Cultivating change and correcting large scale issues at the systemic level in the fashion industry is often thought to hold more power and potential to make a real difference in how the fashion system works. While this may be a truth true in its own right, we want to share with you how we’re inspired by our brand Em and Shi and their founder Mansi Bhatia about the qualitative change working differently and more mindfully can bring to a brand’s artisans, people and the environment – making change just as potent at the micro level as at the macro.
What does a fashion revolution mean for you? What are the ways in which it has taken shape through your brand?
For us, the revolution would kind of mean in the smaller steps because, if you talk about things at large or if we really require things to change, they kind of have to change at a much more macro level, such as in terms of regulations and certifications. For us at Em and Shi, what it means is to do the best for everyone. To create our processes in a way where it is the most sustainable, and by sustainable I mean, it’s good for the people who are working for us, it’s good for the people who are gonna be wearing the garment, it’s good for everyone involved at every stage. Often when we try to achieve that sort of perfection in terms of what we’re trying to do. It’s like, if today I was supposed to shut everybody who’s working in fast fashion, we would have so many unemployed people and they would in turn, go somewhere else, you know? So I feel like a revolution kind of has to come from smaller steps. And what we do is to kind of make our processes easier on everybody, including the environment and the people whom we can take care of on our level.
I think I learnt that only because when I started, I came in with this whole revolutionary mindset to “do this and do that.” And what I found is that most of it is not possible because either it would be beyond our means as a growing business or it wouldn’t make sense for the people who are working for you. So when we came in, we kind of wanted this sort of approach where everything is super systematic, but what I’ve realized and found helpful is that we mold our structure according to the people that are working for our brand – to kind of change what we are doing to suit them more.
Does it feel like it has made a difference for your artisans and team, and for the brand?
I believe so, yes, because we still have the same people that started working with us from the beginning. Our pattern making hasn’t changed at all. Not even one of them has left or gone away. The fact that they haven’t felt like they need to step out and look for anything else, or even when they are trying to voice their voice, or if there’s anything that’s not working for our and their system – a few minor things obviously – they come to us and we accommodate that. And we really want to.
Could you share with us an instance where molding your ways of working to suit the needs of the artisans hold an impact on their everyday life, and consequently, beyond?
In the villages and spaces, anywhere where the women are working, their kids are hanging out in that area and they are often playing there too. Sometimes if they feel like blocking a piece of cloth, they are blocking it as well. I can’t stop it. The children are by no means involved in the production process, but rarely if they want to do it for play, I don’t discourage it. At the same time that’s their community. That’s literally the name of their community. They’re “printers”. We too have gotten a little more comfortable with them doing it as a community and not having to hide the fact that their children also hang out at their workplace. This is the reality, and we don’t have to modify it to show a different picture to someone, for the very reason that this is the way they work and people need to understand it. It also helps them to have their children around as there’s no one to take care of or be with them at home, and they are too young to be alone.