Balulu consists of a very small and close team of workers.
There’s me (Lulu) the founder - head honcho, designer, coordinator, content producer and marketing manager.
From a very young age I have always been obsessed with dressing up and playing with materials. In 2011 I went to Central Saint Martins to do my foundation studies and specialised in Styling for Fashion and Textiles. I was awarded distinction. I then went on to do my BA degree at Falmouth University, studying Fashion Photography.
I want to make fun, playful and comfortable clothes which are accessible to everyone. All of the designs are made from materials which are handpicked by myself, and bought from local suppliers. I design everything in the UK, and get them made up in India by my wonderful tailors - who I have been working closely with now for two and a half years. I only work with natural materials, low impact and natural dyes.
I believe in responsible fashion innovation, but I am aware of the difficulties that come with it and fashion being one of the most polluting industries in the world. I don't in any way want to be part of the problem, but rather part of the solution. I am constantly looking for opportunities to adapt and collaborate, and to design for a healthier future, both socially and environmentally.
Dada - Formerly in the Air Force and looking for a career change, Dada is the owner of the shop where the work takes place as well as Head of Production. He employed the two tailors that work in the shop (Amit & Dualat) because of their incredible skill set and attention to detail. Dada and I also share a lot of responsibility when it comes to the logistical side of things. He will introduce me to fabric suppliers, and together we calculate and devise a fair and equal payment method for all the people involved.
Amit - Lead Tailor. Amit started learning how to sew at the age of 10. Initially he was working under the supervision of his master tailor (whom he was taught by) and later on at the age of 15 he started working on his own. He is a specialist of making full suits, gents style and also ladies garments. He has 17 years of experience working in this field, and has worked for Dada since 2005.
Dualat - Lead Tailor
His own words.
‘I am from a family of tailors. That’s why I came to this shop. Not to earn money but to learn. I have been learning since 1996, when I was 16 years old. I was taught by my father who is a Master Tailor, as well as my grandfather and brother. I wanted to become a tailor during my studies and just to learn the knowledge. I decided this is what I was going to do after finishing school.
I have lived in Varanasi all my life. I knew there was a job going in Dada's shop so I applied for it. I had to make a piece of clothing (as a test), and it must have gone well because I have now been working here for 6 years. There are always different people coming into the shop with different designs and I can also create a design, that is why I like this job. Every time something new is coming. So it is always different and changing. That is my favourite thing about working here. It is not a boring job, there is always something interesting coming. We are always learning.’
Mayank - Local supplier of all our wonderful bedsheets.
Abdul Reham - Supplier and weaver of linens, silks and cottons.
The Tailoring Project
I have recently started a collaboration with an NGO in Varanasi ‘Learn for Life’ and their Tailoring Project. Learn for Life is a non-profit organisation which aims to give a non-formal education to a group of children from a very poor area.
They also recently set up a Tailoring Project for disadvantaged local women. The aim of this is to train up women who wouldn’t be working otherwise, to have the skills that lead them into the world of work and to be economically independent. In Indian traditional society tailoring is considered a 'man's' job, and therefore to acquire professional tailoring skills as a women is truly empowering.
I went to visit the women learning to sew, and the children in the school - and was overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was, and obviously very happy to be there.
I am going to producing a very exclusive range of playsuits, made by these women from the Tailoring Project. I will pay them directly, and this will go towards their annual salary which is set up for everyone involved.
I believe in keeping my fashion label transparent and traceable. I want you to know as much as possible what goes on behind the scenes. Here is a little bit about how I pay my small and wonderful team.
Everyone's wages are set collectively with the team. Dada and his tailors (who have been trained as master tailors) prefer to be paid per piece, as opposed to factory line production. This amount is set by them depending on how long it takes and the complexity of the item.
I pay for the fabrics separately and directly off the local suppliers. I pay 60% upfront, and 40% once all the items have been delivered and checked. This system works for everyone. Not paying it all at once means there is still something to work towards and encourages them to do the job well and in good time.
Everyone involved is paid above the living wage, and ensured safe working conditions, holidays, sickness breaks and days off. They mostly work 6 day weeks, excluding holidays, and never more than 48 hours in that week. If they do have to work overtime they are paid for it.
They take regular breaks and live very close to the shop meaning they can still have lots of time with their families and a life outside work. I feel very lucky to have a partnership with such talented people and to be able to work together to create Balulu.
To be able to economically empower these people and see the transformative effect is incredible. They work because they are happy. There are lots of opportunities to support small businesses in India. I support my tailors and their families by doing what I do. We are a very small knit team, and together create the brand.