INDIA | Production trip – day 3 & 4
In the morning we are picked up by Swapna, she runs EMA (Equitable Marketing Association), which is a fair trade company that we work with from the very beginning of O My Bag! It was established in 1977 and the workers come from rural areas to work and enjoy a decent living by producing different types of fair-trade products. Besides Swapna we are often in close contact with Dipanita, who is the marketing manager of EMA. We love to see that mainly women are at the top at EMA.
Currently, they produce musical instruments, scented candles and leather items. The workers are physically challenged, women or come from minority communities and by working at EMA they are given a chance to earn a well deserved decent living.
EMA is located in Baruipur, 40 km from central Kolkata and the ride takes us around 1.5 hours. It is a lovely bumpy ride through the rural area surrounding Kolkata and it goes by so quickly. So much is happening on the streets which makes an hour ride feel like a 10 minute trip. Everyday I’m amazed by all the greenery surrounding the roads which makes for a lovely scenery and is offset by the brown dusty roads.
We enter via a large red gate that feels a little like the gate to heaven. Once you enter the gate it looks like a hidden paradise with lots of greenery, bright colored flowers, a cute dog running around and a little breeze. Jessica and I have a seat with Swapna under a big tree, nicely in the shade and are given some lovely chai tea. We chat about how Swapna and her family are doing and what is going on at EMA. And of course she is very curious to hear how the new office and store are doing.
After the lovely tea, Jessica goes to the production room with Dipanwita and takes a look at the new samples that EMA made for us. Currently, EMA is mainly producing items of our hunter collection. For example, they make the popular Pixie’s Pouch. As it is my first time at EMA, I take a walk around the premise to see how it is set up. Like most producers, EMA has a sample department, production floor, marketing department, and a great big lunch area where all the workers eat together.
Lunch is ready! All the workers at EMA have lunch together as it is a nice break of the day and fun to catch up. This lovely cooked meal consists of rice, fish or meat, veggies like lentils, beans and fresh cucumber. We enjoy the lovely lunch and compliment the cook. : )
EMA employs around 150 people and 60 to 65 people stay overnight during the week at the premises. This is because some workers come from far and traveling back home every day is not possible. Although it is allowed, no women are staying over because it is not common for a female to be out of the family house at night.
Saturday at 16.00 workers go home to spend time with their family and they have 3 nights at home so they are back at EMA on Tuesday. The working days are from Tuesday till Saturday 4 o’clock and every day the work starts at 10.00.
After breakfast, mister Misra picks us up at our hotel. He needed some distraction from being at home, and asked if he could take us to Springfield today. In the car to the Leather Complex we heard a bit more about his life with his wife, the great singer that she was, and how she had always been her sons best friend. It was good to have this talk with mister Misra, to hear how he is coping, and how and where we can help. At Springfield we showed him our lookbook and was so very happy to see his photo and story in there. In the lookbook we had written about the musical festival, and he was so proud to see that we had mentioned that!
At Springfield we discussed the samples again, this time some were perfect and ready to be taken back to the hotel and to be tested by our team in Amsterdam! Others, like the Ella Maxi, still need some extra TLC (tender love and care ;)) and of those we will see the new sample in the coming week. Big changes in the bag need a new pattern, for which the few pattern designers that work at the factories need to have enough time. That’s why some changes in the bags can’t be done in a short amount of time, and request a minimum of 4 days waiting time.
From cutting waste to new collection
Another sample we’ve made at Springfield are plant pots of both leather and canvas material. These items can be made with the leather scraps from the bigger bags such as the Georgia in Wild Oak.
Our eco-leathers are tanned in a really natural way, which also means that spots and scratches of the cow stay visible on the leather. This means that the people on the production floor that cut the leather have to be extremely skilled to find the best parts of the leather. The fronts of the bags need to be cut in a way that as much leather as possible can be used of the hides. All the smaller parts on the sides of these big chunks should still be usable for the bottom, back, side or inner parts of the bags and accessories. If there are a lot of spots and scratches on the leather it becomes much harder to use all the leather, which is really costly for the producer as he has paid for the whole leather hide. This problem appears mostly with the lighter leathers, like camel and wild oak. That’s why we often get the request from Springfield, who takes a lot of these lighter colors from Patrick, for small items in the wild oak color, so they can use their scraps of leather too and no leather gets wasted. Wallets like the Pixies Pouch, Suki Cardcase, Marks Cardcase are great examples of these smaller products, and hopefully after this visit we can add the plant pots to this range too!
Inspiring a better workplace
After settling the changes, mister Misra went back to his family and we went on to visit the new factory of Mahesh of Shri Exports, also in the Leather Complex. We have known him for a long time. We did a small test order with him about four years ago, but had to stop working with him because his factory – he had two; one for the samples and small orders, one for the bigger orders – where the big production took place did not meet our standards. We had discussions with him, and let him know that to be able to work with the European brands his factory should be bigger, better and safer for his workers.
Since the changes required a new factory it would take a lot of time before licenses would be acquired, and therefore we had to stop production with him at that time. Because we were proud to hear that he really wanted to make these changes (we’ve heard a lot of promises of producers that would love to work with us that never turned into a better factory), we made a promise that we would follow, and if necessary guide him in every step that he would make. Between our last order and the day that he opened his new factory he never contacted us, because he knew that until he had his new factory we would not be able to work together. If we were curious for updates we had to contact him. We visited the factory he was building about 1,5 years ago, and today we finally saw the factory as it was meant to be: With machinery, toilets, lunch spots, a garden, and… People at work! It was great to see that he has able and willing to start the new and very much improved factory, and also to still see a lot of the familiar faces from 4 years ago working there. The factory location had changed, and his workers were willing to move with it.
Mahesh can be proud of what he’s achieved. In a few months time the auditors for the SA8000 certification will visit and we are really hoping his hard work pays of and he will get certified! In the meantime we will also ask him and his team to make a sample for us, so we can see if the quality and style are in line with that of O My Bag, and we’ll see where it goes from there!
After this visit we had some great home cooked lunch again with the STC team. We hear that some issues have come up for the sampling process. Of the three pattern makers that STC has in their team, one has been absent for a few days and one has been in an accident, leaving only one man left for multiple visiting buyers. Ipshita explains to us that she hopes to have our backpack sample finished before we leave on Thursday, but she is not a 100% sure they will be able to make it. Fingers crossed!
Jessica & Indra
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