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Nancybird: About the Makers

Image: Indian Artisan, Ghanshayam Ji

Nancybird Snapshot

Where: Designed in Melbourne, their artisans are based in Maheshwar & Sausar, Central India, Jaipur, Rajasthan and Bao'an & Hangzhou, China
Founder: Emily Wright
Established: 2002
Products: Clothing and bags
Materials: Organic cotton, vegetable-tanned leather, modal
Values: Fair Trade, transparency, natural fibres, handmade, preserving traditional skills, slow fashion, quality products made to last

"Through collaborations with a global network of carefully selected craftspeople, each of our pieces celebrates the expertise, craft and beauty of their maker’s community."

- Nancybird

Hand Weaving - Sausar, Central India

Kala Swaraj's Magtha Project

Nancybird partners with Kala Swaraj to create garments for their artisan-made collection. The Kala Swaraj Foundation is an Indian-based not-for-profit that has set up the 'Magtha Project' to revive handloom weaving in Sausar and other surrounding villages in Chhindwara. 'Magtha' translates to 'handloom' in the local language.

The weavers and spinners set their own wages at an annual general meeting, have childcare on site and have regional programs to bring the remote villages an income using their weaving skills.

Handloom in Central Province

The Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, India was once a part of the historic Central Province. The Central Province region once had the largest population of handloom weavers anywhere in India. It is estimated that more than 160,000 weavers were active in the late nineteenth century, however much of the region’s traditional handloom culture was lost after machine weaving was introduced during British colonial times.

Today there are approximately 7000 weaving families in Sausar, Lodhikheda, and Mohgaon villages but sadly less than 500 families are active weavers.

Kala Swaraj chose this area to help revive handloom because they are located in a fiber shed that produces cotton and other natural materials. Integrating local craft production with local agricultural production is an important part of Kala Swaraj's mission. The region is also rich with flora that could be used to harvest sustainable, natural dyes.

Kala Swaraj hopes that one day the Central Province will again be famous for its weaving of cotton, and that many more traditional weaving families will again be able to choose weaving as their main source of income and way of life.

Cutting, Sewing & Block Printing - Jaipur, Rajasthan

After the fabric has been woven, it is cut, sewn and block printed at a Fair Trade accredited workshop in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Meet the Makers

Ghanshayam Ji - Block Printer

NB: What does it mean to you working for a fair trade organisation?

Ghanshayam: Being paid on time, medical insurance, getting all facilities that we need to work well. Steady work. 

 

Digital and Screen Printing - Hangzhou, China

"Most employees have worked here for several years – we are like family."

- Julie, Owner & Manager

Nancybird partners with a small, independent manufacturer in Hangzhou, China to create their digital and screen printed clothing. The team consists of 10 workers, with owner and manager Julie at the helm. The workshop has eight digital printing machines, and Julie and her team use eco-friendly, AZO free dyes. The team are highly skilled in the art of digital printing.

Nancybird have conducted an independent audit of the workshop to ensure the work conditions meet Nancybird's standards. The workshop passed with flying colours and the space was found to be full of light, clean and air-conditioned. The producers and their staff are covered by maternity leave, retirement fund, accident insurance and have voluntary overtime.

Meet the Makers

Julie - Owner and Manager

Image: Julie is on the right, with her employee, Michelle.

Julie owns and runs the digital and screen printing business in Hangzhou. She is a single Mum who began the business after she had her daughter.

Hi Julie! We'd like to ask you some questions about working conditions for your employees, and a little about you, too!
Sure! Most employees have worked here for several years – we are like family.

During your busy times – do they end up working overtime?
Not too much, we have a schedule that we plan for.

What are normal working hours per day?
We work 10 hours per day including 1 hour lunch time.

What about benefits for employees, can you give us some detail?

We have five different kinds of insurance that we must pay as a business. Medical, social, unemployment, maternity, retirement. Every month this is deducted from our account. Everyone in the business is covered, and it is government regulated.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you started the business?
I started 10 years ago, before that – working at a company that made and sold digital printing machines, as well as offering digital printing as a service. This is why I know so much about digital printing! After I graduated from college, I worked in a sewing factory doing cutting, sewing and in the office. Then the digital printing place. When I had a baby, I left and started working in my own business.

How has it grown?
At the beginning, I kept some of my previous clients and they wanted to continue working with me. I arranged their work using existing factories. The work grew, and I eventually set up my own factory.

What do you enjoy most about the business?
Finishing your order! Do you know I feel like it is like final examination in school! After I finish your order I will start my summer vacaction.

How do you juggle motherhood and being a business owner?
Sometimes I can work from home, and just come in when needed. At the beginning, the first three years I just worked from home. Once my girl started kindergarten, I had my own office and could work more. I had relationships with other factories and I just managed the orders. I can balance that very well!

