Of Dyes and Deadlines

September 25th


Today, we started the design workshop at 9 am by going over all the continuing projects and making sure that everyone knew what to do for the  rest of the  day.  At 11 am we started a series of meetings.  We had two meetings concerning fabric production, first with VGSM and later in the afternoon with Farzana Textiles.  VGSM is a non-profit group that makes hand block, block batik and hand painted fabric.  It’s a group we worked with a long time ago until they began to reorganize their program.  Now we are  just starting to work with them again.  Farzana Textiles has produced fabric for us for about ten years.  They are located about 12 miles away by train and produce textiles with a type of batik printing that uses paste instead of wax.  These meetings are vitally important because so much depends on getting the fabrics right, and getting them on time.

Before we’ve arrived in India, our system of working with the fabric producers has already started.  Adele Mattern, MP designer, first chooses “color ways” – the families of colors which could be showcased in a given season.  Then all the fabric producers make 3 sets of 10 x 10 inch color sample swatches – they keep one, MarketPlace Mumbai keeps one and one set is sent to Chicago.  Each swatch is carefully coded to identify the technique, producer, and color and block.

Adele then looks over the swatches, chooses which ones she wants to include, and begins to shape the collection.    She comes to Chicago for an intense 3 day-marathon session during which time  we look at sales of the previous season/s, discuss problems in production and finalize the line.  Lalita then sends back to Mumbai very detailed “spec sheets” that specify the cut, the code of the fabric, and where the fabric will be placed – especially important since we combine fabrics so much.  Shaily translates these instructions and sends them on to the fabric producers.

The fabric producers then use their own set of swatches to make  the fabric for the clothing samples.  We try to do more than one garment in the same color-way because it is not only more efficient, but it produces beautiful coordinating pieces.    The biggest challenge for the fabric producers is to duplicate the fabric exactly.  There are a number of  reasons why this is so.  For one thing, they are  traditional fabric producers and the discipline of writing down the recipe for the mixture of the dye is not in their culture.  Also, weather can complicate the dyeing process in unpredictable ways.  Right now the monsoons are just ending, but there are still September showers which can interfere with drying the fabric.  Also, different degrees of humidity in the air can affect how the dye takes to the cloth.  Most of their other customers are retail stores, where the products are on display for customers, and  some variation in color  is not such a problem. For us, however, since we  primarily sell through the catalog and website, we must have a consistent product which closely adheres to the pictures there.

So at the meetings with VGSM and Farzana Textiles (FT) we discussed all these concerns.  To tell you the truth, I get kind of frustrated  discussing these problems because  we have been talking about them for the last 23 years.  It seems no matter how hard we try to set up an ideal system, difficulties persist.  But all we can do is keep trying, because it is important to pursue our mission of extending employment.    On a more encouraging note,  we have decided to have a training program in Kutch, Gujarat and VGSM has agreed to fund it.

The last meeting was with the business leaders of the various cooperatives and the fabric producers and guess what the major topic was – supply, quality and timely delivery of fabric.  When the fabric is late, that squeezes the production time for cutting, sewing and embroidery.  And that’s not good for the artisans or for the customers.  So we are going to get a little tighter on schedules, and we are working on developing some ideas along this line.

A splattering of products, representing the various colors of the line
A splattering of products, representing the various colors of the line

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