Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Millennium Development Goals

This is petition started by the Fashion FT 100 Network and People Tree that is calling on world leaders to help Fair Trade companies make more of a difference.

The summit is being held in New York on the 20th of September - please sign before then...


Sunday, 29 August 2010

Dubai Airport

Sitting at gate number 213 at Dubai airport dreading what will inevitably be a quick and brutal snap back to reality as I have to begin writing up all the amazing research I have had the opportunity to conduct.

The four of us spent yesterday avoiding talking about what awaits us at home and instead indulged in our favourite holiday past-times. Zoe and Beth went shopping...again and Saida and I spent the day at the beach (we only got a little crispy this time.)

We had a great dinner at the Cricket Club and then they left me at 10pm to get their flight with out me. But as Saida said, I started this adventure alone so I must finish it alone. Just a like a true explorer, with all the lying on the beach, good food and shopping I can truly be proud of myself that I have conquered middle (to upper) class Sri Lanka.

I don't think I will have anything to update for a while, so good luck finding something else as riveting.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hand knit at Kalaro

23rd August 2010

Kalaro – Continuous flow of art

Today I joined Zoe in going to a pretty surreal place, a hand knitting group that makes jumpers for Norway, using the traditional circle knitting technique of Scandinavia. A strange sight to behold in a tropical country.

We set off at about 9.30 with the manager Priyantha Subasinghe to a fishing village called Munnakkaga a small island off Negambo. Here he employs 28 women who all knit intricate jumpers from complicated home knitting patterns, these items are then used as the display piece for knitting shops in Norway. If these women didn’t knit for Kalaro, it is more than likely they would have no other source of income as this is a poor area, the main income in fishing – a not so stable profession for the men of Munnakkaga.

Previously, Priyantha worked for a company that his grandfather set up back in 1979, training over 4,000 Sri Lankan knitters over the 25 years that it ran. Back in 1979 a Norwegian company put out a contract to South Asian countries to become producers of classic jumpers, the kind you see in amusing 1970’s Scandinavian outdoor living advertisements. A company in China also put in a tender, but the tenacity of Priyantha’s grandfather meant that he won the contract due to his implementation of a cottage industry, connecting poor villages across Sri Lanka in centralized community workshops as opposed to a large factory as suggested by the Chinese company. It was very successful until 2004, when due to the Norwegian company restructuring, the 500 knitters employed were no longer needed. So Priyantha decided to set up on his own, taking 50 of the most skilled knitters to continue to supply a few other companies in Norway.

The structure of work is very flexible. All the women have children so they are able to get them ready for school and they go home at lunch time to prepare food for their children as well. Because of this flexibility they are also able to complete their house work and take time off when their husbands return from sea. This is at the same time as earning above minimum wage. If they lived in the city, they may be able to earn more than this in one of the larger garment factories, but they would be paying for either board or transport, and there is no way that they would have the same kind of flexibility.

These women are amazingly talented, to be able to knit a garment so perfect that the company occasionally gets complaints that it doesn’t look like it is hand knitted, at the same time as never having had the need to wear a wooly jumper in all their life is phenomenal.


22nd August 2010

My birthday – what luck. Woke to slightly overcast skies with blue peaking through – this was at 7am, it could only get better. When I finally got out of bed and had had the happy birthday conversation with my parents I wandered into the living room, and there was the table resplendent with a birthday feast any person with a sweet tooth would salivate at. Pancakes, nutella, cake, candy popcorn, coconut treacle and ginger biscuits all topped off with ginger coffee. They had even made me birthday cards extolling my virtues as a teacher, not at all sarcastically referring to my tendancy to be a know-it-all…

We headed out the door at about 10.30am, record time for a Sunday and went to meet Priyanka at the bus stop on the way to Mt. Lavinia hotel. But she was dropped off by Dominic’s wife and she insisted on taking us all the way to the hotel. So we reached the beach, with our fluffy hotel towels and sun loungers by 11am, the perfect amount of time to turn ourselves pink in our eagerness to be golden sun goddesses on our return from tropical climes. We had found this excellent deal of 1000 rs (6 pounds) for lunch and the full use of private beach and the shiny pool – we of course spent a little more than that on having drinks delivered to our little settlement of crispy bodies. It was impossible to swim as the sea was like a giant tumbling exfoliation machine; it was rough and chucked sand into the surf to scratch us.

By about half four we realized we may have spent a little too long by the sea, not realizing quite how hot it was due to the cooling sea breeze. We headed back to the pool, which was very soft compared to the sea and lazily hung around the edge watching the sun begin to go down. The showers in the changing rooms were the best we had had for a long time and we probably spent too long in there, but it meant that we didn’t look quite so sun stroked when we returned to the deck to watch the sunset and drink baileys coffee.

Dominic invited us back to the Sansoni house for a drink, and we were spoilt by him, his wife and their charming children. Dominic pours with a heavy hand, so a gin and tonic in we were all feeling very talkative. They provided us with cheese and crackers, chicken curry and after eights and of course a copious volume of vodka and gin, resulting in us stumbling home at about midnight.

