Archive | June, 2014

Manufacturing fair trade organic clothing overseas & over email. Imagine it if you will…

this is not a photo about how I do business

this is not a photo about how I do business

 

There are a number of serious benefits to local manufacturing of clothing. Benefits that include supporting local industry, businesses and people, greater control over the finished product and communication that flows like a babbling brook in the sunshine. However, at muka kids one of our central missions is to support women (and men) in the cotton growing and garment making industry in developing countries and give them the opportunity to do work that does not trap them into a cycle of working poverty. So local manufacturing was never really part of the story we want to tell about kids clothing production, though we love others that do, and hope they too see that overseas manufacture in developing countries can be a positive thing if it is done with improving people’s lives at the heart of it.

Most large scale clothing manufacturers in NZ have their garments made overseas, but for a totally different reason: low cost. It is A LOT cheaper, and while this blog is not about of the ethics of that, it is pretty clear why that is, cost of production and wages are seriously lower over there. If a business model & brand is built around a certain margin, return to investors and that can no longer be achieved by manufacture in higher wage economies then for most companies they head off shore. Certified sustainable (I am talking fair trade and organic cotton) garments are actually still cheaper when made in developing countries, but are more expensive that non certified clothing by anywhere from a factor of 4 to 10 (depending on the number of garments you are having made – the more you order the cheaper things get generally). However, what remains the same is some of the challenges of communicating technical requirements…

So the thing about me is I am an amateur sewer and I have in my time whipped up a few skirts and dresses and pants for the kids (which always get the total kiss of death from the recipients). I can read a pattern, know some technical terms, know about different seams and fabrics etc etc. Where this has been helpful in this manufacturing process I have found is um not at all. It is a whole world of jargon, assumptions and technical details. Learning a whole new set of new terms and how things work while having no face to face interaction with the people on the ground has proved, well lets just say challenging (and requiring of a few more vodka based cocktails than I would normally partake in).

Some of the challenges I have run into include:

▪         Dealing with one production manager for a few months then getting total radio silence for 6 weeks and after sending a series of increasingly more desperate and less polite (to be honest a little rude) emails find out said person has left the company. This has happened twice in fact and probably reflects both cultural differences and the transient and seasonal nature of the clothing production industry.

▪         Having to have a back and forth email conversation across time zones which lasted not less than a week , to figure out the meaning of one manufacturing abbreviation (and to be honest I am still not entirely sure what it means so I just fake it now). Thought to be honest this is not that different from academia when I think about it.

▪         Having my emails bounce back or simply go unanswered because everyone uses gmail (even large scale manufacturing operations) as their work based email, which can seem unprofessional and a little odd to us here. India, I found when I was there, has a really kind of survivalist attitude to everyday technology – you use what you can, where you can, for as long as it works and then you adapt.

So nothing really major, as I have heard of some serious production malfunctions happening with overseas suppliers, but as it is only at costing and sampling stage, I anticipate that communication may in fact get more not less complicated. Many clothing companies have production managers that spend a significant amount of time at the production facilities during each production run to ensure that communication is at its optimum best (for me right now though it is not an option).

But if anything, what this says to me is that learning perseverance, learning how different cultures approach work and industry, and how to stay calm in the face of difficult miscommunications and always building in a LARGE buffer, is just part of the fun and games of working with overseas suppliers. Reminding myself that there are real people at the end of this chain who will benefit from more businesses like mine engaging with certified fair trade and organic cotton production facilities also helps ease the pain. Next steps will be for me to visit and get a real handle on what everyday work life actually looks like and see first hand the stories of the people involved.

So I cross my fingers, hope for the best, expect a series of monty python type communications and events (and perhaps even do a few seriously silly walks myself when it all gets too much) and try not to move the vodka bottle any closer to the home desk….

The Quiet and Important Art of Navel Gazing

 

mr mouse I love you

mr mouse I love you

I think infrequently (probably it should be more frequently) about the luck of being born here, into freedom, and a culture that celebrates diversity and art and expression, and everything that offers my children. If offers more than just the very obvious – an appreciation of art and culture – it offers a more nebulous appreciation of there being other experiences, other ways to see the world, and certainly other realities than their own. All of which I hope builds people concerned about and interested in the experiences of others, which to my mind is a valuable commodity in a world facing a lot of serious challenges that require some significant actions.

So this is a wee ode to the lovely collision of art and children. This weekend we spent a small amount of time (children seriously have SUCH short attention spans) at the City Gallery in Wellington. Downstairs was a fantastically interactive series of installations by Seung Yul Oh, which was full of children having fun and grown-ups having fun, and children and grown-ups having fun watching each other have fun.

And behold upstairs was an entire selection of wonderful, quirky and thought provoking children’s books published by gecko press, oh and some bean bags.

