After an 11 hour flight we arrived at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata, India. We are welcomed by the perfect temperature – feeling very welcome, given that we left a -2°C Amsterdam! The small breeze brings all the spices of Indian cooking right under our nose.
After a short nap and some freshening up we are ready to get to work. The goal of today is to pay STC International a visit. We try to meet up with all of our producers multiple times during our visits to Kolkata. Not only does that give us the chance to discuss how they’ve been personally and business wise, but also allows us to interviews the workers and take a look at the samples being developed.
A month before our biannual visit to India we send through rough sketches and moodboards for new designs to our producers. With that information they make samples for us to see when we arrive. As a brand, we know exactly what we want, from detailing to style, so seeing samples in person is so important for us to see, feel and test our initial ideas. We want the bags to be perfect! Which is why, in most cases, we need about 4 meetings to perfect a new design. After the two or three week visit, we take back samples and test them like crazy. Only then are we able to find out if the bags are practical to use or if they still need some adjustments.
Love at First Sight
We arrive just after lunch but we are lucky enough to still taste some of the home-cooked food by Ipshita’s mother. Dishes with chickpeas, lentils, aubergine and tomatoes are served with raita, roti and rice – delicious! Every morning she prepares lunch for her family, which makes up a large part of the management team of STC: Ipshita’s father and brother are also in the company. Ipshita doesn’t live with her parents anymore. She married Mohit a few years back and has moved in with him and his family in their family house. Good thing she still gets to enjoy her mothers food at work!
After lunch we go through the samples that have been finished, and once in a while the sample man pops out his head through the door to let us know something more has just been finished. We closely look at the bags, and on the spot think of details, leather use or even whole constructions that should be changed before it can become an O My Bag bestseller. Every time we change something the sample man listens, goes back to his working place, glues on the construction as he interpreted our feedback, and shows us again before stitching the whole construction. This saves a lot of leather and work, because once the bag is stitched throughout, changes can’t be made anymore and even a small change would then require a whole new sample.
We applaud Ipshita and her sample man, because the first samples already look amazing. The Meghan in leather/suede combination is a keeper. The four other new items require some smaller and bigger changes in mainly the construction of the bag. We wreck our brain on strap thicknesses, strap constructions, shapes and sizes. This will keep the sample man busy for the coming days!
Since Apple has been changing the sizes of their laptops, our sleeves have to change accordingly. Ipshita has prepared new 13” and 15” sleeves for each design in some cheaper leather for us, so we can test the sizes first before we make the sleeves in the more expensive leather.
It’s dark already outside when we leave the Leather Complex, which gives us a totally different experience of the city. On the way back from the Leather Complex it is busy on the road, all the workers are traveling back home after a day of work. On the sides of the street it’s busy – you literally see people everywhere. There are small (and when we say small we mean extremely small; they fit a max. of 2 persons in total in them) shops, farmers who have spread out their home grown fruits and vegetables on the sides of the road, and many people walking, cycling, behind a buffalo, in the back of a van or in the bus. After checking the sizes of the sleeves in the Apple Store – one fits perfectly, two still need some small adjustments – we celebrate the first successful day with a traditional Indian meal: An appetizer of mixed chutneys, tikka masala, and a vegetables coconut curry.
In the morning we are woken by a phone call. It is mister Misra, one of the two Quality Checkers in Kolkata that O My Bag works with to check and advice on the production. We think it’s safe to say that he’s O My Bags biggest fan. Unfortunately he had very sad news, his wife had passed away in the night. They have known each other for a very long time, and even though mister Misra’s first attempt to get in contact with her via a romantic love letter was turned down, he never gave up. That’s the spirit! Their relationship started in 1972 and they got married in 1982.