What are your hopes for the future?
That my daughter grows up. You know there is too much homework in China! School is not easy. My friend in Melbourne is same age as my daughter. We always talk about the education of our two kids! 9 years old. School is very easy there. Mathematics is very easy, but in China it’s crazy! All students in China would be excellent in Australia! There is too much homework. A child in China must work very hard.

My hopes – that my daughter becomes excellent. Better than her mother!

Leather Work - Bao'an, China

Nancybird's leather manufacturer is a family-run business based in Bao'an, China, led by husband and wife, George and Lotus. With a team of thirty skilled leather workers, they create the beautiful bags and purses in their small factory. Nancybird have been partnering with George and Lotus for ten years. As they prepare to retire, the couple are in the process of handing over the business to three of their long-serving employees. The Nancybird team have visited the workshop in Bao'an a number of times and gotten to know the staff. Most of the team members have been working in the factory for over twenty five years – a fact that speaks volumes about the culture of the workplace.

Meet the Makers

Mr Yang - Cutting Department and Part Owner

"I love to work in the cutting department, but I enjoy everything!"

- Mr Yang

How long have you been working here? 
It's been thirty years!

What did you do when you first started here? 
I worked in the cutting machine department.

How many people worked here back then? 
We used to have 800 workers!

What are the different roles you've had over the years? 
I've done all sorts of things - managing the storage and supplies, tracking the cutting material consumption amongst many other tasks.

You're now a part owner – how did that come about? 
Because I'm interested in this industry, and because I worked for many years here so I thought it was something I could take on. I also wanted the business to keep going. I'm now a 30% owner of the business.

How have things changed for you, going from being an employee to being a part business owner? 
I have more responsibility and now have to look after everything. The calls – lots of phone calls. Looking at cash flow – everything!

Have you enjoyed the change?
I am a bit stressed but it has made me more active. I feel happy to work here.

Did you come from a different area in China to come and work here?
I came from a village in Dong Guan, about three hours from here. 

Did you move here with your family, or on your own to find work?
I came alone, and got married here a few years later. I have two children, one boy and one girl – twenty four and nineteen.

What do your children do?
My daughter works in a department store, and my son in a Chinese restaurant.

Did they both finish school? 
Yes they finished high school.

Do you feel settled here in Bao'an?
I will stay here while I'm working, then I will buy a house back in my home village and retire.

Is your wife also involved in the business?
She is a house wife and looks after her mother-in-law. Sometimes she comes to help at the factory.

What's your favourite thing about working here?
I love to work in the cutting department, but I enjoy everything!

What are your dreams for the future? 
That our orders go up! That the business grows.

Gen - Admin, Production, Purchasing and Fittings

"I want to save enough money to go back to my home town to build a house and so that my children have a better future."

- Gen

How long have you been working here?

I've been here for 20 years!

What did you do when you first started here?

I was in the packing department, and when stock comes in I would record and check it. Also looking at what kind of product is going out.

How many people were working here when you started? 

There were 800 workers.

Wow it’s changed a lot!

Yes! (Now there are about 30)

What did you do after the packing department?

Then I went on to be a sample room assistant, sometimes stitching bags, counting costings and stocktaking.

And now what is your role – everything?

I follow up documents, samples, production and purchasing materials and fittings.

You’ve been here a long time - what has kept you here so long? 

Because the boss so nice! George looks after us like his children. Many collegues have stayed at the factory for these reasons. (I joked that it’s not just because the boss is standing right there and we all laughed)

Did you move here from somewhere else in China?

I come from far away from here, 450 kms. To go back to my home town is about 5 hours.

Did you come here to find work? Or did your family move here?

To find a job. 20 years ago it was very hard to get a job – China had just opened up.

Your family were farmers?

Yes.

Do your parents still do that?

Yes they do!

What do they farm?

They farm rice, vegetables, potatoes and lychees!

What area of China is that in?

It is still in Dong Guan area, the western part of Dong Guan. My home town called Mao Ming.

You’ve been here a long time, have you had a family here?

I have 2 children - a son who is 14 and daughter who is 10 years old – both still in school.

Where do you live?

I live with my family in the domestic building that is offered to long term older workers and their families - there are about 9 apartments.

What do you enjoy most about working here?

Working here is like family – I know most of the parts of the business now. It’s not hard for me.

What did you do when your children were small? How did you juggle work and raising them?

When they were small, I hired a helper, and sometime they went to kindergarden. And rather than work day times, I would work evenings which made taking care of them easier. Now days, my husband takes care of the children because their school is close by his workplace.

What are your dreams for the future?

I want to save enough money to go back to my home town to build a house and so that my children have a better future. If they study late secondary school and university in Guangzhou, we must buy an apartment here, due to the local planning laws. Once they reach later high school age the children need to return to our home village to continue their study.

Are you able to send your children to primary school here in Dong Guan?

Yes primary school is ok. My 14 year old has just returned to my home town to continue study.

You must miss him!

Sure! My son comes to visit during holidays. When my daughter is ready to start high school we will all move back to our home town together.