Earlier this year, I embarked on a sourcing trip to India, my first trip to this remarkable country. The sights, the smells, the tastes...but I get ahead of myself. In this blog post, as many of my friends and customers often ask about my journey, I wanted to share my experience of India and my first sourcing trip for Laloom.
Beauty in the chaos
I set off on my big adventure to Delhi, feeling as you can imagine, a little nervous and apprehensive. It, being my first time to travel here, was a bit daunting. Most of the stories I've heard of India were in a negative light - be careful what you eat and drink, don't travel alone, etc. All good advice but what I wasn't told (or warned about) was how wonderful it would be and that I'd want to come back again!
Landing in Delhi wasn't exactly smooth sailing. Being as nervous as I was, I ended up lining up in the wrong queue several times until overhearing an airport staff member calling for 'e-visa holders' to queue in the last row. Honestly, I was already feeling a bit out of my element! But I didn't let it ruffle me too much and continued on to find a taxi once I'd cleared arrivals.
Stepping out, I realised the chaos of India was exactly as described. People everywhere and cars of every description making their way through, there was a lot of yelling and honking, but in the chaos of it all, was a sort of order, and I would soon grow to love this hustle and bustle.
I purchased a pre-paid taxi voucher and hopped into a "taxi". It was unlike any taxi I had ever been in before and looked like what I imagine to being a 1960s vintage car with old-fashioned roof racks on top. I was charmed as soon as I saw it. The driver put my luggage atop, making sure it was secure with rope (noting my incredulous look) and assured me it would not fall down, and off we went.
As we drove along, I began to realise the driver had absolutely no idea where my hotel was located even after I had given him the address. I was beginning to panic. But soon enough, he phoned the hotel and they gave him directions. I've since learned, that phoning ahead for directions is common practice in India.
The first couple of days in Delhi involved hour after hour of meticulously sorting through fabric rolls (roll after roll of fabrics) to find the fabrics I'd been dreaming of to complete Laloom's current collection. I spent no less than six hours in each fabric store and took a ton of photographs of possible print selections. With my head already spinning, I then spent the next three days at the International Garment Fair January 2017, where manufacturers show samples of their new season stock.
As you would travelling anywhere new, I needed local currency. I found with the help of some friendly locals, a tiny little currency exchange place and I headed in to get some Indian Rupees. I admit it was the dodgiest little place I've ever been in to and I was certain trouble was to follow. But, thankfully it was all good and they were in fact, a proper currency exchange shop. There were four men working in the shop and it took all four to help me change my money. At first, they said my visa was not valid and that I should already have left the country. I calmly and slowly explained that my visa actually said that I could not arrive before a certain date and that I could stay for no longer than 30 days. They only saw the date as the 13th of January and believed that was the date I needed to have left India by, where in fact this was the date I entered India. After signing several documents, a couple of calls later, it was all cleared through and I had my Indian Rupees.
We had a lively conversation about Australia, which of course was started when they asked where I was from. The men were adamant that New Zealand was in Australia, and after a bit of debate, Google finally settled it and sure enough, they saw that in fact, New Zealand was a country of its own. It was very funny and I enjoyed the conversation very much.
Another side of India
After all initial business activities, I decided to take a day off and do something a bit touristy. So I went to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal. What a fantastic experience. As we drove along the highway, I attempted to see what I could of the surrounding country, villages, and farms. However, it was a very foggy and smoggy morning and I was limited to what I could see, impossible to see further than 50 metres.
My driver was a wonderful man and kept me enthralled with tales of his family and the village he grew up in. We also talked about Delhi, The Taj Mahal, farms and farming crops in the area, and of course, Australia. He was a very informative driver and with a bubbly personality. I learned about his background and found he has a degree in English literature but decided to buy a taxi as he didn't want to work for others. He was very happy to be making enough money to feed and house his family, and that was all he wanted. I was touched by his humility and family values.
