At Where Does It Come From? our core ethos is about connecting our consumers with the people who made their clothes. We are determined that all our garments are created in a way that has only positive effects both on the people who make them, and the environment we all live in.
Over the past two years we have created four clothing productions and now have a wide range of children’s clothing and ladies scarves. We have just started production of some adult shirts using organic cotton. Working with a partner based in Gujarat India (Moralfibre-fabrics.com) we work closely with local cooperatives who spin, weave and dye the fabrics by hand. These are then printed and tailored in local tailoring units. Our designs are done collaboratively and we ensure that our clothing is attractive, comfortable, practical and long-lasting. Our unique selling point is that every garment has a code on the label so that the customer can explore exactly how their garment was created and get to know the people involved in making it for them. We believe that having a deeper understanding will make you love and respect your clothes more. The world we live in now, with its transport and technology options, makes it completely feasible for us to have connections with people wherever they are, so why not connect with the people who make our stuff for us? (Or do we simply find it easier if we don’t know?)
Cotton in Gujarat
In April I travelled to Gujarat to catch up with our Moral Fibre team and to meet some of the people involved in creating our garments. We travelled many, many miles through Gujarat to visit the different places our garments are made. Outside the city of Ahmedabad, which was our base, there is a huge amount of countryside interspersed with villages and towns. When we were there it was hot (40 degrees and rising!) and the beautiful colours of sari’s, marigolds and the blue, blue sky stood out against the dusty ground. As we travelled we saw that the countryside is full of cotton fields and it is easy to see how important the clothing industry is. We stopped off to explore the fields but the harvest had already been completed. Looking closely at the ground and surrounding hedges we did find a random scattering of cotton balls that had been dropped – I kept one as a souvenir!
Gandhi’s Promotion of Homespun Fabric and the KVIC
Khadi is the name given to the handspun, handwoven cotton fabric produced in India. There are strong associations between Khadi, Gandhi and Gujarat. As well as being a large cotton producing state of India, Gujarat is also the birthplace of Mohandas Gandhi, who strove for a peaceful end to British rule in India and also for the empowerment of rural people, especially women. Gandhi encouraged the Indian people to spin and weave their own khadi, instead of buying cotton fabrics that had been produced in England (often using Indian cotton!). His Khadi movement is now enshrined in Indian culture and the KVIC is a government run department which oversees the co-operatives that continue Gandhi’s legacy through enabling khadi production by rural workers.
Where Does It Come From? has used khadi in all our products created with Moral Fibre Fabrics. Handwoven cotton is soft and strong, plus the wider weave ensures that the fabric is natural more breathable – keeping the wearer cooler in the heat and warmer in colder temperatures.
Spinning and Weaving
We travelled to Gondal in Nothern Gujarat, and spent a day at the Udyog Bharti co-operative based there. This particular co-operative was set up in 1957 by Hargovindbhai B. Patel and is still run by his son. The founder was a true entrepreneur and made many improvements to the spinning and weaving processes and technology to increase the output and make the work easier. The co-operatives take a ‘whole family’ approach – covering not just employment but also offering services such as banking.
At the first location we visited there were weavers and spinners working in large, cool studios, driving the machinery by hand or foot. The spinning charkhas are hand driven and can spin up to 12 spools of yarn at a time and the weaving looms are run by foot pedal. I was able to have a go at the spinning which was not too physically intensive – although I can’t vouch for the quality of my yarn! There were also a number of solar powered charkhas which took advantage of the almost constant sunshine. We were able to see many of the fabrics created at the co-operative – they even create denim fabric for Levis – which gave us lots of ideas for future designs.
Harnessing the Power of the Sun
Solar power is increasing as an alternative method of powering the looms and charkhas. We visited the nearby ‘Green Centre’ which uses purely solar power to harness the almost constant sunshine. All the spinning charkhas and weaving looms are powered by an array of solar panels on the new building’s roof. It has a very ‘modern’ feel. The older ladies who have worked for the co-operative for a long time get the opportunity to work there as a promotion – it is less effort and it produces more yarn (which is a bonus as they are paid based on the amount of yarn they create). The Khadi movement is currently in discussions as to whether or not the fabric is truly ‘hand made’ when produced in this way so it may not be able to be marketed as true Khadi. We believe there must be a fantastic marketing opportunity for fabrics created using the power of the sun!
Block and Screen Printing
We spent time in the city of Ahmedabad and we were able to visit the fabric printing unit that we have used for our scarves and shirts. When we first starting working with them over a year ago, they had been at the point of closing down but our orders ensured they could continue. The printing process they use is fascinating – the fabric is stretched out over long work benches covered in wax. The fabric is stretched out and smooth flat onto the wax, to ensure there are no wrinkles which might affect the printing. The designs are added either by printing with carved blocks (such as the prints on our scarves) or using screens with holes in that create a more uniform pattern over the whole fabric.
The blocks used are hand carved from wood. Many of our Where Does It Come From? designs have involved creating unique blocks – such as our ‘Ant’ pattern which you can see being carved here. This creates a finished pattern which we have used on scarves and shirts.
We also spent some time at one of the tailoring units that we have used to create denim children’s clothing. This co-operative employs local women who are then trained to cut and sew the fabrics into the required designs. Our jeans and denim dresses were both tailored at this co-operative.
The clothes we wear have been created for us, they don’t just appear magically on the shelves! Most often they have come from fascinating places at the other side of the world and are made by people (just like us) with interesting lives and amazing skills – often skills that have been passed down the generations. We believe that once you know how your clothes are made and get to know the people involved in making them then you will love and respect your clothing (and its makers) more. That is why every garment we create comes with a code on the label that lets you trace it’s whole journey – right back to the cotton field! Find out more about Where Does It Come From? and our range of traceable clothes at www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jo Salter, Founder of Where Does It Come From? Like many mothers I worried that the clothes I was buying for my children were not being ethically sourced and that I may indirectly be helping to sustain the evil of child labour and contributing to pollution in some of the world’s poorest countries It was this that motivated me to seek a way of providing an ethical alternative for garments people needed to buy. Finding like minded people to partner with such as Moral Fibre Fabrics has enabled us to produce our first ranges of traceable clothes. We are also working with new partners to explore ideas for future ranges – coming soon!