It is hard to put into words, the effect that my trip to India has had on me without sounding cliched or corny. It is two weeks since I returned and I have found my mind being preoccupied much of the time with thoughts from my travels. I am going to attempt to put into words my experience, and hope that it may be of interest to you.
It is about two years ago when I started outsourcing to India, having grown the business to something that wasn’t manageable for me alone. Since then, I have received numerous shipments of garments, each piece handmade by talented artisan ladies. It was my dream to be able to go and visit these ladies, to see where they work, how they work, hear their stories and above all, build relationships. So, when Covid restrictions lifted, I made the decision to go. Being honest, I did debate this for quite some time, worrying about leaving my husband and children, whether I would be able to navigate a new country on my own, and just worrying in general whether it was the right thing to do; but life is short, and I wanted to embrace this opportunity. So, after various hiccups with obtaining my visa (they had stopped issuing E-Visas to UK residents) I set off.
A 14 hour flight saw me arrive safely, I was met by a taxi driver who drove me the three hour journey to where I was to stay. I’m not a good passenger driver, but equally would not have wanted to be in the drivers seat! What a fascinating journey, the horns, tuk tuks, mopeds carrying families of four – or enormous objects which had the ability to take out any other road user! Cattle in the roads, stray dogs, roadside coconut sellers and those offering a soothing cup of chai. I knew within minutes I was going to love this place.
The workshop is run by an English lady who has lived in India for over 40 years, and she took very good care of me. Upon arrival, I was shown the workshop and introduced to some of the ladies. The workshop is split into three main areas, crochet, knitting and sewing. Employing around 300 women, the majority of them work from home in the surrounding villages. Work is delivered to them and collected from them and it allows them to work around their families. Around 30 women come into the workshop to work. I made myself comfortable with the six crochet ladies, and was greeted with enormous smiles and welcomes. My initial observations were that the spaces they work in are light and airy, windows and doors open, fans on, the sound of the birds in the trees interspersing their chatter. What I loved seeing was how relaxed they all seemed, how happy they appear to be, they chatter away to each other, laugh and even sing, what a joy to witness. The ladies have a half an hour lunch break where they go on to the rooftop and sit together to eat, a delight when they shared the contents of their tiffin tins with me. They truly made me feel a part of them, and were as interested in me as I was in them.
One of the things that I enjoyed the most was just sitting with these talented ladies, watching them create. The skills that they have are incredible. Two of the crocheters have been working there for over 25 years, and pass on their skills to others. They showed me their work, and gave me a few tips! Just being in their presence was amazing, so to be able to work collaboratively with them on new designs was so special. I don’t want to share too much about new designs at this stage but witnessing them creating new designs with me, asking their opinion on ideas, receiving their feedback was invaluable. I want them to think of our working relationship as a partnership rather than me dictating everything. I want them to know that I value their thoughts and ideas, I want them to feel empowered, and be proud of themselves.
I spent much of my time with the ladies, but I was also keen to experience Indian life, so on one of the days, we drove into the town. I absolutely loved it. Walking through the market was amazing. The smells, from the flower garlands, the spices, the incense, the fish! The colours and variety of the fruit and veg, the fabrics and the saris. The sounds of the stall holders, the music, and the chatter. The temple that we visited was awesome and almost a little overwhelming with its beauty, spirituality and busyness! Everyone I met was so friendly. Another trip I made was to the beach, I hadn’t thought I would have the opportunity to go swimming so hadn’t packed a costume, but how could I not swim in the ocean?! So I embraced it, and went straight in with my clothes on, after all they would soon dry in the 35 degree heat! What an experience, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and the most beautiful beach. I took a walk along it on my own, savouring the moment and feeling truly grateful for this opportunity.
Some time ago, I made enquiries with another workshop locally who produce wooden items. They sent over samples of their baby rattles but unfortunately, they were not safety tested. Whilst I was there, I learnt that the products had now received CE certification ensuring that they are safe to sell in Europe. I was delighted therefore to be able to go and visit the wood workshop where a small team of men and women handcraft from acacia wood various toys, rattles and other items. The smell of the wood as I entered the workshop was wonderful. I could have spent days there! All being well, I will be able to stock these alongside my clothing to complement the range.
My time in India went all too quickly, whilst I missed home, I also loved being there. Having been a Mum first and foremost for the last 16 years, it felt good to be doing something for me, to be just me for a week, it was quite freeing and empowering. As I sat on the plane on my return journey home, I was filled with emotion, after an unforgettable time, and decided to write a summary of notes about my visit, and these are what I wrote, unedited and honest:
‘My heart feels so full, so full of joy, gratitude, warmth and happiness. I will miss these ladies and truly admire them. Everyone has been so kind and hospitable. Friendships have been made. As I move forward, I want to push on, to succeed for these ladies, to continue to grow with them. Their talents, skills, expertise, patience and pride amazes me. I feel truly honoured to have them produce my products. My week has been filled with serenity, unity, community, joy, peace and love. I had a feeling of being totally calm, relaxed and welcomed. They have so little, yet give so much. The kindest hearts. Their joy and laughter, their dedication. Unforgettable. I have a renewed desire to support others fulfil their dreams, to enable them to live their fullest lives. I think the most relevant words I can use to describe this experience are...an unforgettable time filled with love and Kindness.’