Who sat with me to sketch out patterns?
Who cut, stitched and tweaked those pattern pieces into reality?
Who went with me to the market to explore zips and padding and never minded a detour into the glitzy haberdashery shop just for fun?
Who shared their snacks, their lunch, their stories, their worries, their hearts with me?
These guys did.
My affection for this special little tailoring unit in Bangalore, south India, runs deep. After several initial meetings and projects in 2012, I moved to Bangalore early in 2013 specifically to work with the team, and it was a fixture of my daily life for nearly three years. It has been a huge pleasure to evolve into being a client rather than a colleague - and I'm grateful everyone is still so kind to me even after discovering quite how strict and fussy I am about my products!
Originally set up as a vocational training project by an NGO several decades ago, Jacobs Well flourished and these days runs as an independent business employing 15 people. As a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation, the talented team stitch fair trade clothing and accessories for clients around the world, as well as offering a training course for unskilled women to learn tailoring and fashion design as a means towards economic independence.
My patterns were developed by Radha, longtime product designer and cutter extraordinaire, and Pattern Master Mani, who holds his own with a wry sense of humour in an overwhelmingly female workplace.
My market buddy is Ammu, who has a flair for design and a strength of character not to be underestimated. Ammu knows her way through the bustling streets of Shivajinagar and Chickpete like nobody else and I always wish we could stay just a little longer and check out just one more street...
My stocktaking queen of organisation is Rebecca, whose work ethic is a lesson to me every day. Rebecca takes a long, complicated bus ride to and from the office, studies accountancy in the evenings and has the ultimate 'can do' attitude. And she always shares her lunch. Which is beyond delicious.
My fabrics are ironed by sweet, quiet Kamakshi, with the beautiful handwriting and the best taste in flowers for her hair.
My samples, and ultimately all my bags, are stitched by Sumitra and Girish. Sumi has been working at the unit for many years, after initially teaching embroidery to women whose fishing livelihoods were devastated by the 2004 tsunami in Chennai. She took to tailoring like a pro and has risen up within the team to become highly skilled and trusted with many of the most complex or delicate stitching tasks. Fun fact: we both had our first babies within a month of each other last year!
Girish anna (meaning big brother) is a master of the sewing machine, and a true gentleman. He fitted seamlessly (sewing pun!) into the team with his quiet expertise and authority, stays out of girly drama and will never let you be the last in the office alone at night.
My labels are often sewn in by Lalita. Oh, Lalita. The voice behind endless, often dazzlingly obscure questions. The butt of all workplace jokes but the one who laughs the hardest. The maker of killer tea and killer progress, day in day out.
My gold tags are painstakingly handstitched onto tough Piñatex by Maheshwari, a graduate of the in-house vocational training class, and Radha.
My cotton packaging bags were sewn by the main tailoring team - Kalaivani, Ruth, Kanchana, Monica, Sumitra, Lalita to name just a few.
My checking and packing was led by Ammu with help from the whole team.
My ever-calm, on-the-ball production contacts are Divya and Brenda, who both have a fierce eye for design and detail. It was Divya's idea to look into getting my covering bags block printed with the Gold is a Neutral logo, which turned out so well - thank you Divya! I am only ever a WhatsApp message away from knowing exactly what's happening on the workshop floor and it makes the world of difference.
This team has quite literally brought my dream to life and I'm so excited to continue working with them and developing new projects together. Without them my journey into ethical fashion over these last few years would have looked very different, and much less colourful. Who else would have taught me to do the Lungi Dance?!