Challenges helping our partner in India set up his factory from scratch
As most of you know the Lucy & Yak journey started quite unlike any other clothing brand or even business for that matter. Instead of finding established factories that could handle the production of our dungarees, we decided we wanted to work with someone real, someone from a similar background to ourselves, someone who had a kind heart and great sense of humour.
In February 2017 we met Ismail, a tailor who had started out as a thread cutter in a small factory 10 years earlier. Ismail was now managing a team of two tailors and making garments for the local Indian markets, work was sporadic, the three of them had no real stability, work was seasonal, and didn’t pay well. Ismail is from a family of 6, 3 girls and 3 boys. Their father passed away when Ismail was only a few years old. This meant that his mother had to work, she worked in labouring jobs most of her life, whilst also raising 6 of the most incredible, kind, caring people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Ismail’s mother passed away in 2018, around one year after we met him, his younger brother Muneer said one of the last things that she said was that she really wanted to go back to work, she had missed it since the boys were all adults and providing the income for the family home. We got know her and she was a wonderful woman, we are so happy she got to see her sons doing well, and providing amazing jobs for so many people in their village.
Moving on to now, two and a half years since we met Ismail, he now employs 70 people in 2 small factories, both just a few doors down from each other. With very little experience and no support from any authorities in India, Ismail has achieved the impossible. We look at Lucy & Yak and the challenges we have faced over the past few years and wonder how Ismail has managed it.
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This week we're all about community (check out the 207k #lucyandyakcommunity giveaway if you've missed it!) 👫👬👭⠀ ⠀ This wonderful community is one which Lucy & Yak wouldn't be able to fuction without! Our amazing tailors and seamstresses in Rajasthan really are the ones who do all the hard work and we believe in repaying them fairly for it. 🙌 ⠀ ⠀ All our tailors have a label number which you'll find sewn in the leg of your dungas - we're working on a directory with all our staff so you can find out who made your lovely clothes and even find out a bit about them! Our tailors take great pride in their work - handmade means each dungaree is created by the same person from start to finish, and we hope each piece is as equally special to you! ❤️
He has almost double the number of staff that we have in the UK, there are very few government services in the village, even small things that we take for granted in the UK don’t happen in his village. His village has electricity cuts around 10 times per day, some for a few minutes, some lasting hours. Bin collections don’t exist, everyone in the village has to find their own ways of disposing of litter, this often means burning it, burying it, or just leaving it beside the road. The sewers are open on the main road and children play nearby. The roads are dusty as the village is on the outskirts of the dessert, and the dust gets into the factory constantly, keeping it clean is a real challenge. If you’ve been to India, especially Rajasthan, you’ll know it is quite difficult to keep your feet clean, the workers often lean against the walls with their feet, so keeping those walls white means having to re-paint every week. Honestly, the new factory walls were dirty before it had even opened properly.
Ismail also faces many other challenges that we can relate to more so, this is about his team, managing people is the most challenging thing about running a business, people are unpredictable, but people are also the best things about running a business, it’s why we do it and love it, it’s what gets us out of bed every morning, a business is only as good as its team. Ismail agrees with this, but is facing real challenges relating to the team. The factory environment is laid back, music is usually blaring, every tailor is his own boss (Ismail's words), he doesn’t like to impose strict working days or hours, and because the pay is good, a lot of the tailors take regular time off, often with no notice, meaning we have to be really flexible with when the products are delivered to us in the UK, which is fine, but can cause issues for our customers as I’m sure some you guys have felt. Laid back is great and we don’t want to push him to create a strict atmosphere. However, the best of something is usually also its downfall, you can’t be laid back and impose really strict health and safety procedures, well you can impose them, but getting the team to follow them is another story. When we are not there, we know that the team is even more laid back about these issues, so we are now facing a real challenge together with Ismail about how we stress the importance of following health and safety procedures, and getting the team to understand why it is important to follow them. Like I said though, this isn’t just a problem in our factory in India, we all cut corners to make life easier, often at a risk to our safety, even though we know we should do it the proper way, it’s human nature to find the easiest way to solve a problem. Even if that does mean balancing a chair onto another chair instead of getting the ladder. Or crossing a busy a road a few metres down from a pedestrian crossing.
We want to help Ismail as much as we can, and want to make the factory as clean, comfortable and safe as possible, but we don’t want to force our western ways on him and the team at the same time, we have to work towards what is best for the team there, and that can mean some compromise. And we always check ourselves to know if the things we want improving are genuine causes for concern, or just us trying to make the factory into something that looks more presentable if a journalist was to come along. Don’t get me wrong we know we don’t always find the balance, but we try our best and Ismail and the team laugh at us for nagging them.
That said, over the past 2 years Ismail has improved the factory so much, he has installed solar panels on the roof which has stopped the random power cuts and means that the factory always runs on between 70-100% solar energy, depending on the weather. This creates a new challenge as they always get dusty, so need cleaning regularly, but it is much better environmentally. Ismail has kept all of the fabric scraps from day one and we have now started to turn them into tote bags, scrunchies and we’re trying to come up with ways of using the really little bits - ideas welcome. The tailors all have a uniform now, and we pay bonuses for great quality work instead of deducting money when the quality slips. 10 women are now employed in the factory, all paid the same as the men (doing better than the UK there). The new factory is more spacious and has a lovely garden at the front, but stopping the cows from munching it away is another challenge that we don’t have in the UK (haha!). More and more people are being given well paid, safe, stable jobs in Ismail’s village and that is something he should be extremely proud of.
Ismail and the team have a long way to go to become the wonderful factory that we want it to be, but I’m sure you’ll agree, he has made a fantastic start, and he will only learn and improve constantly.
Next update: Improvements we have planned and how we plan to get there.