Recently we embarked on a long awaited adventure to India to visit our friends, the artisans and makers of our garments. Our intention for this trip was to see how they were going after the last few years. What we discovered is how close our relationships have grown through navigating the challenges of the pandemic together. Through our shared appreciation for art, nature, and one another, our commitment to creating change through slow fashion couldn’t be more apparent. As always, the experience delivered a whole lot of magic.
Celebration is in abundance through festivals, ritual and prayer. Animals casually share the sidewalk with street vendors selling exotic spices, flowers, vegetables, perfumes, and textiles. As a subcontinent which has profoundly shaped the modern world, their nature of craftsmanship, engineering and attention to detail lends inspiration wherever you look. Incredible architecture adorned with hand painted interiors breathe ancient tales. Offering a quiet retrieve from the constant hum of conversation between horns as drivers, riders, tuk tuks, and pedestrians seamlessly navigate their way around one another.
The writhing city streets are alive with sights, scents, sounds and colour, rich with culture and history. While the quiet village life carries a calm that echoes its way throughout the country. In moments of stillness we discussed the perfect paradox of chaos and serenity, inherent in a deep understanding of place and value of presence.
We found wherever our journey lent us, we met a wealth of open hearted, kind, curious, and peaceful people. ‘No problem’ quickly became our daily mantra as we settled into the Indian mentality that everything is possible.
Our journey began in Jaipur, the home of our block printed garments. It was a special experience reuniting with our friends, swapping stories of life and business after the last few years. Exploring the finer details of their craft, sustainable production procedures and ethical work environments is truly inspiring.
In India it is common to carry on family tradition, passing ritual, skill, and knowledge from generation to generation. A person's last name can indicate their inherited profession. For example, one of our artisans name is Hemlata Cheepa. Cheepa means ‘stamping’. When Hemlata introduces herself, her last name explains she is from a block printing family. A prestigious tradition signifying how much value lies in continuing family practice.
“I grew up wanting to be a block printer”, said Gaurav, one of our block printing artisans. “In 2018 I was acknowledged by UNESCO for my excellence in handicrafts. I am 4th generation. My great grandfather, Tulsiram, printed fabrics for the royal family which are now on display in the palace museum. Today he watches as I build my very own block printing factory next door to our family home.”
There’s something so special and unique about the handmade process. Carrying tradition gives it this indefinable quality. Being in the presence of such creation highlights how the value of craftsmanship can be lost through the disconnection of machine production taking over handwork. This awareness fuels our fire and why we endeavour to respect the slow nature of the art through transparency.
Each hand block printed design takes up to 120 days or more to produce, from carving the blocks used in the pattern printing, to carefully piecing the garments together. Handcrafted garments are a practice of presence and patience. Enjoying the process, our artisans tell us, is what fills it with love. “When you love what you do, it is not work”, said our friend, Avneet.
Energy is something that is often discussed in India. During our trip, our friends repeated many times how the love and care for what they do transcends into their creations, that their energy is carried through every thread. Reciprocity holds great value.
Many begin each day with a prayer, setting intentions for safety, wellness and prosperity. Prayer is a means of giving without expectation. Giving back what one takes from nature is of utmost importance. For our friends, honouring tradition, sustainable production methods, and creating safe, supportive, and ethical work environments are all rituals of worship.
From procuring the finest quality cotton, working with natural light to minimise electrical power, harvesting rainwater to wash the fabric after it has been printed, and using the warmth of the sun to set the eco-friendly dyes. To showing us how they are treated fairly, paid correctly, working without deadlines, feel empowered in their work, rate one another equally, have opportunities to grow and learn new skills, feel safe and secure within a workplace, and are able to support their families and put their children through school. The artisans advised how implementing such procedures means it takes longer to produce the garments. Often reminding us, “this is slow fashion”, and, “slow fashion flows with nature.”
Seeing how happy they are is the greatest blessing. Their love for block printing and gratitude for continuing the art was palpable in every moment. With each visit, our relationship grows stronger in recognition of shared values, as does our understanding of the magic behind slow fashion.
From Jaipur we journeyed to Udaipur, the city of lakes. Amidst the calmness of the waters we processed our experiences so far and did a photoshoot of some new styles.
Our next stop was Tiruchirappalli in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. We visited a village where one of our garment orders is supplying work for the entire village, around 100 families! This mind blowing experience broadened our awareness of the handmade process even more. There’s quite a story behind this so we’ll save it for a future publication.
From Trichy we road tripped to Pondicherry. Our purpose here was to visit our friends at Sewing the Seeds. Sewing the Seeds is a women’s empowerment initiative that utilises creativity and enterprise to break the cycle of poverty for Indian women. Since 2017 we have had an on-going agreement to order upcycled sari bags from Sewing the Seeds which we gift to our customers in their orders.
In partnership with the non profit organisation, Samugam Trust, women from Pondicherry’s local gypsy community are provided with meaningful employment, wages and a positive future outside of poverty. Sewing the Seeds is an incredible organisation having supplied over 130 women with sewing machines and training. Meeting the faces behind these beautiful bags opened our hearts to just how much our donations have been contributing to.
Since 1991, Samugam Trust has been working with children of the Narikuravar tribe in Pondicherry, through establishing Jaly Home, where Sewing the Seeds operates. Jaly (Justice Awareness Loyalty for Youth) is a residential home for deprived children from the gypsy and tribal communities, as well as children found living on the street. These happy little vegemites are provided with shelter, education, food, and a home filled with love.
A lotus flower rises from the mud. With each petal free of stains, the lotus flower symbolises purity. Each evening the flower returns to the murky waters only to rise again in bloom at the break of a new day. In many ways, the lotus flower is a symbol of resilience, strength, and rebirth.
It was an honour to establish our friendship with the women of Sewing the Seeds, Samugam Trust, and Jaly Home. We are humbled to say we will be officiating a partnership with these organisations and arranging a portion of our sales to go directly to supporting these powerful initiatives in India.
Above all, our trip raised awareness of the potential for change through slow fashion. Humans are creative creatures. Nourishing our inner creativity helps humanity worldwide as it recognises the power inherent in each and every one of us. Through honouring creativity, we honour our connection with nature. Through honouring our artisans, we bridge the gap fast fashion carves between them and consumers. Who made our clothes and why does it matter?
When we wear a garment, we wear its story. The story behind our garments is one of love in what one does, trust in possibility and opportunity, and intuitive connection between one another and the earth. Our garments serve as a symbol for modern change, rooted in ancient knowledge.
There is so much to learn from our friends. With one foot in the past and the other in the future, they step into their day as though it is full of only the infinite potentiality of possibilities. Lost in history and immersed deep in an ancient culture, India is indeed a place that leads you to discover your own internal compass.
As a slow fashion label, our compass keeps pointing towards giving back to the communities involved in clothing production. We could never thank you enough for your support. Together we really are making a difference.
Love and light blessings,
Daughters of India xx
Words by Ella Josephine Archer