So if you are in Wellington any time in the next month or so, kids or no, step into a bit a joy and appreciate if you can, your wee bit of luck and what art and culture can do for us all.

20140622_2448

birds

 

a quiet moment immersed

a quiet moment immersed

 

light and movement

light and movement

The Tortoise NOT the Hare

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animal dreams

This is a story that has animal references. To be truthful I am not entirely sure why, but perhaps in life there is not many a situation that cannot be understood through an animal analogy. Also it may be because at present in our house there seems to be a fixation on the animal world (namely those we eat).

Mum?

Yes?

Is this chicken?

Indeed it is.

How did the chicken die? Did someone shoot it in the head with a bow and arrow?’

Que hysterical laughter as I picture a chicken farmer trying desperately to cull free range chickens (yep that is how we roll in our house free range cluckers) via a feathered arrow to its teeny weeny chicken head. Perhaps it was not so much funny  (it was 5.30pm on a midweek night after a day struggling with ‘the balance’ -you know the work/life/money/ home/new business one), as it was just that I had gone a bit loopy.

But hey ho this is not a story about a Gary Larson cartoon, rather it is about pacing myself in the world of start-ups.

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How Many Kid’s Clothes Are Too Many? A Photo Blog

A big part of what drives me forward with muka kids is trying to address in a meaningful but positive way the impact that our clothing use has on the environment. I was kind of surprised when I looked into it in an earlier blog how much a family’s annual clothing allocation contributes to CO2 emissions, water use and landfill: it is 1.5 tonnes of CO2, 200 cubic meters of water and 70kg of waste per year….that is a lot for something that seems as benign as clothing.

So in developing the model of business for muka kids I was pretty focussed on how we could keep clothes in use for longer, and reduce the amount we produce and buy. What occurred to me while I was thinking about this was that my own kids seem to have quite a lot of clothes (many of them used, ‘gifted’, passed on etc). Yet they only seem to wear a few, and these are either

1) their favourite and kind of foul/torn/too small items or

2) really good quality clothes that are well designed, attractive and fit for purpose that can be worn and washed multiple times in a week (did I hear someone say laundry drudgeon?).

So then I wondered how many of those ‘other’ clothes do they actually have? I had a sneaking suspicion it was a lot because there is a looming and terrifying presence in our attic space that I try not to dwell upon too often…

Once I started counting I was a little alarmed (and even a little embarrassed).

Here are the results of my little challenge. What it really brought into focus was being smarter about my kid’s clothing. While I thought I was saving money by buying or obtaining a greater number of cheaper (and often poorer quality) or badly designed new and used clothes, in reality the total spend is a lot more with this approach than if I just restricted my buying to key, quality, really usable (new or used) items – which pretty much turns out to be what gets worn by the kids mainly.

So I dare you to undertake a similar exercise next time you are doing a dreaded ‘sort through’!  It will probably surprise you.

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Being Boys

I was reflecting recently on our focus on girls in the good work to make a more equal and fair society. I am a parent of two girls. Naturally, as a woman, as a feminist, as a person passionate about social justice I want them to grow up in a world where their choices are never limited, their views respected, and the focus of attention is on the things that actually matter, as opposed to the things that really don’t but which creep into our psyche as women (yes I am talking the size of our thighs/nose/tummy insert body part here).

I follow a lot of really fantastic blogs, pages, people who talk about the stuff that really matters for girls. Supporting them as scientists, as learners, as explorers, as individuals. Teaching them and encouraging them in the real truth that there really is not a difference between a boy and girl in the fundamental stuff of life.

In our home we have a little saying  ‘Who would want to be a princess? All they do is hang out in castles and have babies’. This is not so much to denigrate those princesses across the world who I am sure live fulfilling and empowering lives (cough cough) but to emphasize to our daughters that as something to aspire to it is kind of dull; life is exciting and full of possibility, sometimes it does not always work out, but limiting yourself before the first hurdle because culture tells you to focus your aspirations low seems particularly depressing.

So far, so much sense, but why have I called this blog ‘being boys?’

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Losing Friends and Influencing No-One (or how not to alienate your actual friends through social media business overload)

BFF

BFF

A really good friend of mine gave me this card one birthday. I laughed and laughed because I am the kind of person that finds it hard to believe that anyone could ever possibly have 500 plus friends (I am not sure I have even talked to 500 people on any sort of meaningful level during my entire lifetime).

In fact my social media friend number remains firmly below 100 and I am kind of ok with that. Basically I have told myself (ok it was a little firmly and had a tone) that I don’t really need to measure my self worth by the number of people that can see my kind of odd updates (usually about some totally bizarre interaction with my children where somehow I end up put in a rubbish bin or other such retribution that in a four year olds mind is pretty awesomely bad).

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