Today began with a visit to Suryavanshi Mills, a polyester fabric production facility. We met with the managers of the factory, who explained that they previously made both cotton and polyester yarn at this location, however 7 years ago they converted to a polyester-only factory because it is more profitable and sustainable.
We were given a tour of the factory, where we saw how polyester begins as fibers and becomes yarn. A lot of different machinery goes in to this extensive process.
The workers of this factory work 8 hour shifts, and the factory is open 24 hours a day. Many of the workers live in hostels located right next to the factory, however the company does provide transportation for workers who live elsewhere.
Considering Hyderabad is not a typical spot for tourists, this factory is rarely toured. The workers were very excited to see us, and some of them even took photos of us on their phones.
The Suryavanshi Mills produce polyester yarn and sell it to companies, typically in India, that take the yarn and create fabrics.
Next, we went to a garment production facility. At this factory, clothing is produced for two American brands: Greg Norman and US Polo Association.
Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed in this factory, so I was only able to take one photo before the tour.
Touring this factory really put into perspective the way we treat clothing in America. The factory buys fabric that is pre-dyed. They then have workers inspect every inch of the fabric for any errors or rips. One of the factory managers boasted that his workers are better at spotting errors than a computer or machine. After the fabric is throughly inspected, it is brought to the cutting room. In this room, 50 sheets of fabric are laid on top of each other at a time, and workers use mechanical saws to cut the fabric by tracing pre-printed patterns.
Garments are then sewn together in an assembly-line style. Today, we saw a mint-colored fabric transform into a Greg Norman basic t-shirt. The first woman on the assembly line sews the label on to the shirt. This is her only task, and as she completes her part of each shirt, she passes it on to the next woman. This process continues as the collar, sleeves, and other details are added to the shirt. After the basic garment is completed, it is passed on to the embroidery room. Finally, it moves on to the finishing steps where it is ironed, tagged, folded, and packaged for shipment.
A factory manager explained to us that the shirt we saw is sold to Greg Norman for $3.60. Greg Norman then sells it for $15.00 in the United States. Workers in this factory follow a schedule that is similar to the workers at the yarn factory; they work 8 hour shifts and the factory runs for 24 hours a day. These workers are not allowed to wear shoes in the facility, as the surrounding areas are so dirty that the managers do not want the workers to drag dirt in with them. They are also not allowed to take bathroom breaks, and money is taken out of their paycheck if they use the restroom during their shift.
We returned to the hotel for lunch, and we had a brief discussion about the factory visits. One topic that came up in discussion is how ethical the working conditions are. This is something I've thought about a lot, as it is an inevitable topic to come across when studying the business of fashion. On one hand, the laborers are working in very dangerous factories, being overworked, and underpaid. The two factories we visited today are actually considered to meet the "standards" that are set for apparel factories, and there are many factories across India and other developing nations that are below standard, so the working conditions in those facilities are even worse. On the other hand, without these factories, it is likely these workers would not have any money or any job at all. So, it is difficult to say whether these jobs are beneficial because they provide an income or negative because they hinder people from the possibility of a better way of life. There really is no solution to this problem, because as hard as it is to see the lives these workers lead, the value of cheap clothing in our markets is too important for consumers to want to make a change.
Later in the day, we went to the Indian Industrial Expo, which was essentially a bazaar filled with clothing and accessories shops! While the bazaar was only a few kilometers away from the hotel, it took some time to get there due to intense traffic and our bus driver getting lost multiple times! But we made it with about a half hour to shop. I finally made my first purchase: a gorgeous multicolor sari for 250 rupees (about $4). I'm hoping I'll get a chance to wear it while I am still in India! The expo was an exciting look into the colorful culture of India!
We headed back to the hotel for our Welcome Dinner, which was hosted by Sathguru. They put on an amazing evening for us, including henna, nail art, dance performances, and delicious food! I had a dosa, a hard pancake-like bread filled with onions, cottage cheese, spices, and potato. Of all the Indian cuisine I've tried thus far, this was definitely my favorite! The Welcome Dinner was such a beautiful surprise; I cannot believe the incredible hospitality that our friends at Sathguru have shown us in these past few days.
Today was a really interesting day. It was actually very unsettling to see the lifestyle of the factory workers, but they were so friendly and excited to see us, which made it hard to imagine their living condition in a negative light.
Tomorrow, we're touring a high-end fashion studio, so I'm really looking forward to that!
-READ NOW: INDIA DAY 5, HYDERABAD-