Last week I was telling you about the Bol Bam, the bare foot pilgrimage from the banks of the Ganges in India... And other madness. You can read it here.
Right now I'm back in the UK, briefly. They are swamped with work. So much new stock and cracking offers (see below) things are really buzzing.. talking about swamps. Continuing my tale of my trip to Kolkata.
Afterwards a couple of days at the jute bag factory doing product development and some creative brainstorming, I asked my host if it would be possible to go and see an actual jute farm. Maybe meet a farmer, especially since this time of year is a harvest period. Our jute craft supplier (check out our ultraeco-friendly jute bags, baskets and stuff) was more enthusiastic than I expected. Turns out that his factory managers, had never met a jute farmer either. So we end up with hunting party, off to the jute farming area.
Skip to the deals below if I’m boring you, but the history of jute (to me at least is fascinating). Originally woven jute was used for sacks and the backing for carpets. It was made in (dark satanic) mills in and around Dundee in Scotland, the raw jute shipped from colonial India. Scottish industrialists developed the trade, then one day some guy had the bright idea of shipping British weaving machines to India.. And in the usual pattern the industrial production was shipped to a cheaper cost base. The Indian mills were (and still are) magnificent and huge, perhaps the first mega factories. I have been round one and seen equipment made in Birmingham in 1820 still in daily use.
At independence (65 years ago) the mills were taken over by Indian interests and formed the basis of the biggest dynastic Indian companies of today. They were serious big business, and the money flowed in the Ganges basin. Then in the seventies synthetic backing for carpets was found, and non-woven sacks replaced jute. The industry and the whole area went into serious decline.
The jute farmers are also rice farmers, alternating crops. It’s a hard life, but there is no doubt that jute is a more lucrative crop. Recent years have seen the condemning of the plastic bag, and the green movement. Jute bags not only replace plastic and can be used over again, but jute crops assimilate vast amounts of carbon, more per acre than rain forest. So jute is a green win-win. Add to this craft and gift uses and you have a real possibility of growth in this impoverished area.
An hours drive into the farming area and we started to spot the 100kg jute bicycles. The raw jute trader only buy 100kg lots, and the farmer generally loads his bike and takes it to the local trader, who, when he has a truck load takes it to the mill.
We found this guy pulling out on to the road and asked him if we could interview him. He told us he would get 2500 rupees, about £28 for his bike load. Which in here in India is good money, where menial work pays £2 a day. Would he show us his farm - he was on the way to the market, but another guy came over and said he would be happy to show us.
I knew that the jute stalks have to soak in ponds for twenty days or so to make the fibres swell, but I hadn't realised that the golden jute fibre is stripped from the sticks actually in the water. We asked our man if he could show us how it was done, he was delighted to show us, and without more ado stripped naked, changed to some other swamp-ware, slipped into the pond and started work. Here is my film.
This little guy was the farmers friend. Lovely chap he shook my hand and told me that he had seen one western guy like me, just once before. My goodness I thought a what connected / disconnected world we live in. Pick up that jute bag in your shop, feel the fibre and think what a different world it came from. When you sell that bag to your customer you are an essential part of the chain that brings much needed prosperity to very poor part of the world.
So when you stock and sell jute products.. Now you have a tale to tell your customers.
That’s why I love this business. Your comments please.
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