Pigeon poop never smelled so sweet.
I have to walk over a loading dock covered with pigeon poop to get into the rickety old service elevator that takes me to the first of three factories that we use to make our clothing. It’s in what looks like an abandoned building in a scary part of Oakland.
The other two factories are not easier on the senses. There is the ‘trims’ factory, which is run by a native San Franciscan. I’m new to this and as a reminder, he always looks at me with a mix of bemusement and annoyance and rolls his eyes at my newbie mistakes. The truth is, I’m so grateful he’s willing to work with me.
The final factory looks like a dark cave with mountains of half-sewn bits of garments and smells like someone spilled egg drop soup a long time ago and never cleaned it up. About 10 ladies work together in this small crowded factory.
But none of this matters because
Hard to believe this is what is filling me with joy this season but that's the truth.
It’s been a long-standing dream to take my creative energy from scarves and fabric to clothing. So that is part of the satisfaction.
But it also feels so good to give employment to people in this country as well as in India – even it is just a tiny part of their yearly production. It’s employment in an area of our country where the minimum wage is among the highest - honest work with sustainable wages.
It feels good to know that we're taking even a tiny bit of carbon out of the atmosphere.
It takes a full 9 yards for each dress – which translates into about 4 ½ days of work for a weaver. The energy we saved per dress is enough to power a laptop for 24 hours. It’s minuscule on the scale of all the environmental problems in the world, but why not try?
By producing in the U.S. – we save even more energy by minimizing our shipping – compared to dress made by a big brand. Major brands are used to moving raw materials and manufacturing around the world to take advantages of fluctuating prices of labor. The cotton fiber may come from Zanzibar and gets shipped to China for processing into yarn, then to Korea to be woven into cloth, then to Thailand or Vietnam to be cut and sewn – and possibly back to China for special finishes. This is mostly done to take advantage of cheap wages in those countries.
This is not unusual.
Consider this quote from Victor Yung, Honorary Chairman of Li & Fung, Hong Kong’s major garment supplier to American and European brands,
‘We might decide to buy yarn from Korean producers but have it woven and dyed in Taiwan… the Japanese have the best zippers and buttons, but they manufacture them mostly in China… then we determine that… the best place to make the garments is Thailand… so we ship everything there… “
By supporting local or small brands, you are already supporting less carbon in the world and you’ll most likely get better products. Many of these brands are also made in the U.S.A. – creating jobs and stimulating our economy multi-fold.
For Indigo Handloom products, we only use Indian-based cotton and silk fibers and ship directly to our warehouse in Oakland. The manufacturing of our clothing will be split between California-based factories and Indian-based factories.
Be part of the movement toward buying local and get to know your local designers. It reminds me of the early adopters of the organic food movement. Now it seems obvious but a few years ago it was a revelation. Your choices were a piece of fruit in the grocery that has traveled thousands of miles and was probably picked before it was ripe and maybe sprayed with chemicals to preserve it’s shelf life. Or, you could go to the farmer’s market and buy the freshest, picked at their peak in-season fruit and vegetables.
So check out your local designers! It’s as good as a trip to the farmer’s market!