BEHIND THE SEAMS: ORGANIC GARMENT MANUFACTURING IN INDIA
Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a pioneer in organic garment manufacturing in India and is People Tree’s production partner for a large part of the knitted organic cotton pieces in their collections.
When we were in India Mr. Sanjay showed us around the two multiple stories Rajlakshmi factories he manages in Delhi. We were guided through the production process floor by floor, as at both premises every floor houses a different department.
First a bit of history: Rajlakshmi Cotton Mills is a family business, which was founded in 1932 in Calcutta. In those days Rajlakshmi was specialised in making yarns and selling fabrics and later on developed into a company that produces high quality textiles, from fashion to bed linen. The company is located in Calcutta and in Delhi.
Mr. Sanjay explains us that in 2000 the owners of the company realised that running an ethical business and taking care of the environment is also good for business. ‘People want to know where the clothes they buy have been made and they don’t want to feel guilty’.
The last 15 years the company started to work backwards in the supply chain to make every step in the production process as fair and sustainable as possible. Rajlakshmi became the first Indian factory with a Fair Trade certification and is also organic certified.
Mr. Sanjay tells us that the factory receives mainly production request from ‘smaller’ companies. “The costs for an organic and fair product are higher so making an organic product is not so high on the agenda of the bigger brands. But we realised this before we started to go in the organic business as we knew we would be more expensive and we would have a slow growth. It takes time for companies to pick up on this. But the environment has been exploited very badly and we believe the day will come where everybody will say enough is enough.’
Although Rajlakshmi is mainly working with the ‘smaller’ brands at the moment, the size, facilities and neat organiation would suggest oherwise. Mr. Sanjay prefers quality over quantity though and chooses his partners carefully. “At Rajlakshmi we work together with brands who share the same vision, like People Tree. Story telling is important, I believe that people who know about what’s going on behind the scenes of the fashion industry won’t run away from their responsibility.’
When we ask Mr. Sanjay about how he feels about certifications he explains that an organic certificate can’t guarantee everything.
‘It is also about trust, having an ethical mind and humanising a company. One of the things I try to teach the people in the factory is not the be scared and to be honest about how their work is going. I believe that you can solve 9 out of 10 problems by being transparent. In our culture we are taught that saying no is a bad thing. But people will respect each other and take care of each other more when you are transparent.’
One of the brands we produce for is a Fair Trade USA member, meaning a 5% premium is paid on everything they buy from our factory. A committee, which is operated by workers decides where these premiums are spend on.
A few examples of what the premiums have been spent on so far are induction plates + utensils and monthly health kits.
If the premiums are spend in a good way this is also good for the business. I used to receive about 10 applications a day from workers who coudn’t come to work because they needed to get cooking gas.’
Rajlakshmi was the first company in metropolitan area of Delhi to offer this Fair Trade premium. They works together with Chetna Organic to ensure Fair Trade is practiced throughout the supply chain right down to the cotton farmers. Chetna Organic works with marginalised farmers from Maharashtra, Odessa and Andhra Pradesh towards improving their livelihoods and making farming a sustainable occupation.
Together with the Chetna project, Rajlakshmi has helped to set up many vocational training centres for women in rural farming villages. This educational training and support enables women become more financially secure.
In addition to this Rajlakshmi has sponsored organic vegetable gardens in local schools, as well as contributing to more advanced school facilities such as science laboratories.