Swas, Made & Kadek Ari
The beauty of growing Theo means we can slowly increase the number of garments we produce by working with more independent makers. Meet Swastika (Swas) and his wife Made Suwantari. They operate from their own home business and have two children, Putu Krishna in grade 5 and Kadek Intan in grade 2. Another seamstress Kadek Ari used to work with them in their home but since having her own family has a 'working from home' agreement allowing her to care for her children and still take on work from Swas.
When I first heard that there was another seamstress involved I saw red flags! It's commonplace for factories or even independent makers to outsource work to other makers without brands knowing and this is such a slippery slope for supply chains. It is done firstly because factories/makers cannot afford to lose clients and would rather bite off more than they can chew and deal with the 'how' later, and secondly, because brands exert an unbalanced power over factories and instead of negotiating fair payments and time frames for the work, will shop around until they find the 'cheapest' and the 'fastest' option - commonly referred to as 'the race to the bottom'. Unfortunately, thirdly, as customers our thirst for 'newer, faster, better!' is contributing to this demand, which is why slowing down is the best idea I can recommend to anyone looking to begin consciously consuming!
So what's so bad about outsourcing? Outsourcing is not bad in itself. Theo outsources sewing work to independent makers afterall! Outsourcing becomes shady when parties don't take responsibility for every step along the supply chain and the reasonable resources required to successfully carry them out. Outsourcing gets messy when middle-men are involved and codes of conduct no longer apply. Outsourcing gets downright disgusting when brands don't care who are making their clothes as long as completed by the date they set at the price they dictated, and things like child labour and unpaid overtime are someone elses problems.
Now you can understand why I panicked when I heard Swas had outsourced some of Theo's work to Kadek Ari, a maker I had never met! Thankfully, my production manager is a judge of good character and Swas is a maker I can trust (and you'll see why!). He explained to me that Kadek Ari used to come to his home and work for him and she was a really great employee. After she had a child however, she was no longer able to come to his home and work because well, #mumlife and she also lived 4 hours away in a rural village. Unfortunately, not long after having her child Kadek became a single mum. All of a sudden she needed an income but also couldn't leave her child. Things like childcare and income support are basically non-existant in developing countries so she simply didn't have any options.
Enter Swas! He willingly bought Kadek Ari several sewing machines (a substantial investment she was not able to attain herself) to keep at her rural home and he would employ her as a seamstress to work from home! Swas even figured out a logistical system that involves his neighbour (who regularly makes trips to a village near Kadek Ari for food supplies) to take garment bundles to her, and pick up the completed garments to bring back to him. He also casually mentioned that he will still pay her when the work is slow and he isn't that busy, so the man has a solid grasp on what worker's entitlements look like even without the Indonesian law enforcing it! I breathed such a sigh of relief (and possibly teared up) while Swas told me all this. Swas is a maker I can trust.
I look forward to visiting Kadek Ari as soon as possible and reasonably so. Sometimes I forget that I ask a lot from my makers - to visit them in their home, to interview them about their lives and to take photos of them to post them online for all to see, so it's not always respectful to demand so much from them, especially in the beginning. I have to remember that I'm telling their personal stories, coming into their personal spaces and sharing their lives with the world, so I'm incredibly thankful for their willingness to go along with it for the sake of encouraging a more honest and empowering industry.