We are always working to be as transparent as we possibly can. We want you guys to know as much as we do about how things work behind the scenes at Lucy & Yak. The only problem is time - we just don’t have enough of it, haha. We would love to sit writing about everything we do, it’s all so exciting, but we have so many other things to do to ensure you get your new Lucy & Yaks and that everyone who works with us is happy. One thing that has been at the top of our list for a long time is to let you know how we pay all of our team out in India.
Our tailors in India, as you know are paid ‘fairly’, but what does that actually mean? We’ve all heard the awful story of the garment workers at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh when it collapsed back in 2013. Some of them were earning as little as $10 per month!! (If you don’t know about this I highly recommend watching ‘The True Cost’ documentary on Netflix). I know Bangladesh has a very low cost of living but seriously, $10 per month?? No one can live off of that, surely! So how are we to know what the word ‘fair’ means when ‘unfair’ can mean as little as this.
We can’t answer this for any other company but we can tell you what ‘fair’ means to Lucy & Yak. When we met Ismail, as most of you know (I’m sure some of you have heard this story 10 times) he was working with two of his friends. He was the guy that went out and found work for them. DP and Raju were the tailors, Ismail was the master cutter. He already paid his tailors well, but one thing they didn’t have was guaranteed work. It was hit and miss and sometimes they would have spells with little or no work. We loved all three of them from the moment we met them. They were all so friendly and welcomed us to their village. We sat down with Ismail to talk about making the dungarees, the first 30 pairs. When he made the first sample, he quoted us a price, we instantly negotiated, but we negotiated up not down, leaving Ismail looking very confused! Ismail still laughs to this day about how he thought we didn’t know how to negotiate. He actually said “No, no, you’re going the wrong way”. If you've been to India, you'll know the first price can sometimes be a bit of a high ball; a good haggle is part of the culture. Ismail was different, his price was the best it could be, we knew because we had already been in this position with 8 other tailors before this meeting. That was the moment we knew our friendship would be a long and trusting one.
Ismail & DP humouring us for fashion revolution week
At this point we didn’t really know what constituted a ‘fair’ wage in India. We started to do some research to make sure we offered them exactly what they deserved for making our clothing, we never thought about creating an ‘Ethical Fashion Brand’ as such. We just couldn’t do it any other way. We had to know the tailors were getting what they needed and then some.
We found a lot of different articles stating what is a ‘fair’ wage for garment workers in India. The results are vastly different. We found a report from Fashion Revolution about female garment workers in Bangalore, they found that garment workers earning 7000 rupees (£78) per month were actually one of the better paid garment makers in India. Although the cost of living in India is very low (you can get a real nice all-you-can-eat Thali buffet for 50 rupees (55p)) Also many Indian families, certainly in rural areas, all live under one roof, so there is no mortgage or rent payments and bills are split between the males living in the house. So even though living costs are way lower than the UK, £78 per month for a full time job still didn't feel like enough for us. You can read the excellent article from fashion revolution here:
We also checked what the state of Rajasthan minimum wage was for garment workers;
6058 Rupees for Skilled
7358 Rupees for Highly skilled
Again the result here is similar to that of the workers in Bangalore from the report above:
We spoke to Ismail and his brother Peeru (who is now part of the team) about this. They said that their tailors earned around 14,000 Rupees per month - pretty amazing, considering that the minimum is around 7,000 Rupees. They were already paying them double this. We don’t know what the other factories in the area pay their workers, but Ismail seemed to believe that they aren’t treated badly, and are already earning a relatively fair wage. This wasn’t enough for us, it still felt too low. We knew we had to pay more than this, but we also had to find a nice balance. The village where Ismail’s factory is, is surrounded by towns and small cities that have large factories. We have to make sure that we respect the culture and the people who live and work in this area. We want to make sure all of our workers are treated with the respect that they deserve and earn enough to support their families without having to work too hard.
We found this article that states what the living wage for one adult to look after a family of four would need to be paid in India to live comfortably :
India 283 USD (£219) per month, which is 4 times the minimum wage.
Read more here: http://labourbehindthelabel.org/campaigns/living-wage/
We decided that we would pay the workers between 21,000 rupees (£233) and 29,000 (£320) per month, depending on their skill level. We have tailors of differing skill sets, some are training and some are very highly skilled. They make different garments, depending on their skill level, but all have the opportunity to work up to being highly skilled.
We also came up with a bonus scheme to encourage better quality. In the beginning we had some quality issues and sometimes still do now, as we take on new tailors. Most of them do an amazing job, but quality can sometimes slacken off, so we came up with a bonus scheme for all of them. If we get no tailoring faults from them each week they get 500 Rupees bonus each, so 2,000 Rupees per month extra on top of their normal wage. It’s rare now that they don’t get this bonus, they all do an amazing job.
We want to break this down further and explain how their working week is made up. The figures above are for a 6 day working week or 48 hours, as stated in the fashion revolution article. In India most workers will work a 6 day week as we once did here, before someone put up a bloody good fight for us to have 2 day weekends. However we have found that a lot of our tailors will work over time a lot, and of course get paid more for it. We really want to encourage them to take more time off, but at the same time, we don’t want to stop them from working overtime if they choose.
They do take holidays as and when they need to, they also have a lot of national and religious holidays. India is a country of many religions and from what we have seen they all seem to respect each others religion. Hindus take time off for Muslim holidays and vice versa. Our factory has a mix of tailors from different religious backgrounds. They also have a lot of national holidays. This equates to many statutory holidays, much more than our 8. The down fall is that these are unpaid holidays - the reason we wanted to pay much more than the stated ‘fair’ wage. We hoped that the extra we pay would make up for the missing holiday pay, for now.
We are by no stretch perfect. We don’t believe this is enough, we want our tailors to take actual holidays that are set to a specific amount per year and paid. However everything is one step at a time. We can’t walk into a country and start demanding drastic changes to the way they do things. Ismail is a very fair man, he will always do the right thing by his tailors and other workers, we trust him with this. We will be here to support him through all of it and will encourage him to make small changes here and there until we have a team that enjoys similar benefits to us here in the UK. We have a few areas we want to work on first:
- Setting paid holidays
- Encouraging days off
- Setting up a health care insurance for all of the workers
We have to remember that Ismail did not have an established factory when we met him, and his team have only just moved into a factory. They are still finding their feet, Ismail is not a business man, and we would hate for him to become this. Things are the way they are in this small part of India. We have to respect this. Ismail was himself working as a tailor not so long ago.
We have also been working hard to make sure the working conditions of the factory are great, doing everything we can to ensure it is safe, clean and comfortable. Ismail factory is the only factory in the area with air conditioning for the workers, it may be the only one in Rajasthan! We are heading back out to India in a October to give them a hand with getting things under control after the big move.
This is Anita & Goody our first 2 female tailors that began working for Ismail around one month ago, all settled into the new factory.
As always we would love to hear your thoughts or ideas for improvement. Any advice is welcome, we are new to all of this and learning as we go. We know we aren’t perfect, but we are working as hard as we can to get close. One thing we can promise is to always be transparent, we want you to know the good things as well as the not so good things. After all, reality isn’t perfect.
Lucy & Chris
(If you think any points in this article are misrepresenting anything, please let me know. I do so many different jobs within Lucy & Yak, I can't dedicate all of my time to writing and so I'm sure its not perfect. It's a difficult subject to write about, but something that needs to be talked about, I would hate to offend anyone. I love feedback, I can only improve with your help)