Friday, April 25, 2014

Made in Old Kolkata

I'm delighted to see the new leather products arriving online, these are also from Kolkata. Although if you see them in the you will assume they are Spanish or perhaps Moroccan. This is how it happened, I was shopping in that Carrefour supermarket behind Torrelomenous. The sea views from the checkouts are delightful. There are independant shops behind the checkouts, where I spotted a rather nice handcrafted wallet, price 29 euros. I bit expensive but I liked it because it had a nice motif of a lizard on it. I assumed it was local, made in Morocco.. perhaps.
A few weeks later I'm at a trade show in Delhi, and see the self same wallet displayed on a stand. "Where is this made?" I asked slightly surprised to see it, pulling out my wallet to compare. It's actually goat skin, the guy told me and made in Kolkata. After some conversation, I discovered the trader was an agent, therefore we wouldn't be buying direct from the source and would be unlikely to check the production was ethical or not.
Some time later I'm in Kolkata, and have made enquires though our man there; Mr Chatterjee. (see last weeks newsletter). We found a couple of promising companies to see.
The centre of this industry is Old Kolkata. A maze of lanes running between ancient houses, some which would have housed East India Company traders a hundred years ago. Rickshaw men still rush up and down these narrow streets, and behind closed doors a host of handicraft work is going on.
Our chosen man is a dapper chap. He has displayed his work in Milan a few years ago, and has been making designer brand leather bags for a major label. He is also the home of the "Cat Bag" very famous and his biggest selling product. The system here is that the trader will develop designs, often working closely with customers, then finance the orders. The craftwork is mostly done in family co-operatives, with final stitching and packing done in house.
The Italian bags you will find, in high end shops, with "Made in Italy" labels on them. Strikes me that Kolkatta doesn't get much recognition.
We went to see the family cooperative where his goods are mostly made.
This lady was pretty much in charge. She worked with the trader to get the designs right, and then allocated the jobs, showing the artisans exactly how to do it.
This chap does stitching work, on special extra tough sowing machines.

So you can see we are very proud of our collection of leather goods from Kolkata. The craft industry provides for work for thousands of artisans in this area.
Generations of artisans have been producing leather goods here for hundreds of years, support them by checking out the products below.
Of course if you have any ideas for products do let me know.
Also check out our rather posh Stripy (Milan inspired handbags) - notice the label inside proudly says "Made in Old Kolkata"
Take care.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Easter Message and Freedom Project

Easter is a time for bunnies and chocolate and eggs, or even chocolate bunny eggs. So I hope you are not too busy working and retailing and have some time for both chocolate and your family. Without wishing to sound like the vicar - Easter is also a time of renewal and reflection... and chocolate of course.
Speaking of renewal, after landing in Kolkata I scooted over the Hooley bridge up the Ganges a bit to Serampore where our Jute supplier is located. Regular readers will know that it is one of the poorer areas we do business, and that we have tried to help a little by adopting a childrens home there. Mr Chatterjee our supplier has worked as hard on this project as on our export order. Just scanned my emails to see he has sent more correspondence about that than business. Much more.
When he first took me to the childrens home, it was in a sorry state. But I was impressed by the couple who ran the place, they had been given the ramshackle house by a lake as a gift, on condition they look after the area's homeless children. They ran the place on occasional donations from local businesses and people, but only barely. The roof had pretty much collapsed, in the monsoon they couldn't keep anything dry and even though the children looked healthy it looked desperate. The local chief of police told me the guy and his wife have big hearts. When they find abandoned or lost children they take them until they can find the parents, if they can't, then this where they stay. Without this facility, these children could well end up in the begging gangs working the big cities living on the streets.
This is before and after.. now twenty seven children are been cared for here. On the back row, from the left: Babita, the lady who comes to cook every day, Mrs Kundu who is a local school teacher and teacher to the children, her husband Mr Kundu who looks after everything. Then the guy with the badger hair is Mr Chatterjee our supplier and finally the chap who organised and help redecorate and a put a new roof on the buildings. He is called Sailen Das.
All the children go to school everyday, one smart guy is in the top pupil in the school. We went to visit last Sunday evening and arrived to a delighted and excited crowd. We were shown round all the improvements and shown the new roof. Then I had to inspect all the school reports and nod as if I could actually understand Bengali. I asked to see the top pupil and shook his hand. I think he was pleased.
Then it was tea and biscuits time, and I chatted to the family and cook. Then we had to pose for lots of pictures like it was a wedding. Finally we went to the dorm, all the guys sat crossed legged on the beds. Mr Kundu lead everyone in a rousing rendition of the hymn "We are not alone" which brought tears to my eyes. They had been practicing for weeks, and it was pretty darn good to say they are Hindu and don't speak English.
Here are a few more pictures:
Actually they are really happy, and didn't ask me for anything. Mostly the hymn summed it up, they felt happy because quite simply some cared about them.
Still there is a lot to do, the kitchen was far from satisfactory, not even a sink. And washing and toilet facilities are pretty basic. After that we plan to make a small garden / play area by the lake.
Support us by stocking Freedom Fund items.
The real hero's here are Mr Chatterjee, his helper and Mr & Mrs Kundu.
If you give money to a charity, you don't really know what happens how much really gets put to good use. Not that you shouldn't donate (I'm not saying that).. but when we give money to Mr Chatterjee every single rupee is accounted for on a spreadsheet, backed up with a folder of receipts.
They don't really have Easter in Kolkata, but it was just the Bengali New year on the 16th. So if you'd like to send Mr Chatterjee and The Kundu family a New Year greeting you can buy just replying to this email. I'll pass it on.
So that's my Easter.. er Bengali New Year Message. One of renewal and hope.
..and chocolate bunnies of course :)
Now I'm in Delhi.. I'll tell you about it next week.
Have a great Easter
Take care