Read about Zandra Rhode’s journey across India to meet the producers of her exciting collaboration with People Tree
Where do I start? Or more precisely, where did the journey really begin? Changing planes in Dallas, changing planes and terminals, spending New Year in the air… arriving in Bombay at 1:45 AM on the 2nd of January, then going straight to a guesthouse attached to the factory, founded by a nun…
I’d forgotten my pajamas! Luckily Safia had a great People Tree long cotton t-shirt, which was lightweight and ideal. When I woke the next day I looked out of the window at the Mumbai slums, the patchwork of corrugated iron stretching away into the distance. A watery sun sat behind thick fog on the horizon, as masses of squawking black crows circled in the sky.
I quickly showered, put on my pajamas and immediately drew the scene from my window…a drawing a day keeps me at peace, and helps me recall all that passes, indelibly in my memory.
We then all set off on a tour of the Creative Handicrafts factory – where we were staying. This organisation has so many facets! One of them was a group of slum ladies dressed in red gingham aprons and caps, making all the lunch boxes that go out to neighbourhood office workers – another factory slum project. We were then shown fully around the factory and given fabulous welcoming orange marigold garlands…. India is the land of flowers!
Next, we head to the slums, where Creative Handicrafts have set up a crèche for all the children whilst their mothers are sewing. The manufacturing units that have been set up mean the slums here are much smarter than those I’ve seen before (no mangy dogs or hairy pigs!) and we meet all the elegant saried People Tree workers sewing the People Tree clothes.
The sun rises as we walk to breakfast. Rappar looks wonderful – strange square painted buildings, and patterns everywhere. We visit the regional Agrocel office; there are 20 around India, and each supports about 1,000 farming families. Farmers are trained here and helped by agricultural extension workers who help them convert to organic, and learn about the preparation of organic pesticides and fertilisers. This is a really grassroots way of helping people.
We take a trip to visit an organic cotton farmer and his family, and what a welcome they extended to us: garlands of marigolds, a magic touch of colour to the centre of our foreheads and tie-die scarves onto our heads – all this done by the grandmother elder of the family. We are shown around the fields where the organic cotton has not done so well this year due to a 7 week delay in rainfall – climate change is really affecting their production. Thankfully the soils are becoming stronger, so farmers now grow additional crops, helping them limit the risks of the rainfall. I rush back and do a quick sketch of the grandmother with her fabulously wrinkled face.
Then a mad tractor with huge wheels drives us down a narrow cart track. We’re off to see a special school funded by Fair Trade to educate the children of this farming community.
Directly by the side of the school was a large muddy pond that supplies fresh water to over 300 families, dug to collect water during the rainy period. Just at this moment, two of the local farmer’s wives walk to the well to fill their giant jars, before setting off with the heavy pots held in place by leaf coils on their heads!
Our final stay is at The Gratitude Heritage Home…where the peaceful atmosphere is much needed after our eventful trip so far. This morning we visit CAOS Apparel, and are going to be filming where my dresses are made in the purple print of the Jungle Trail design.
Rows of lovely ladies in colourful immaculate saris sewing my dresses…colour, colour, COLOUR! This is an amazing Fair Trade project providing work for over 100 people, working exclusively in organic cotton fabric. Anjali, the founder, has done the most wonderful job. It’s great to see the whole journey of how my collaboration with People Tree is being made – grown by organic cotton farmers, then manufactured as part of a 100% Fair Trade project.