After his phone call we changed our plans and first went to the Nursing Home where friends and family of Tapasi could pay her their respects. It were only men that were there with us, it is common in the Hindu community for only them to attend funerals. When we left, the car with Tapasi in it left also for the cremation which happened one the same day. The coming days mister Misra and his family will be having a lot of family and friends over to sit together and remember Tapasi during a mourning period which lasts for 13 days. Since they are a part of the Brahmin caste, her ashes become immersed in the Ganges river. We have given mister Misra and his son Diptesh a huge hug. We know how deep their love was for her and we wish them a lot of strength.
O MY ORDER
It took some adjusting after a morning like this to switch back into work mode. Luckily it was quite a drive from the Nursing Home to the Leather Complex where we would meet the Springfield family. Just like STC, Springfield is also a family company. We always have our meetings with the father and owner of the factory, and his sons, Ashish and Prabden. The father likes to joke around a lot and calls us “O My Order”. Since their grandfather passed away recently their parents were attending the ceremonies in another part of India, whereas Ashish and Prabden had to stay behind to look after the factory.
Springfield is producing new designs for our hunter green collection, which we will introduce in Fall Winter 2018. They looked absolutely amazing (as we could see from the Instagram voting you guys agree). Thanks to the hard work of the sample man in Springfield, as well as Ashish and Prabden, the samples are approved! The decisions we made today are mostly about details; changes to the inside compartments of the Georgia in our hunter leather and to the new wallet designs. However for the new Ella Maxi design, we still have some difficult decisions to make. The sample did not easily fit a laptop, which we were hoping for. We are also still trying to find a way to transform the handbag into a backpack. After some puzzling and brainstorming together with Ashish and the sample man, we’ve changed the design and are now waiting for the new sample to be made.
PATRICK AND VERONICA
All the factories and tanneries in the Leather Complex are located close to one another, yet the premise is a bit further out of the city center. This is convenient because in Kolkata itself there is so much traffic that even short distances take at least 30 minutes from point A to B. After Springfield in less than 5 minutes we arrive at Patrick’s place, the Sheong Shi Tannery. Usually Veronica, his wife, is always by his side, today it’s different. It’s Chinese New Year and Veronica is at home preparing a grand meal for their family and friends… and us! Yay! We are very pleased to be invited. We sit down for a refreshment with Patrick, chat, and have a look at the new leathers that he has developed for us together with his leather technician. We discuss issues that we are facing with the leathers and Patrick patiently explains the leathers behavior and shows us how he’s solved previous issues.
Patrick works very hard in the tannery and all the money he earns he sets aside for the education of his children, but also for some of the children of his workers that find themselves in a difficult situations (they may not have the resources to send their kids to school). His son Edwin has just graduated. Patrick and Veronica give him O My Bag’s Harvey Maxi as a graduation gift.
VISITING NEW FACTORIES
After the visit to the Sheong Shi Tannery we visit a new factory. They created some samples for us a few years back but at that time they were unable to produce the style and quality we desired. The factory is located outside of the Leather Complex, closer to the city center. Factories closer to the center and quite different to those in the Leather Complex. They are darker and narrower. Instead of large open spaces they are made up of separate rooms. We prefer working with factories in the Leather Complex, but do believe that it is good to keep on visiting other factories to give everyone the opportunity to improve and learn.
During our appointment we are shown a variety of new eco-leathers that they have been developing with Patrick. It is great to see that they have been working on new styles of eco-leather. We discuss details regarding our designs and check out their leather storage to see if we can find any leathers we like. Just before we leave they notice that after all the chatting about production, there is still one question unanswered: WHY are the Dutchies winning all the Olympic Medals on ice skating?
Chinese New Year, Valentine’s day and the worship day of Shiva: the 14th of February is a busy day in India! In the evening we are invited to celebrate the pre-evening of Chinese New Year with Patrick, Veronica and their friends and family in Tangra, which is the old leather tanners district – before the Leather Complex was built. It has now become a Chinatown. Veronica’s food tasted so delicious and we got so carried away in chatting with all their friends and family that we missed the Dragon dance going on outside. Thanks Patrick and Veronica for the great evening!
Jessica & Indra
O My Bag