Penny's closing words.

I am very sad to share the news that our little workshop in Lucknow, AIF Pvt Ltd, will be closing down this month. Like so many tiny businesses, we have been knocked by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

All the labels and designers who have worked with us are facing their own business difficulties. No matter how much they would wish things otherwise, most of them are in no position to make new orders and some have even been forced to cancel forward orders. By comparison we have been lucky, in that our wonderful partners have ensured full payment for all the work done for them. That means we have been able to close in a more orderly manner, while our team has had some time to look for work in other places.

My big concern is for the immediate employability of our talented and highly skilled tailors. They have families to support, so we can only hope that the skills they have built working with us will make them more competitive for the few jobs on offer. We will help them however we can. The health crisis has hit India very badly, and India’s economy is suffering. The textiles industry has been seriously affected, as it has been everywhere. Jobs are scarce.

Ironically, the women whose opportunities for employment and training were the purpose of our formation in 2007 are served a little better right now. The conservative culture in which they live means that their families rally round and support women in times like these. We are proud of the fact that some of our women workers, quite vulnerable in their particular family circumstances, have been empowered by the independence they have earned by working with us, and carry a higher level of respect even as they return to the relative safety of their family homes. In future, they have skills they will be able to bring to new jobs with the confidence they have gained from working with us.

We are exceptionally grateful for the efforts of a group of young women, all involved with the sustainable fashion movement and supported by our label partners, who raised funds to support our workers during the 6 week long shutdown in March/April, when we were suddenly closed by the government and had no opportunity even to work from home. That fund-raising effort paid the salaries of the staff for the entire lockdown and enabled us to extend the amount of time we could employ our people by more than three months after the lockdown was over. To those who contributed to that campaign, thankyou. However, we can’t string it out any longer. With last orders nearing completion and not enough work foreshadowed for the coming months to pay rent or salaries, we have had to admit defeat.

We at AIF all want to thank the designers behind the labels we have worked for over many years now, for their enduring support, flexibility and understanding. Each one of these special people has valued us, the people who make their products, and the planet, over profit. They have been leaders in the sustainable and ethical textiles movement, committing their own funds and the futures of their businesses in their determination to prove that it is possible to make beautiful things without exploiting either the planet or its people. It is a wonderful thing to know that this approach to business continues to grow, even in these difficult times. Each of our partners has taken the time to find a new production unit that meets their ethical standards, so it is very good to know that these labels will continue into the future, supplying us with beautiful products that we can feel good about buying. Please do continue to support these brands so they can continue to support fair and ethical employment of textile workers. They are listed below.

Above all I would like to personally thank the key person in all of this, who has worked with me from the beginning to create a safe, supportive and happy workplace as well as a viable business. As the onsite manager in Lucknow, Pragya Singh has implemented all our plans and dreams, and is now undertaking the heartbreaking task of pulling it all apart. Everyone who has worked with AIF, as employee, supplier and customer, owes her a huge debt of gratitude for the way she has done her multi-faceted job with both efficiency and heart. 

There are more testing times ahead, especially for the poor. I dread them and feel powerless in the situation creating them, but I am confident that a larger number of people with the means to buy thoughtfully will do just that, now and into the future. More and more of us will ask the question, “Who made my clothes?” and shop only where we can receive an answer that gives us certainty that our purchase has done no harm.