I rounded off the evening by speaking to my brother who was back at the pub in England and as a result just as inebriated as me. A lovely ending to a lovely birthday – I was only missing my birthday buddy, HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUZIE!

Somber skies

21st August 2010

We had been planning and desperately hoping for sun today so that we could make the most of the weekend and head to the beach before having to write up our final presentation for next week. But instead we woke to grey skies and heavy rain. It put us all in a bit of a funk and we were a little snappy with each other. I persuaded the girls that if we made the most of the rain, stayed in doors and tried to write as much of our presentation as possible, it would mean that we could take a hopefully sunny day off next week.

So we spent the day indoors and only went out to go to the supermarket. We got a lot done and even got to watch Karate Kid as a treat.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


20th August 2010

Hoping today would be better, I set off towards the Barefoot head office which I figured from the directions was about a 20 minute walk away. After some waiting around I started to think the worst and imagine that it would be yet another day of wasted time, however I was soon introduced to the head of weaving, Anusha a little tightly packed ball of energy, and I knew that I would not be having an unproductive day. We jumped into the van and Priyanka, a lovely young woman from India who is working with Barefoot on textile designs for six months. The drive to the weaving centre took over an hour but it did not feel like it as conversation did not cease.

The weaving centre itself is the picture of perfect design. Designed by the Sri Lankan architect who was the right hand man to Geoffrey Bawa, it uses natural light to the full extent and the space inside is huge and open. Inside, they have fitted about 80 or so hand-weaving looms and they have about 20 bobbiners working non-stop. The women, as I would be if I had the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space, looked genuinely happy and grinned at me with every opportunity.

Priyanka was working on a new weave using Khadi, a handspun cotton from India. It was absolutely beautiful utilizing natural colours not often seen in the traditional Barefoot palate. Priyanka has already begun to understand and speak a little Singhalese, so she was able to communicate with the weaver and before long they had woven a foot of beautiful shawl.

I was able to interview a few of the workers and was surprised to find that they are all paid the highest of any where we have been to of yet. The bobbiner that I interviewed, Lasanti, is earning 12,000 rupees per month, this is unheard of for bobbiners who usually barely make the minimum wage, let alone double it. (We think the minimum wage in Sri Lanka is about 6,000 rupees, although no one that we have asked seems certain.) I also interviewed Lalani, who is a weaver – she earns 15,000 rupees per month, 5,000 of which she contributes to food for her family.

After speaking with Anusha, I learnt that these women are not the exception, and that some weavers have the ability to earn around 25,000 rupees per month as they work on a piece rate. This is truly amazing as this is the first factory/initiative that pays well above the recommend Asian Floor Wage – I was beginning to believe that this was an unobtainable goal that would only serve to frustrate the garment industry. It is great to be proved wrong.

For the rest of the day, Priyanka and I sat on the mezzanine above the workers listening to the cadence of the looms and talking about hand weaving (couldn’t think of a more perfect setting.) She showed me her work from university and after, she is a talented designer and incredibly skilled weaver and it is brilliant to see another young person so passionately committed to the promotion of hand-craft – maybe it isn’t hopeless after all.

I had another opportunity to show my prowess as a weaver and they were even more impressed than previously, all the women gathered around to see how it was done by a true master, only sniggering a little when my shuttle kept flying off the end and crashing to the floor. Sadly there is a very strict rule of absolutely no photos at all, and I could only watch as beautiful women wove beautiful fabrics without documenting their serenity.

We all arrived home happy and content with our days, a lovely contrast to last night. We started to get glammed up and Zoe the resident hair stylist put different kind of plaits in all our hair – looking hot we set off to the Barefoot cafĂ© where they were having a blues evening with Slim and Slimmer. At Barefoot I was able to introduce the girls to Priyanka and they all hit it off. The band were amazing and when the rain stopped (yes, raining in Sri Lanka – how crap) we were able to dance the night away, with only a little hindrance from a strange man who thought the whole world loved his sleazy moves.

Day Two - Melbourne Textile Washing Plant

19th August 2010

I wasn’t really looking forward to today as I wasn’t sure how much more they could show me, my fears were founded as I spent about 5 hours of the day waiting in the meeting room that they had designated as my space, waiting to talk to people who then cancelled on me. Two things I did manage to do today was have a tour around their water treatment plant with the factory engineer – probably fascinating if you understand chemistry – he walked me through every single process and the chemicals used to bind and then neutralize the other chemicals…

In the afternoon I spoke to HR and learnt about their employment practices, probably one of the most impressive factories in this regard. The trainees earn a base salary of 8,500 rupees per month with the opportunity to earn more with overtime and attendance bonus, the most that a more senior person can earn including overtime and incentives is about 17,000 per month. This is well over the average that workers in the garment industry can generally earn. The only thing that worries me about this is that they employ about a thousand workers, only 72 of which are women – so surprise, surprise, the male dominated work place earns well above the minimum wage.

No one had, had a particularly enjoyable or productive day so we all sat about the dinner table and had a little bitch over a vodka tonic – feeling significantly better we sat down to a mind numbing Sandra Bullock film.