This Friday is the second annual Fashion Revolution Day. All week we will be celebrating the special relationships we have with our clients, and sharing what we have learned by working together to produce excellent quality, sustainable fair trade clothing.
Today we're collaborating with Katie Schmidt of Passion Lilie, an ethical fashion brand that seeks to empower women in India and preserve traditional handicraft skills by working with textile artisans in small villages. Katie sources her fabrics very carefully, works directly with family-run block printing workshops and we are proud to handle her production work at Jacobs Well on an ongoing basis. The two collections we stitch for her every year have become a cornerstone of our business and these repeat orders allow us the security to invest in slowly expanding our unit and team.
Over to Katie!
Two years ago on April 24th, the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,133 people and injuring over 2,500.
Thanks to individuals, bloggers and businesses throughout the world today is now known as Fashion Revolution Day, the day that we take a look at our tags and think about who made our clothes.
Just over two years ago, I also decided to start Passion Lilie. I was inspired by the idea that a for-profit business could help create sustainable jobs and better societies for communities throughout the world.
I am not Passion Lilie. Passion Lilie is a team of artisans across India that are dedicated to creating quality products for you.
All of our production is done in Bangalore by an organization called Jacobs Well that employs women from low- income communities. These women receive free on the job training, an above average salary, assistance in obtaining health insurance and financial advising.Â On top of the general benefits, as I saw first hand during my visit, these women are happy to go to work, because at their job they have formed a positive and uplifting community. The women celebrate the joys in life such as a new baby being born by bringing sweets to work. They eat lunch together and help each other out like a family.Â When asked what they love most about their job all of them expressed their appreciation for the community they have at work and that every day they get to work on something different. (They are not sewing shoulder seams, for example, every day like they would do in the apparel industry).
And this team in Bangalore would not be such an amazing family if it were not for the mother, aka manager, Lydia who guides the women through their work. Apparel production is not easy and I am on Skype almost daily with Lydia as we work together to bring you beautiful garments.
From the stitching to our fabrics, every element of our process has a story. Our block printing is done in two very different locations in India- in the state of Andhra Pradesh, in a very small village 10 hours outside of Hyderabad and in the state of Rajasthan. Both groups consist of about 10 artisans who are paid an above average wage, especially compared to other block printing units in the region and they enjoy benefits such as loan assistance when needed and a safe and healthy working environment. In the village in Andhra Pradesh they practice Kalamkari, which is the art of using natural- plant or vegetable based dyes. The group in Rajasthan uses an azo free pigment dye that allows for a wider range in colors.
And finally just outside of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh we work with a family of hand loom weavers who practice ikat dyeing. Passion Lilie is the first foreign group that these artisans have worked with and they have enjoyed the steady work that we have been able to provide them.
This is our story, and if we had a big enough tag, it would tell all of the above. I am so grateful for these artisans that allow me to live my dream of being an ethical designer.
Who makes Passion Lilie clothes at Jacobs Well?Â The whole team is involved, from Lydia going over designs with Katie on Skype to Radha cutting the lovely fabrics, Sumi making the samples, Lalita packing the final pieces and not least Ammu making tea for us all throughout production!Â Here's a little bit more about some of the talented ladies behind Passion Lilie production:
Lydia made your clothes!
Lydia is the backbone of Jacobs Well and she's an incredible testament to the very reason the company was founded: we truly believe that sustainable work and training opportunities will change peoples' lives.Â Lydia didn't finish her schooling since English was not her mother tongue and she found the English language medium of the classes too hard.Â For some time she sat at home with few prospects before she was invited to join the very first batch of tailoring training with Jacobs Well in 1998.
Having shown great potential in training, Lydia became a sample tailor at the unit in 1999, from where she quickly rose into managerial roles. As Production Manager, Lydia now oversees the daily operations including quality control, technical advice and budgeted labour, as well as coordinating with buyers and overseeing production targets. That's a lot, but it's not all!Â With Jacobs Well's support, Lydia's entrepreneurial spirit has grown in leaps and bounds: going back to evening classes and completing her secondary education in 2009 has enabled her to pursue her passion for fashion with a diploma in Fashion Designing & Merchandising, and most recently a diploma in Business Entrepreneurship on which she won the top prize for her business plans.
Lydia's success has had a direct impact on her family, enabling them to move out of a slum community to a bigger, safer home close to work. Her two daughters are inspired to do well in school and know that anything is possible for their future if they work hard. Lydia is able to offer mentorship and encouragement to all the girls in the Jacobs Well unit no matter how sparse their education or training. And thanks to regular production orders like those from Passion Lilie, Lydia has been able to help oversee the growth of the unit and the potential to employ many more women. Dropping out of school due to a lack of confidence speaking English seems a very long time ago now that Lydia catches up with Katie on Skype most days!
When Kalaivani joined the Jacobs Well team in May 2012, she was as timid as a mouse. She had experienced much sadness in her family and her confidence was at rock bottom. Having no formal training in tailoring, she was first helping at the cutting table before moving on to take six months of training in stitching here at the unit.Â And now there is no stopping her!
Gaining skills, taking on responsibilities and completing her work to a high standard has all contributed to Kalaivani truly blossoming. She has consistently taken the initiative in improving her own skills and this year, Jacobs Well has supported Kalaivani to go back to school to complete her 10th Standard exams which will open the door to a world of further training, education and opportunities in her future. Kalaivani has worked on Passion Lilie clothes since the very first order and enjoys the variation of styles and prints. The Spinnaker pants with the slit were quite the revelation around here!
If you can hear a loud laugh at Jacobs Well, it's almost guaranteed to be Kanchana! A member of the stitching team since early 2013, Kanchana had completed a tailoring course run by an NGO and also had prior experience in the garment industry. She is patient, learns very quickly and is committed to her work, being determined to stay on at Jacobs Well in the future when she gets married rather than being at home as a housewife. Hooray for independence!
Kanchana has been trained by our main sample tailor Sumitra to lead on ever more complex stitching jobs and she is now working confidently on Passion Lilie samples for every collection. Kanchana's favourite thing about tailoring has always been dreaming up designs for her own dresses so it is fascinating for her to see all of the different Passion Lilie cuts and details. She is very excited to see the next season's designs already!