Connections & Cotton in Kerala, India.
Perhaps you've coveted the new Camelia makeup bags that I just put onto the store. Tons of colors, but limited quantity. I'll tell you why.
I work with a fair-trade society down in Kerala. They are actually old friends whom I developed a good, working relationship with when I managed a fair-trade furnishings fabric company 8 years ago. In the entire 7 years I managed the company, I didn't make it to India to visit the facility, which was mostly frequented by the owner who had a long standing relationship with the mill.
However, I developed my own relationship via email and phone and from the few times the owner paid us a visit. I had heard colorful stories of India and of the amazing work of the weavers, who were still using old, hand weaving techniques, and the ethical ways the workers were treated. So, as Love Nomadic was being born there wasn't even a question who I was going to work with for my cotton products. I was keen to get out there and meet them, and finally work with them again.
After a 15 hour train ride from Bangalore to Kannur, the owner picked me up and from the moment we were reunited, it felt like seeing old friends again. It had been nearly 10 years since we had last seen each other. But, it felt like no time had past. He still had the same cheerful disposition and infectious laugh.
The mill is a special operation in this part of town. Besides employing quite a few hundred locals, it works with one of the only weaving societies that engages in profit sharing with its weavers. I was able to to spend 6 days in the factory and can attest that the working conditions; open air rooms, plenty of fresh ventilation, real light, clean floors and proper safety equipment (in the sewing rooms particularly), might have been better than some of the stuffy offices that serve as the headquarters for some western businesses here in the west.
When we sat down to talk business, we talked about my needs and theirs too. Since we had already developed a trusted relationship, we were able to get right to the nuts and bolts. Ethical and fair-trade were already covered but I wanted to take my business conscience a bit further and see if I couldn't include the environment. I assumed that they must have had shelves of discontinued fabrics because it's standard practice in the industry; collections get discontinued and, quite often, you still have rolls of fabric. Instead of weaving up new rolls of fabric I wanted to see if I could use stock that might be sitting, unused.
This was absolutely the case. However, after they took me to the warehouse, we made one stop into a room they thought I might be interested in seeing. The basement! It was packed floor to ceiling with sampled, discontinued, end of roll pieces of fabric. Some had been cut for an item wrong and couldn't be used. Beautiful fabric; piles and piles of it that I spent 6 days climbing and needling through. It was my mother's wet dream; if she could have one.
I got to work immediately and worked a few small designs, including these makeup bags, a cross body coin purse, a toiletry bag and a cross body beach bag, that I knew would work for the fabric. I had no idea how this was all going to work out and we did it really old school. I formed piles, labeled them, discussed some changes, had a few samples made up and then...left, hoping it would all be interpreted the way I had intended.
I finally got the stock in and I could not be happier. They have a beautiful feel about them, they are fully lined and light weight and hold so much!
I called them Camelia because that was the street I grew up on.
Check out the photos below:
As I mentioned, all of Love Nomadic cotton products are produced here, using material that would normally sit for a while, or go to landfill. All of the cotton has been hand woven on mills that, as you can see, are surviving the test of time. Many held up by ropes and strings....no one seems to mind.
It takes a single weaver about a week to weave 5 yards. It's also at threat of becoming a dying trade since they can't get people in from the new generation, who can make a lot more money seeking jobs in the IT industry. Plus, many larger, western companies are impatient. They're looking for products to be made swiftly, and cheaply - with the intention of lasting a season. Love Nomadic will always be about quality and the work of the artisan.
So, some bags came in with only 2 in a color, one came in with only 1 available (sold before it even made it to the online store), others have 10, some have 8...you get the idea. It's a great feeling to know that this beautiful fabric is not just sitting, slumped in a basement but is now something beautiful and practical.
Only 2 left in this color!
When it was time to leave, my friends (the family) and owners of this 75 year old, family run company, escorted me to the train station and waited until my train (which was predictably late) arrived. I assumed a quick goodbye would suffice once the train arrived but no, they insisted on walking me directly to my sleeping cabin.
The most kind hearted, gracious hosts. I am excited to do some great business with them.
Now you might have a better understanding of where your Camelia makeup bag comes from, why you might not find the same color again (so snap it up quickly) and what kind of energy, and philosophy it supports. We really do pay with our dollars.