This past month we have done a lot of work searching for fabric, which is not an easy task in Nepal. There is very little domestic textile manufacturing and most imported material fairly low quality, intended for small scale local tailors. Given that Nepal is the second poorest nation in Asia, for Nepali buyers, price is usually the biggest factor in purchase decisions; quality is a distant second and sustainability usually is not considered.
So we brave the crazy traffic and crowded markets in search of good quality options here in Kathmandu. We also travel to India to look for cost effective ways to import high quality and sustainable material.
At PURNAA, we want to produce beautiful products, that last a long time, and are made of sustainable materials. We believe that to create a great quality, sustainable garment, we need to start by taking care of the people making it. There were riots among garment sewers recently in Bangladesh, where workers were protesting the $38 per month pay. Not many people will choose to care very much about quality or the environment when they don’t make enough money to take care of their family.
A friend recently said to me, “When you find something really cheap back home in America, somebody paid for that.” We’re learning that this is absolutely true in the garment industry. Sometimes we stumble upon great deals in the jungles of the Asian fabric markets, but we often ask ourselves, “What is the true cost? Who or what got short-changed so the price could be this low?” Was it the cotton farmers who received unfair prices at market, was it the environment that suffered under cheap but destructive farming practices, was it the workers in textile mills losing their hearing from the loud machines as they sweat in a building with no windows, a dirt floor, and tin roof for lousy pay, or maybe it was the local water supply polluted by unsafe dying practices.
We are only one step in the long production process of the garments you wear. For now, we’ll keep tackling the crazy markets of South Asia to explore new ways to source sustainable fabrics at fair prices. But we hope that in treating our employees fairly and with dignity, we can inspire others in the supply chain to do the same. And when there is a hopeful future for the lives of textile and garment workers throughout this process, we believe the environmental sustainability will follow.