Lauren meets her dress maker and follows organic cotton back to the fields…
It’s 4am – we’ve just landed in Mumbai and within an hour we’re tucked up in bed at Creative Handicrafts’ factory cosy guest rooms. There’s Safia, Miki the film- maker, Louise on hair and makeup, and the legendary Zandra Rhodes at breakfast – three hours later! I put on my People Tree dress and Johnny Joseph, head of Creative Handicrafts, takes us into the slums to meet the women who made it! I’ve seen Slum Dog Millionaire, so I think I know what to expect, but the warmth of the 200 women’s smiles and the crèche that helps mums keep their children happy, learning and safe is more than I could have ever imagined. Many of the women are the main bread winners because their husbands are alcoholics or unable to get regular work.
We fly west to Gujarat and end up perched on the back of a tractor to get to Rappa and meet some of the farmers who grow organic cotton for People Tree.
The landscape is lit up by the charming smiles of the women folk. They tie handmade headscarves around our heads, press red powder onto our foreheads and give us the most wonderful smelling flowers. After a homemade, vegetarian lunch, the farmers showed us around the cotton field. It was shocking to see the effect of climate change – the rain is 7 weeks late – the farmers explained how they need People Tree to keep paying a good price for their cotton and buy it even though it is late. People Tree works in long term partnership, so it can do this, but it takes some organising. Safia looked very worried. Organic cotton farming helps mitigate climate change, as the soil has lots of live matter in it, it’s like a big sponge, it holds the water in it and keeps crops alive in times of drought. Visiting a primary school where books, computers and good teaching is funded by Fair Trade and also a huge pond that supplies clean water to over 300 families, I was surprised to see how Fair Trade benefits not only People Tree farmers but the wider community too. It is amazing to think the difference choosing an organic and Fair Trade dress can make!
We travelled to South India to see how the organic cotton is then tailored into beautiful dresses. Creative Arts of Soul is a Fair Trade group and also supports local costal conservation projects. I was fascinated to see each stage of clothing production here – from the wonderful organic cotton fabrics being cut, carefully tailored and then boxed up for People Tree. Zandra, Safia and I checked their new collaboration being made (top secret so shhh!). There was a lot of pride and joy in everyone’s faces.
The next day we woke to the sound of the ocean – the day of the shoot. Louise of Naked Artists was my wonderful makeup artist and hairdresser. We spend the day on the beach shooting this High Summer 2013 catalogue surrounded by local tourists. Life was buzzing all around us. Carousels, cows, horse-rides, men and women jumping into the sea fully clothed!
Safia is a great photographer and a true friend. We’ve worked together for 5 years so I was really happy when she asked me to be an Ambassador for People Tree. I find her work incredibly inspiring and I hope I’ll be able to promote Fair Trade fashion and the change it brings to communities like the ones I’ve met during this visit and be part of the incredible People Tree team. Thanks for the unforgettable experience!