In the morning we are picked up by Swapna, she runs EMA (Equitable Marketing Association), which is a fair trade company that we have wored with since the very beginning of O My Bag. It was established in 1977 and the workers come from rural areas to work and enjoy a decent living by producing different types of fair-trade products. Besides Swapna we are often in close contact with Dipanita, who is the marketing manager of EMA. We love to see mostly women at the top at EMA.
EMA currently produces musical instruments, scented candles and leather items. The workers are all women, physically challenged or from minority communities. Working at EMA allows them to earn a well deserved decent living.
EMA is located in Baruipur, 40km from central Kolkata and the ride takes around 1.5 hours. It is a bumpy ride through rural areas surrounding Kolkata. So much is happening on the streets which makes the ride feel like a 10 minute trip. Everyday I’m amazed by all the greenery beside the dusty brown roads, it’s a beautiful contrast.
We enter via a large red gate that feels a little like a gate to heaven. Once you enter it looks like a hidden paradise with lots of greenery, bright colored flowers, a cute dog running around and a slight breeze. Jessica and I have a seat with Swapna under a big tree in the shade and are given some chai tea. We chat about how Swapna and her family are doing and what is going on at EMA. She is very curious to hear how the new office is and how the stores are doing.
After the lovely tea, Jessica goes to the production room with Dipanwita and takes a look at the new samples that EMA have made for us. Currently, EMA is mainly producing items for our hunter collection (for example they make the popular Pixie’s Pouch). As it is my first time at EMA, I take a walk around the premise to see the set up. Like most producers, EMA has a sample department, a production floor, a marketing department and a great big lunch area where all the workers eat together.
Lunch is ready! All the workers at EMA have lunch together to catch up and enjoy their break. Lunch consists of rice, fish or meat, veggies like lentils, beans and fresh cucumber. We enjoy a lovely lunch and graciously compliment the cook.
EMA employs around 150 people and 60 – 65 people stay overnight during the week at the premises. This is because some workers come from far and traveling back home every day is not possible. Although it is allowed, no women stay over because it is not common for a female to be out of the family house at night.
Saturday at 16.00 workers go home to spend time with their family. They have 3 nights at home and come back to EMA on Tuesday. The working days are from Tuesday till Saturday 4 o’clock and start time is 10am every day.
After breakfast, mister Misra picks us up from our hotel. He asks if he can take us to Springfield today. In the car to the Leather Complex we hear a bit more about his life with his wife, the great singer that she was and how she was her sons best friend. It was good to have this talk with mister Misra, to hear how he has been coping with his loss and how we can help. At Springfield we showed him our lookbook and he was so very happy to see his photo and story in there. In the lookbook we had written about the musical festival, and he was so proud to see that we had mentioned that.
At Springfield we discuss the samples again. This time some were perfect and ready to be taken back to the hotel and to be tested by our team in Amsterdam. Others, like the Ella Maxi, still needed some extra TLC, so we look forward to seeing them in the coming week.
CUTTING WASTE TO THE NEW COLLECTION
Our eco-leathers are tanned in the most natural way possible, which means that spots and scratches of the cow stay visible on the leather. Therefore, the people on the production floor cutting the leather have to be extremely skilled to find the best parts of the leather. The fronts of the bags are cut in a way that uses as much leather as possible from each hide. All the smaller parts on the sides should still be usable for the bottom, back, side or inner parts of the bags and accessories. If there are spots or scratches it becomes much harder to use the leather, which is costly for the producer. This problem occurs mostly with lighter leathers, like camel and wild oak. That’s why we often get the request from Springfield, who take a lot of these lighter colors from Patrick, for small items in the wild oak color, so that they can use their scraps of leather. Wallets like the Pixies Pouch, Suki Cardcase, Marks Cardcase are great examples of smaller products that help us use all of the leather we can. Hopefully after this visit we can add the plant pots to our collection too, which will help reduce waste and make for an exciting new item.
INSPIRING A BETTER WORKPLACE
After settling the changes, mister Misra went back to his family and we went on to visit the new factory of Mahesh of Shri Exports, also in the Leather Complex. We have known him for a long time. We did a small test order with him about four years ago, but had to stop working with him because one of his factories did not meet our standards.
Meeting these standards required a new factory and it took a long time before licenses were cleared. Therefore we had to stop production with him at that time. However, we were proud to hear that he really wanted to make these changes (we’ve heard a lot of promises of producers want to work with us but never implement real changes to their factory). We promised that we would guide him in the right direction if necessary. Between our last order and the day that he opened his new factory, he held off on contacting us, because he knew we could only work with him when the new factory was ready. If we were curious for updates we would need to contact him ourselves. We visited the factory to see his progress about 1,5 years ago. Today we finally saw the factory as it was meant to be: with machinery, toilets, lunch spots, a garden, and… people at work! It was great to see that he was able to successfully open the new and improved factory. It was also very nice to see a lot of the familiar faces from 4 years ago working there. The factory location changed but his workers were willing to move with it.
Mahesh can be proud of what he’s achieved. In a few months time the auditors for the SA8000 certification will visit and we are really hoping his hard work pays of and he will get certified! In the meantime we have asked his team to make a sample for us to see if the quality and style is up to O My Bag standards. We are looking forward to seeing where it goes from there!
After this visit we enjoy some great home cooked lunch again with the STC team. At lunch we hear about some of the issues that have come up during the sampling process. Of the three pattern makers in STC, one has been absent for a few days and one has been in an accident. Therefore only one is left to work for multiple visiting buyers. Ipshita explains to us that she hopes to have our backpack sample finished before we leave on Thursday, but she’s not 100% sure they will be able to make it on time. Fingers crossed!
Jessica & Indra
O My Bag