Monday, April 27, 2009
Delhi, India Day 1 and 2
Hello from Delhi, India!
After a long 18 hours of travel, we arrived in Delhi on Saturday night (Delhi time is 9.5 hours ahead of Chattanooga), checked into the YWCA Guesthouse, and hit the ground running Sunday morning. We are so glad to be here and are learning a lot about bargaining for EVERYTHING.
Sunday morning we met Rashmi who is in charge of the India side of Handmade Expressions. We also met Lina, who is the director of IIMREN, a weaving and sewing group that HE buys from. They offer fair wages and good work hours to their workers and are producing beautiful rugs, tablecloths, placemats, bed covers, etc. One of the weavers we met was weaving a pattern that we are very familiar with. You can find it here on our website. Through translation, we were able to tell her that we sell the bags she weaves at our store- it was so fun!! We definitely appreciate even more the quality of their work after seeing how much goes into the product. We were told that when someone comes up with a design, they do not draw it or write it down- they keep it in their heads and are able to remember what they are doing as they weave. We took some great pictures that we will try to get posted soon.
Today we visited the Amar Jyoti School for Disabled Children. HE buys paper bags from them. It is a pretty amazing facility where free health services are offered including physical therapy, surgeries, social work, etc. The school is for mentally and physically handicapped children, and then when the children are youth age, they begin to give them vocational training so that the children can function in society on their own. Their goal is to be self-sufficient. Dr. Tuli, the director of the center, is a very busy lady with many things going on- all the health care services, school, vocational training, etc. We were very impressed with how much she has accomplished. The center employs 36 doctors that perform operations for polio, create prosthetics, and administer medications. They have a large class building, and at least 5 vocational training centers that we counted.
We've really appreciated the conversations we've had so far. Rashmi was able to give us a brief outline of how a fair trade cooperative is started, nurtured, and developed. Here are the steps:
1) Identify a group of artisans with lots of potential
2) Engage in a relationship with them in order to build trust and confidence. This usually takes place through lots of small projects over a long period.
3) Begin offering product development advice - how to tailor their skills to produce marketable goods. This involves lots of creating samples and back-and-forth dialog, usually for about 3-4 months.
4) Along the way literacy and computer training is necessary in order to make sure that artisans can communicate properly once their business grows. Most of the time artisans live in rural areas with little to no access to this kind of education. Much of their craft remains orally taught.
5) Begin selling the products and constantly look for ways to improve, such as cost optimization, efficiency, consistency, and quality control.
From what we gathered from our conversation with Lina and Rashmi, the main obstacles to the success of their fair trade cooperatives is mistreatment by domestic buyers, as well as a lack of resources to accomplish what many larger, more powerful companies consider commonplace: market research and effective branding.
So, quite an educational first two days in India. It's time to sign off for now, since we've got a 7AM flight to Kolkata tomorrow.
More to come. Thanks for reading!