of respect. It starts with consumer demand.
Bad working conditions led to one of the most tragic industrial events that sent shock waves through the world and the textile industry. On the morning of April 24th, 2013; textile workers were ushered into a factory as managers hit them with sticks. The Rana Plaza building which housed five textile factories later collapsed killing 1.132 workers, the majority of them women. Another 2,500 were injured. Western brands were found on clothes labels amongst the rubble. This event caused many protests and the need for protection of textile workers in the future. Eight years later there is still talk about the aftermath of Rana Plaza in Bangledesh. If we want cheap products in the west we must find more responsible ways of acheiving that goal. You will hear brands saying they are improving on their demands to suppliers and making sure their employees are treated well and earning a decent wage. It is worth noting that a minimum wage is often barely enough to live on in countries like China, India and Cambodia..
Not all of the clothes that you dump at the charity shop, will end up on the rails. A large portion make their way to a landfill site. I worked in a charity shop where we would become overwhelmed by the amount of clothing we aquired. 50% of it ended up going to a recyling plant where much was impossible to turn back into fibres. There are ways you can help to solve this situation.
- Buy less
- Buy better quality so it lasts longer.
- Pass on to friends and family
- Take a sewing lesson and learn how to recycle by making something new.
- Find any way you can to keep it off a landfill.
The Daadi Project.
It is incredible how a trip to the Ritz in London and an elephant from India can set the seed for a new project. Life can be like that. A seed blown in the wind never really knows where it will fall.
I wondered how wonderful it would be to be part of a great mindset change. I am not alone in these thoughts. My good friends Nitin and Deepti Sharma from Jaipur have been inspirational and together with a small number of passionate planet pioneers we are building The Daadi Project. This will consist of a one stop platform which brings products together that will not cost the earth but will educate, inspire and bring us a step further forward towards a change in the mindless consumerism that has put profits over people.
If you would like to have further information about Daadi and feel you have something to contribute please get in touch. Laurenstaton.com. Daadiorganics@gmail.com