This is a human story, selling beautiful clothes.
This blog post has been slightly challenging to share. Partly because, I guess, it makes me feel selfish, partly because I may also be oversharing. But I felt it was an important story to share. It’s my story, my experience, my emotions on Covid and how it’s effected my business and me. The true nature of a conscious business is that you are doing it for all the right reasons, not because the statistics say it’s likely to be a good financial decision ( if that was the case I would have jumped ship years ago!). I’ve been told I’m stubborn, extremely optimistic and blindly passionate which are all very true observations, but ultimately just god damn hungry for change and conservation!
Early last year when we were flung into the turmoil of Covid, I had already had my dad stuck in Japan after his cruise ship had been infected with Covid. He tested positive in early February 2020, while my step mother did not contract the virus, even though she hadn’t left his side! They spent 6 weeks in hospital, 2 weeks in hotel quarantine both in Japan, and then flew home to another 2 weeks of home quarantine. 10 weeks in total. It was significant to say the least. Thankfully dad’s symptoms were minor, however he still hasn’t had his sense of smell return which has been a common side effect.
By the time they returned to Australia we were in the thick of our own outbreak and so was India. Lucknow (where my garments were made) became infected rather quickly as a Bollywood actress flew home from London and threw a huge party at the Taj hotel for 400 guests without realising she had the virus. And so the unfolding of Lucknow and it’s cases grew rapidly. My communications of how India was coping mostly came from Pragya the workshop manager who was constantly trying to educate the staff about social distancing and mask wearing. The majority of Indian’s didn’t see the need, didn’t see the severity and so it continued to spread. The hospitals were full, people who were infected were not staying home, instead they were waiting at hospitals to be admitted. The education about the virus just could not penetrate all the laneways and slums. Which was always going to be the case.
Covid ultimately saw the closure of the workshop in Lucknow. It was a slow Closure. Each of the staff were assisted to find new roles which was a much more successful exercise than first thought. My 6 years of patterns and fabric stocks were packed up, spreadsheets meticulously created, and final samples were made for my move to a new cut make and sew workshop.
I had the workshop create beautiful BESPOKE pieces for so many of you! It was such a beautiful and overwhelmingly generous time where the community I had created through my brand wanted to directly help these people, who made their clothes, onto their next chapter. The workshop called you all their angels after the donation they received from this final order!
Closing this chapter was hard. It was the only cut make and sew workshop I had every known! Penny who owned it lived 2 hours away from me here in Australia, so the communications from her and Pragya were so special. It truly was a caring family environment. We ultimately were all passionate about fair and safe working conditions for the workers, and ensuring women in the local Lucknow area had opportunities unavailable anywhere else for them. We knew their stories, their hardships and their triumphs. But it was time to let it go….It was an emotional time for everyone.
After much communications, referrals and emails I found a new workshop who were happy to take my brand on. I was impressed with their policies and procedures, the work they produced was to the standard I came to expect. I couldn’t go and meet them though, I couldn't wander through and see the people making the garments. I had to trust my instincts on this one and my network of people who had worked with them in the past.
I remember when I used to consult smaller brands about finding the right supply chain, I’d talk about relationships often. These take time, and right now I’m working on building up a new relationship with our new workshop. I’m a small fish in this new unit.
We also changed who weaves our fabric. After a few fabric faults with our previous weavers we needed to move on and it was the best move we’ve made. Our new weaver co-operative manages the sourcing of our GOTS certified organic cotton and uses OEKO TEX standard 100 dyes. His communications are incredible (Hallelujah - believe me I am seriously singing that!) And his dedication to the craft of ikat blows my mind weekly! So much creativity to come in this space!!!
This was never going to be a short blog post. But While all of these changes are taking place, creating new supply chains, manifesting the new business model, getting fabrics made and waiting for 5 months for our first samples, yes 5 months (remember how I said I was a small fish now…) The cut make and sew workshop moved to a new sewing facility, the manager had a baby, and so the delays, unavoidable, kept happening.
During this limbo period I cleared our archives in our Archive sale and you so generously supported this final sale of ours before the change in business model. It was a much needed injection for the business to launch us into the next phase.
My first samples finally arrived early March, 3 days before the scheduled photoshoot for our launch collection. They were wonderful, the fabric was incredible, I was so happy with the quality of the stitching, but there was no time to tweek or create new samples. I was so overwhelmed with the response from everyone on social media about our new business model. It was refreshing to know we are finally at a point where made to order clothing is accepted again. Giving clothing its much needed value back!
We sent our orders to the workshop and boom! Shutdown for Covid. Erode where our new workshop is located had been only seeing small numbers of cases compared to other parts, so it was business as usual from all the communications I was receiving. Even though the situation we were all seeing on the news was horrific. The first collection about to be cut and sewn and ready for shipment was stopped in its tracks. And that’s so fine. And you have all been extremely understanding of this.
So I guess this is partly a documentation of my experience over the past 18 months of running the business, but I think it’s also me sitting here being honest and genuine about how hard this has been for me personally ( in my privileged position in Australia of which I am grateful for EVERY day).
The empathy I’ve experienced over the past 18 months has been extremely draining. Firstly with the closure of the Lucknow workshop, worrying about each of the staff financially, hoping work was found for them, feeling partly responsible, somehow. Wishing I had a bottomless pit of money to send over there to keep it open and them employed at a workplace they loved.
Then it shifted to frustration and patience, waiting for samples and trying to build new relationships. Detailing all the things that became second nature to my old workshop, and realising how much of what was previously a system had to be re-created again.
India has never been an easy option for a supply chain. And certainly not when you are having fabric so beautifully hand woven in rural India as I am. But over the years it worked and there was a rhythm. Covid has been an extremely challenging time for our business to get a rhythm again. And this recent lockdown has left me with next to no stock in Australia, and uncertainty of when I will be able to get more stock It’s a phase, and it will pass and my hope is the predictions of wave number 3 don’t come to fruition. I dread to think of the ramifications of this to the spirits of the Indian people.
It’s hard not to feel emotional about these changes over the last 18 months. It’s effect on how I view myself, my self worth and my low moods have been challenging to manage whilst also showing up as a parent and a partner. Somedays I wish I didn’t care as much as I do. It’s business but it demands much more from you than just showing up. This is a human story, selling beautiful clothes.
The women I know here in Australia who have devoted their lives to working with Artisans in India have the same passion and drive to produce in India as I do. The same care and empathy for the people in India who bring so much joy to the clothing world through their talented crafts . Skills we want to celebrate and ensure continue to be appreciated forevermore.
My hope is India can get back to work soon. Work is a way for them to stay occupied and not dwell on what the country is going through The pain and suffering they have experienced is indescribable and impossible to truly comprehend sitting here in Australia.
India, I love you. I’m here for you when we get to the other side of Covid. And I cannot wait to immerse myself back into everything that you are, one day, when the world opens up again.