I have always believed that fashion should be fun, and that we can have fun with it! I have worked and studied in the fashion industry for 10 years now (since I was 16) and always hated the very serious, often very bitchy and competitive element that came with it. It would really get me down sometimes, and after years of interning and being treated like sh**, I knew something had to change. There also didn't seem to be any consideration for where our clothes came from or who made them. The fashion industry is very flawed in so many ways, and I have seen this first hand. There had to be a fashion revolution.
I love what I do because I can see first hand the positive effects it has on people’s lives and wellbeing. Balulu is a business with a purpose. Being able to give people fair employment, fair pay and good working conditions is our priority. My main interest lies in their happiness. We are very transparent with each other, and always talk through any problems that may stop them from working or be affecting their personal life. If they are feeling unwell we will never ask them to work and everything is done in their time, as long they are happy doing it. Our system works very well this way because we have an understanding and respect for each other. I always come to Varanasi as early as I can so there is always lots of time to put towards the production of Balulu. It is not rushed and no one feels pressured.
Dada, Amit and Dualat work in a very well lit, cool and clean shop space. They mostly work 6 day weeks, excluding holidays, and never more than 48 hours in that week. 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 their lives and see the transformative effect is incredible. They work because they are happy.
The same goes for the Tailoring Project that we have recently teamed up with. India is still very ‘behind the times’ when it comes to women’s rights and equality. We want to invest in these women and make them understand their rights and opportunities in this world. The female literacy rate in India is far less than the male (65.46% compared with 82.14%), and far fewer girls are enrolled into schools than boys. The gender gap is as alarming as ever, particularly in the more rural parts of India. Our work with the women at the Tailoring Project is therefore invaluable and we feel very lucky to be part of something so important for women’s rights in today’s society.
As well as fair and ethical working conditions and fair pay - we are constantly working towards a more sustainable product and causing as little harm to this planet as possible through what we do. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world - so as you can imagine this comes with its difficulties. Every year we learn from our mistakes, and we learn what we need to change certain things, and adapt to make our product and work ethic more environmentally sound.
This year we are working with a lot more linens and raw materials. Linen is made from the earth friendly flax plant and is one of the most biodegradable fabrics in the history of fashion. We are also working with raw silk which is 100% completely natural. The silk threads are made in Bihar by a family run business and weaved here in Varanasi by local weavers.
We repurpose bedsheets bought from local retailers and turn them into our designs. Each and everyone one of our bedsheets is handpicked - and there is often only one or two of each design available making them even more special and unique. Once out of fashion or if they have any imperfections then most of these bed sheets will often get thrown away by bigger companies and end up in landfills. We only buy our bed sheets from local suppliers, who often buy off the bigger companies (due to an imperfection or a new trend coming in). So by giving them a new purpose we are helping to reduce this waste and the negative implications on the environment.
There needs to be an emphasis on quality and craftsmanship to create clothes with longevity. Through extensive testing, fabric searching and discussions with my tailors we are striving to make responsible products that will last. Now is the time we need to be looking towards our environmental contribution, and with less clothing in landfills - the less damaging this will be. We also ask our customers to think carefully about how they dispose of their old clothes. Could you sell them on instead of dumping them in the bin? Could you donate them to a charity or clothes recycling centre? Could you upcycle them and turn them into something completely new?
We believe in a circular economy. Putting them in the bin is too easy - we need to start being more creative and imaginative when it comes keeping products and materials in use, designing out of waste and regenerating natural systems. I know the design process of our garments from the very beginning to finished product. It is very important that I am aware of the full cycle my product has taken, and I encourage you to give it a happy ending.
So what is our purpose?
Our purpose is to create a unique brand of conscious clothing as a statement against mainstream fast fashion. We only work with low impact and natural dyes as well as repurposing bedsheets that would have otherwise ended up in landfill. I personally follow the journey my clothes make - from weaving to making to selling - and believe in reusing existing materials where I can. We believe in economically empowering the lives of the people who work for us, in return for their skills and craftsmanship.