Ever wondered who made your clothes?
Chances are, if you are wearing some of VILDNIS' Tencel or organic cotton pieces, it is made by Josef or one of the eleven local women working for him.
While in Portugal visiting our suppliers last week, we passed by Josef, one of the subcontractors that we indirectly work with. As described in our previous blog, many garment factories outsource some of their production to subcontractors to manage peaks and lows in production better. Oftentimes its at this stage retailers lose the overview of their supply chain.
At VILDNIS, while only one of our three manufacturers outsource the production of our garments, part of our mission is to scrutinise our subcontractors as diligently as we would our suppliers.
The list of things we check is long: are there sufficient fire exits and extinguishers, is a first aid kit close at hand, is the lighting good, are electrical wires kept away from the floors, do they have a 'broken needle' policy (in the event of a broken needle, all of the shattered pieces must be collected before fitting a new needle to the machine), is the lowest wage above the living wage, do the workers have access to a lunch room with kitchen facilities, fresh water and lockers for their things.... the checklist goes on.
Josef passes the audit with flying colours. He is very passionate about his business, and obviously cares about his team. There is literally a system for everything, such as cleverly using recycled plastic bottles to store trims in and a big board on the wall with hooks for all the spare sewing machine parts.
The only area that could do with improvement is the ventilation. Josef is planning to install air-conditioning soon, however in meantime the workers are regulating the heat with fans and open windows/doors. We visited Josef on a very hot day with 38 degrees outside, and found the temperature inside to be acceptable, quite pleasant actually, and we left it with a note to check if air-conditioning has been installed next time we visit (personally, we much prefer an environmentally friendly natural breeze).
Sometimes when visiting manufacturers or subcontractors, you come across things that are not ok. For example, during our trip in January, we spotted a table blocking an exit at another factory. Although not a fire exit, the factory was told to move it immediately, and we subsequently checked that it was gone. Every audit we make has the potential to improve the working conditions for the employees, and this is what we are committed to do as a brand. The factory in question is now close to achieving its Sedex accreditation, and we are proud to have helped them in the process.
In this particular case with Josef, everything looks great as usual and before we leave him, we have a chat about meditation. Apart from being a factory-owner, Josef is also a reiki-healer and practises meditation. He offers his employees daily mediation sessions to maintain a positive energy at the factory. It is an approach that helps him navigate through life, as well as solving issues at the factory; and he is passionate about filling his production line with good energy. His philosophy is that it matters what you put into production; good energy will transfer to the people wearing the clothes and they will feel good.
To quote Josef, our garments are "made with love - like grandma's soup"!
And on that note, we find ourselves back on the hot quiet residential street where the sewing facility is based, ready for a nice chilled glass of sparkling Vino Verde...
Captions: Josef and his wife (top), the production line (middle) and the neighbourhood (bottom)