India, you hate it or you love it…During the eight weeks in India for a textile research we have been through a lot! From fifteen hours rumbling metal nighttrains, 42 degrees dry desert, stuck in Mumbai traffic for hours, stomach pain, being stared at all the time, overcrowded autoriskjaws, overfed and needing to having a lot of patience… It’s a challenge but i loved it!
I had expected to stay in Mumbai all the time to research textile craft work in the biggest slum of Asia. But that changed… I came in contact with so many people, and those many people send me to all the textile references they had. Without knowing where exactly to go I came to places beyond my expectations and met lovely people in Mumbai and Gujurat.
Weavers of Bhujodi.
Babubhai and his family.
After a little walk from the highroad I entered the gate of Bhujodi. A peaceful weaver village. I didn’t know what to expect or where the weavers would be. It was a dry desert village with concrete small houses with handpainted wrong spelled Vodaphone advertisement. I met a little girl with an enormous smile on a bicycle which was to big for her. Her energy and spontaneity made me follow her, as she suggested, to her home.
Proudly she screamed in Gujurathi language to her family that she had brought back some visitors. First I met her father who immediately gave me a warm and welcoming feeling, as too his mother. On the porch next to their house was the weaving workshop. They gave me water and tea. They spoke only a little English, but that wasn’t reason to feel uncomfortable. Further, in the garden in the open air, they had more looms. Babubhai, the father, showed me an organic cotton flower and with his fingers he spinned an example of a yarn directly from the flower. Later he showed and taught me his more efficient handmachine that spins a real yarn.
Small weavers like Babubhai earn money by selling their handwoven clothes to visitors. He also has an agent that sells his handwoven pieces to shops all over India.
Blockprinters of Ajrakhpur.
When I entered Ajrakhpur I had no idea where to go. It was a quiet village in the desert. When I asked people to find the Ajhrakh printers they told me to walk futher into the desert. On foot, around 40 degrees, on my way to the printers a guy with a motorcycle stopped and asked me to hop on. He knew where I was going.
I saw men walking with with three meters of fresh printed fabric to let it dry in the sun. When I looked closer I recognised the block printing technique. Nearby I noticed a small building with some workers in front of it. They were wearing clothes full of pigment.
Four men in the small building were printing with a blockprint technique. For printing, they carve the required design into hard wood to make the blocks, which are essential tools for printing. These blocks are dipped sequentially into a dye bath and stamped onto the fabric with skilled precision. A separate block is used for each colour; some fabrics may have as many as 500 block repeated in one meter of fabric.
There are between 14-16 different stages of dyeing and printing, which takes 14-21 days to complete. Ajrakh prints are dominated by the use of intense patterning and natural colors. The main dye sources are varied: red is made from madder root, sappan wood and lac. Blue comes from indigo plant, yellow is from pomegranate rinds and turmeric. Green is achieved by over-dyeing indigo with turmeric and pomegranate and black is produced from scrap iron and jaggery. The use of henna, rhubarb root and tamarisk also adds to the variety of shades they produce.
Into the cottonfields
With a hired car and driver I asked the driver to take me to the nearest cotton fields. He wasn’t sure if the harvest was already done, but we took the risk.
After a one and a half hour drive we found the first cotton field. Far into the field we saw a group of pickers. When we came closer the farmer wasn’t happy to see us and screamed loud. We left the field and hoped there was another field nearby.
Luckily we found one, the field of Mr. Amad. Mrs. Amad was picking in the field with five other women.
Mrs. Amad told us… The field is 9 hectares big and has been owned by the Amad family for many generations. 10 to 15 people work on the farm. Only women pick cotton. This particular field was a BT cotton field (BT is a genetically modified organism (GMO)), a cotton variety which produces an insecticide to kill bollworm. It is produced by Monsanto). Before the BT cotton they grew organic Kala cotton. However, organic cotton is much more work to pick and doesn’t generate enough money. They get the seeds from the government seed center in a city nearby and get insurance from the government when using BT seeds.
They supply their cotton to spinning mill company’s. The cotton grows for eight months, the other months they grow peanuts for oil. The salary of the women in the field is three euros per day. They pick for 15 days. A 40 kg bag of picked cotton costs 35 euros.
The first week in Mumbai I met a lady in the back of a shared taxi. She was wondering what I was doing in Mumbai. I told her about my project and she said she would love to help me to get in touch with textile manufacturers. “I have a cousin who is doing something with textile.” she said. She gave him a phone call. Due to that ride I was in contact with her cousin about a tour trough the factory. I had no idea what kind of factory it would be, but that didn’t matter. I just had to visit it…
A few days later I had a meeting somewhere in Mumbai. It was a regular building in a regular street with a guard. When I entered the office on the second floor I had to wait for 20 minutes in a room full with garment samples. I had permission to nose through the clothing racks. After seeing all these labels I got more and more excited and realised I had entered a factory where dutch brands are made!
Three men came to pick me up and guided me through the factory. It surprised me that I was allowed to take pictures of everything.
First I entered a room where employees were cutting layers of fabric into pieces, preparing them for the sewing department. Opposite that room I entered the space where the sewing was happening. Around 40 buzzing sewing machines were doing their work with only men behind them. Shirts, blazers, trousers… clothes me, my friends or my family wear, on the other side of the world.
The next room I saw was a room with a big table full of printed chino pants. A group of employees, including women this time, were checking every single piece before it goes to the customer. The clothes without mistakes are given to colleagues who iron the garments, and put them into plastic bags. The pants are ready for export!
I didn’t get a bad feeling while visiting this factory. Employees were proudly showing the garments they made and didn’t look unhappy during their work. The building looked clean and safe and wasn’t too crowded. There is a factory inspector who checks this factory once in a while and the factory is a member of Fair Wear Foundation.
After the tour through the last factory they asked me if I wanted to visit onother factory nearby. Of course I said yes, stepped into their car and was driven to it…
Here I met another group of men who wanted to introduce me to their factory. I followed them into an old creaking elevator with a steel door to the third floor. I entered a factory where they print and dye fabrics. A great opportunity for me to be able to visit here! In this factory they print and dye fabrics with chemical dyes. First they buy white cloth from various partners, then they dye it into the customers wish. Beforehand, the customer sends their sample to the factory and a specialist in dyeing copies the print and colour from the sample. When the specialist approaches the exact colour, hundreds of meters of fabric get dyed and finished with a screenprint.
The factory looked a lot less positive compared to the other factory I visited. The industrial running machines steamed chemical vapors and the factory was messy and dark.