When we tell people that the lead time for our pants is something like 80 days, they always gasp in disbelief.
You could get that in 20 in China, or even 3 if you really push it, they say. Sometimes it’s tempting to think about how much easier it would be if we did that. Send in a design, get it in 3 days, courier shipped to the door. Why not?
Lets run through those reasons.
The fabric of time
Block printing is an art form. It seems direct, even though the processes are many. Carve a wooden teak block, coat it in dye, and then hand print it onto fabric. Where is the art?
Art comes in when you decide how much to thicken the dye to suit the fineness of the pattern, how many layers or mesh, jute or silk to lay the tray with, the fact that each block must be applied with the same amount of pressure and that a second of hesitation or smudge is irreversible.
Art also enters the picture when weather comes in. Block printing workshops are designed as big, spacious rooms allowing drafts of fresh air to blow through so that the fabric dye dries evenly. Our printer called yesterday saying that its been foggy in Jaipur, and so, printing has been delayed. Fog means humidity in the air, inconsistency in the dye, and a lack of strong sunshine to dry the fabric after.
It’s quite beautiful when you think about how entwined this craft is to its immediate environment, and how many factors combine to create a perfectly repeated, precise and consistent meter of fabric. And did we mention that a silk blend is harder to print on?
An alternative stitch
Most garment and manufacturing factories are centralized. This means hundreds or thousands of people in one building, stacked on top of one another, each representing one small monotonous step in the entire process.
Our production partner is a social enterprise that decentralized their operations because their mission is to help rural artisans create their own living, in their homes. Organised as a cooperative, they work with over 3000 artisan shareholders in communities across India, providing the logistical backbone for a network system. Fabric is cut in one place, sewn in another, finished in yet another place. Women walk 10km in the morning to tend the fields, and work their craft in the afternoon. This earns them supplementary income that also means that their children can be the first in their family to earn an education.
Dispersed production like this prevents the community from having to migrate in drought periods or do government labour work, but it also means that other factors such as festivals or weddings (celebrated by the entire community, of course) can hold up an order if its not planned right. A commitment to quality means sacrificing time – time taken to ensure that each step is complete before proceeding to the next one.
And so this is why it takes 80 days. There’s a buffer in there for the serendipitous art of aligning weather and weddings, and a patience to endure a different kind of production system that takes into account the human and natural factors for a better way of living.