Agra is a busy little town with a lot of tourists. I was surprised to see that many of these tourists were Indian, with only a few Caucasians amongst them. The Taj Mahal is just as magnificent as others describe and I was engrossed with its story. The building is made of white marble and is inset with beautiful stones (real gems, not coloured glass). It was built in the 1600s and cost 32 million Indian Rupees to complete!
They are currently in the process of cleaning the outside of the building. To do this, they are coating it with a mud pack and then washing it off by hand with filtered water. They have finished all the surrounding towers, and it looks great, you can really notice the difference. At the moment they're working on the back of the building, so good thing the front wasn't obscured with scaffolding and mud.
Back to Sourcing
The remainder of my time was spent meeting manufacturers, visiting their factories, talking to their friendly staff and basically being treated like a queen the whole time. Every factory I visited I was greeted like I was the most important person in the world. Lovely spreads of fruits, nuts, cake, biscuits, juices, water and tea awaited me wherever I went. I was also given a gorgeous bunch of flowers with sparkles all over them. I was overwhelmed and to be honest, a little embarrassed.
I selected the manufacturer I wanted to work with. His name is Raj and he owns the factory with his cousin, Bharat. Raj means prince in Hindi and Bharat means India. I named them the Prince and Mr India (as in Mr India muscle man). They both seemed to really like their nicknames. It was then time to get down to business. I made more trips to the fabric stores, selected the fabrics I wanted to work with and the amount I would need. Then more meetings with my manufacturer to discuss the ins and outs of the Laloom kaftans. Finally, we had it all sorted.
When I first planned my trip, I thought 2 weeks was a very long time, and that I'd spend most of it twiddling my thumbs with plenty of time to spare. How far from the reality was I! In fact, I would have enjoyed a couple more days, as I was rushing the whole time and now realise that things don't move very quickly in India, but it sure keeps you busy! Next year, I plan to go longer as there are plenty of places and things to do in Delhi alone that I'd love to visit.
Once you look past the obvious dirt, rubble, smog and the sad and confronting poverty, there is a beautiful country with a colourful culture, rich history, and a resilient people with so much kindness, humour and humility to truly inspire you, like it did me.
Senses of India
I loved the food (I didn't get sick at all and have to say am a little proud of myself that I didn't). I loved the people. I absolutely loved the crazy chaos that is India - there is no such thing as 'personal space' in India. I loved the continuous honking of horns on the roads and the diversity of what travelled on said roads. From your 'usual' vehicles like trucks, buses, cars, motorbikes and bicycles to more 'unusual' vehicles like rickshaws to even more unexpected road-goers like people and cows. Everyone flock together here. To cross the road is an achievement all its own.
Whilst in Delhi, I travelled by taxi, auto rickshaw and also on the metro. The metro is so cheap and is a very good service. The first time I travelled on it, I jumped onto a carriage that looked like there may be room for only one more person. the next time I travelled on the metro, a lovely lady told me there is actually one carriage on each train for ladies only and it is against the law for male passengers to travel in that carriage. From then on, I travelled in that carriage.
My favourite way to travel was the auto rickshaw. They are so much fun and like everything in Delhi, I experienced good drivers and some really crazy drivers that had me holding on for dear life! Already in the first couple of days, I was involved in two car accidents, nothing major, just scrapes, and I was surprised they were the only two I had the entire trip.
They are very helpful and friendly people. If I had a question, there were always many people to help and everyone within earshot wanted to be a part of answering my questions. When in a cafe, not only were the staff helping me with selections, but so were the customers!
Ending the journey... for now
All I can say to sum it up is this - I absolutely loved every moment spent in Delhi and am very much looking forward to going back again! I would recommend everyone to go there with an open mind and an open heart for there is much to celebrate in this beautiful country. As I mentioned earlier you need to look past the initial culture shock and some of the "horrors" that present themselves in India. The Indian people are very aware of their problems and are all very concerned about fixing their problems.