"I strongly believe that beautiful fashion can also be made in a beautiful way." Three years ago, Bie Noé founded B.Right, an organization that wants to inspire people and companies, about sustainable fashion. She does this by organizing walks, workshops and lectures. Bie wants to bring positive stories from people and organizations, that prove fashion can be positive for people, but also for the planet. Last fall, she traveled to India,with much curiousity and many questions. Readhere, about her journey, and what she learned.
Their story becomes mine
I visit Paces Crafts, a textile workshop in Ranchi, a small village in East India.
Four years ago, Indra Cox of the non-profit organization Solid, moved from Belgium to Ranchi. It wasn't easy to start the studio with ladies who used to live of rice and barter.
But on the day of my visit, the organization became a great reality.One by one, twenty craftsmen drop-in, smiling.This is a relaxed atmosphere. Six craftsmen install themselves on the looms, the others make bobbins, and create beautiful carpets applying other forms of handicrafts. Indra tells me how important the village council is for these people. It is a meeting where room is made for sharing both, information and personal stories. Similarly, a meeting is scheduled here, at the studio, every week. During the round table, I tell them how their story becomes mine- How we enjoy them in Belgium. No words are needed to know how proud they are.
Cotton farmers commit suicide
The people I definitely wanted to meet on this trip,were organic cotton growers. Cotton is a commonly used raw material, that causes quite a stir. The desiccation of the Aral Sea inCentral Asia is an example of one of the greatest environmental disasters of this century, due to irrigation for cotton cultivation.That is why, my next stop is RESET, a project by NGO GVK Society,which has the ambition toliterally, 'reset' the cotton industry in India. This ‘reset’, seems to be much needed. (Last year, RESET managed to produce T-shirts for the entire Tomorrowland crew.)
In some states of this huge country, up to 10 cotton farmers commit suicide every day.
One of the reasons being- they cannot pay off the loans for their overpriced cotton seeds. Therefore, RESET wants to start from scratch- with the right seeds, the use of organic fertilizers and organic pesticides. The farmers do not use irrigated water, but only rainwater, which saves up to 3,000 liters per T-shirt. From 2017 to 2019, the number of members grew from 42 to 545 farmers, with the ambition to eventually reach 15,000 farmers. When we enter the cotton plantations, the beautiful, pink flowers immediately catch my eye. The flowers usually appear when the plant's cycle is halfway through. Thereafter, the flower transforms into a green bud that blossoms into cotton as we know it. After 120 days, it will be time to harvest. Depending on the weather, a second harvest will also be possible. Cotton farmers Sanyasamma and Ramulamma are very enthusiastic about RESET. They tell me, how valuable it is that their representatives help determine the prices. In addition, they show me their homemade fertilizers. The regenerative turnaround gives them a healthy soil and with that, a healthy future.
Old prints with a new look
When I am in Bangalore,trying to decide where my next stop should be, I receive a request via Instagram from two women, Julia Gaydina and Dinie van den Heuvel. They founded Infantium Victoria in 2014, a Belgian avant-garde children's brand that has its vegan clothes produced in India. The brand is relatively unknown in its own country, however,it has sales outlets from America across China. They invite me to theblock-print workshop, where they have their fabrics printed, and to the Suvastra Happy Clothing Factory where their garments are made. I, enthusiastically,accept.
The Tharangini studio is impressive. Large wood stamps are made here, all cut by hand.
They are dipped in ink and printed with great precision on varying types of fabrics, in different layers. With passion and an eye for detail, dozens of people craftsmen turn white cloths into beautiful fabrics. They have been doing this since 1977, when the focus was mainly on making traditional sarees. But since Padmini took over the studio from her mother several years ago, the possibilities have become endless. For example, old prints are transformed into a new style,new modern-looking prints are made to order. In this way, the traditional craft continues to exist in a contemporary application. The embroidery and designs are very original. In addition to good working conditions, the ladies are also, always looking for new materials. Currently, they are looking into vegan wool, a yarn that feels and looks like real wool, but is made from weeds.
Humans working in a pleasant environment
Finally, I visit the Suvastra Happy Clothing Factory together with Julia and Dinie. 220 employees work here under one motto: 'The only thing that grows when you share, is knowledge and happiness'. Here, attention is paid to human work in a clean and pleasant environment, for a good salary. Make no mistake. It’s continued hard work. It is important to see this within the standards of the country- working six days a week, from 9 am to 5.30 pm and for many, often with very repetitive tasks. In Belgium, some people may not care much for long work weeks, but here it is a dream for many textile workers.
The Fairwear Foundation acknowledges the efforts made here, and thus stimulates brands that want to produce in a more fair way (such as Nudie Jeans and Knowledge Cotton Apparel).
Kamalakar is happy to work here, and happy to show me around the three floors of the factory. I am impressed by the multitude of steps required to make such a garment and the efficiency with which it is done here. The women at the stitching machines take the semi-finished shirts from the rotating coat hangers one by one. Everyone is specialized in one stepof the productionprocess.There are signs everywhere to alert employees on what mistakes to avoid.
At some point, they get a three minute break. Kamalakar explains that it is for cleaning, stretching and relaxing. To me this seems like an ambitious order. But when you see the dedication of the craftsmen, you realize that they are happy to be part of this family. It makes me realize again that it is possible to produce clothingin a sustainable way. It may not be easy, however it is possible, without sacrificing quality or price. By supporting sustainable brands, we ensure that these people, like us, can build their own lives with dignity.