Earlier this week we had a meeting with a very unique business in Bangalore. You know those meetings where you walk away feeling energised and inspired? It was one of those.
Jacob's Well is a Fair Trade fashion production house operating in the heart of the city. It offers employment and training and development to vulnerable young people (mainly women) from low socio-economic backgrounds who often have few opportunities.
It's supported by a UK team and although it was initially set up as a charity initiative, Jacob's Well is now a business offering a range of fashion services to small and large clients alike.
It's been operating now for over 20 years and is a place with real heart. Meeting the team there has made us rethink our approach to this second collection and make a big change. Up until now, the plan has always been to work with a small team of seamstresses in Wayanad, Kerala to produce our collection.
They run a stitching workshop as part of a rural development charity called TGG Foundation and that’s where our story began. Since receiving funding from RG Foundation we wanted to create another collection working with them as our production team. The vision has always been create more demand for their work, grow the team and create more working opportunities for women in the area.
After speaking with the team at Jacob's Well, we realised that by designing a whole new collection and producing it at the centre in Wayanad, we’d be putting far too much pressure on the small team there.
Because the seamstresses in Wayanad mainly cater to local demand (sarees, Indian dresses and minor alterations), expecting them to create a whole collection of Western-style clothes was unrealistic.
So we decided to make a change.
For our upcoming collection, we are now working with Jacob's Well to get our patterns made and graded. They will also create our full sample collection for a photoshoot back in the UK.
Once our samples are done, we’ll know what garments can be stitched by the team in Wayanad and if any extra training is required then Jacob's Well can help.
The rest of our production will be taken care of by the team at Jacob's Well who are used to handling large orders and have the necessary equipment to bring our designs to life whilst meeting quality assurances.
This change has forced us not only to think more about our production process and supplier network, but also to look more closely at our purpose.
Initially, we wanted to start this business to create more work for women in Wayanad and pay them fairly. In a very small way we envisioned the business addressing the pay gap that exists between men and women in the local farming community.
This is an issue that affects the whole of India – a recent report suggested that the pay gap between men and women is on average around 27%.
But we’ve realised that because we’re starting out and at the moment orders are few and far between, the impact we can have at this stage is minimal.
Instead, if we are able to open up our supplier network and work with some organisations that share our vision, then not only will our impact be bigger but our chances of success increase too, as we'll have support from a wider range of people who are all experienced in their particular field.
This made us think about our mission. I'm starting to realise that a mission is just another word for a purpose, a why.
And actually, if you can start by identifying your purpose and look to align as many decisions as possible with it, then although the business will no doubt change you will always have more clarity in what you’re trying to achieve.
So our mission is now to help address gender inequality in India through sustainable fashion.
It's a massive issue. We know that. And when you look at our size, currently it seems like an impossible task. But when you break down how we began and what motivated us to start WYNAD Clothing in the first place then that sentence sums it up pretty well.
And it's already helping.
Since starting up a partnership with Jacob's Well, we’ve been trawling the Internet for other great organisations that can help us in our mission.
Our criteria is pretty simple;
With this in mind, we’ve shortlisted some really amazing businesses of which some will make up our new supplier network.
Our shortlist includes; GOTS (Global organic textile standard) certified cotton mills, hand-loom cooperatives, block-printing artisans, innovative fabric producers and a really amazing business which makes organic t-shirts and bags and employs women who were previously trapped in Kolkata’s sex trade industry.
Of course, we know that sometimes businesses talk a good game but can fall short. With the ethical fashion movement gaining momentum lots of businesses are keen to market themselves to a growing niche. Which is why it's important we pay each of our potential suppliers a visit – to get under the skin and look into the whites of their eyes, like we did with Jacob's Well. It's so important to really know who you're working with in any business, but with a mission like ours, it's essential. We can't wait to meet more fantastic suppliers and partners to join us in achieving great things together.