2020 — Our Year of Change

by - Thursday, December 31, 2020

Stitch work done during lockdown in India.


"Disruptive" is something many entrepreneurs claim to be a good thing. That and "just in time" delivery of orders. "Zero inventory" is also thought to be an advantage for the ambitious businessperson—who can sit like a spider in a web of supply and demand, pulling the threads, maximizing profits and eliminating risks.

We've been handed a generous amount of such well-intentioned advice over the years. Most of it is prefaced as "just common sense." We've been told that switching to production centres instead of working directly with artisans would eliminate our lengthy timelines, and make everything so much easier. We would be able to respond to trends—something that we were often told we needed to do.

We disagreed. We like working with artisans. Perhaps we felt a little selfish for a moment, declining so much free advice, and then we remembered who we were and moved on.

At the end of March 2020 our retail stores were closed. Before that our School of Textiles cancelled all in-person workshops for 2020. This was the most uncertainty we have ever faced as a business. It is now the end of 2020, so here are some of our thoughts on disruption.

The many artisan groups we work with are doing well considering the extent of the crisis. We have been in regular contact with all of them, and, not surprisingly considering the forced isolation, some are very talkative. It often surprises them to learn that we also have lockdowns and isolation, and restrictions. This is a world wide event.

Our business relationship with artisans has always been a long-term one. For over thirty years we have encouraged artisans to always look to the future; always be prepared for disruptions in the supply chain. Cost your work appropriately and beware of orders where you as the artisan take on financial liability on behalf of a client. Orders that seem too good to be true almost always are.

This has meant that, unlike many of the migrant day-labourers in India, most of the artisans we work with have resources and a bit of a cushion between themselves and hardship. But it is not true for all of them. In many areas transportation gets shut down completely, so travelling to work is out of the question. Trade fairs and shows are gone. Rents and back payments for materials are still due. Food costs money. And there is always the uncertainty of the future. What if orders are cancelled and there are no new orders? Debt can quickly force many of the smaller artisans out of craft and into day labour. But then, with restrictions, what if there is no day labour?

We have kept up our orders and placed ambitious new ones. In our frequent discussions with many artisan groups we have heard one reassuring statement again and again. "If we have good orders we have no need of financial assistance. It would be wrong for us to take it."

There are, of course, artisans who do need support and we are proud to be able to provide it - but that is a story we will tell in a separate post.

Everything is connected. Our long timelines have given us enough stock to weather all the delays and cancellations that took place in 2020—and there were many. But also, our orders to artisans were made possible by support and enthusiasm from our community. We could not have weathered 2020 without so much support. We are writing this to tell you how grateful we are.

The global pandemic of 2020 has tested many of our core beliefs. In so many ways it has only strengthened the way we think. We've seen enough disruption for one year. Risks are necessary so it is important to take them for reasons that you understand. We understand thread and cloth and weaving and dyeing and block printing. We understand the artisans who have mastered these techniques. We understand these techniques ourselves and are trying our best to share them through online workshops and many free lessons. We believe in these things. Deeply. Clearly. And we want them to continue into the future.

We are privileged to be able to continue our work in 2021. We wish everyone health and happiness in the coming year.


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