Hello, and welcome (or welcome back) to the Maison Mikumo blog!
I'm so excited to share all about our recent trip to India, where we toured a handful of ethical clothing manufacturers in search of our next production partner.
India Factory Tours
India has a rich history of textile production and is one of the biggest textiles exporters in the world, so I was excited to explore what the country had to offer compared to the US, where the manufacturing sector is much smaller.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to tour a total of four different factories, each with its own constellation of certifications and approaches to ethical and sustainable manufacturing. It was so interesting to see the differences, not only between these Indian factories and the ones I had seen and worked with in New York, but also amongst each individual factory in India.
As part of our deep commitment to transparency, I have decided to disclose the names and locations of each factory I visited. Since I am freely sharing such valuable insider info that was very expensive and time-consuming for me to obtain, all I ask is that the below information is used in good faith, and that if you find the below info useful, especially if you're a brand owner or designer, please share this blog post or show your support for us on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok! Most businesspeople wouldn't share this kind of detailed info, as it can be considered trade secrets, but I hope that by sharing, I can help demystify the fashion industry and further educate on sustainable & ethical manufacturing.
Factory 1 - Shahi Exports
The first manufacturer I visited was Shahi Exports, founded in 1974, the largest apparel manufacturer in India with a network of factories spread across the nation. The location I visited was in Bengaluru, simply because it was the closest to the other manufacturers I was planning to tour.
Upon our arrival for the tour, we were greeted by many people with flowers and a display of candles, which we lit as part of their tradition to welcome visitors - a pleasant and fun surprise!
The first thing that struck me upon entering their factory was the sheer size of it - coming from a background of manufacturing in NYC, where property is tight and exorbitantly expensive, I was awestruck by the vast amounts of open space they had. Their administrative offices section alone was probably comparable to the size of an entire factory floor in Brooklyn.
Of all factories we visited, this one seemed the most efficient and well-equipped, which makes sense due to their dominance in the industry. Rows of sewists sit in what is called a 'line system', where multiple people work on different stages of the same garment in an assembly-like fashion. Monitors hanging from the ceiling and embedded into worktables display real-tme production output and quality control data. Each 'line' has multiple quality control stations, where any defects are pinpointed and addressed immediately, resulting in a very low overall defect rate of under 1%, an impressive feat for a manufacturer of Shahi's size. When looking at the factory floor in action, you get the impression of a well-oiled machine.
@maisonmikumo Behind the scenes at India’s largest garment exporter, founded in 1974, which is spread across several factory sites throughout the nation. This is what a Sedex certified ethical facility looks like! Their factories also use renewable and carbon-neutral energy sources and recycle their water, vastly reducing their water consumption. This is not our own factory, just one that we toured, but I thought it was so cool to see how India’s largest garment exporter operates. Since we’re a slow fashion business focused more on boutique production, we’ll be working with smaller factories than this one, but I thought I’d share anyways, since they’re probably responsible for quite a few pieces of clothing that you’ve come across in your life! Get to know #whomadeyourclothes New blog post with details about the 4 factories we visited will be coming out tomorrow on our website in the “journal” section 📖 🏷️ #behindthescenes #ethicalmanufacturing #ethicalfashion #ethicalbrand #sustainablefashion #slowfashion #independentfashiondesigner ♬ Peace - Official Sound Studio
Shahi boasts an array of certifications for both ethical labor compliance and sustainable materials usage, the most well-known of which are Sedex (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard). You can see all of their certifications here. On top of the basics of ethical labor (fair wages, benefits and healthcare, no forced/child labor, etc), they also provide soft skills training to their female employees, provide on-site childcare, and engage in corporate social responsibility projects in the communities around each of their factories.
By the way, if you're having any trouble keeping up with what all of these certifications mean, I recommend checking out this blog post that covers and explains some of the common ones!One benefit of being such a large company is the amount of reporting and assessment they are able to conduct, allowing them to demonstrate and track sustainability efforts over time. Their Verified Higgs FEM score, which rates the sustainability of the manufacturing facilities themselves, is 75.8%, which is 32% higher than the global average (with 100% being a perfect score) and getting higher each year, as they pursue 100% renewable electricity by 2026 (they're currently 68% of the way there) and increase their water recycling.
Although Shahi is a very large company that typically works with big, well-known global brands that would be familiar to any American mall-goer, they said they were willing to work in smaller quantities for an independent artist as long as there was consistency in scheduling orders, which was awesome to hear. Not going to lie though, I was definitely a bit intimidated by the scale of this company! With our current order sizes of 50-150units per style, I felt slightly out of place visiting such a titan of industry, but I still learned so much and gained a newfound appreciation for large-scale manufacturing done right.
Perhaps one day in the future, we can work with Shahi if we can reach an order volume closer to 300 units per style (which is the limit to still be considered "small batch manufacturing"), a higher number of styles per collection, and more consistently timed collection releases. But right now, we're simply too baby 🐣
Factory 2 - Suvastra
Immediately after our Shahi tour, we headed to see the second factory, Suvastra, which was founded in 2010. Unfortunately, due to Bengaluru's notoriously bad traffic, we got to Suvastra a bit late, when some of the factory workers had already gone home. However, I was still able to see some employees in action and felt like I still got a strong impression of the company's vibe and culture. They had what felt to be the most passionate and genuine commitment to environmental and social welfare (on top of being Sedex certified, they're also a part of Fairtrade and Fair Wear) that went beyond good business practices and more into life philosophy.
Compared to Shahi, their factory was much smaller, as it is a repurposed building of some kind in the heart of the city, but by New York standards, it was still pretty big! This smaller space is well-suited to them anyways, as they focus more on quality over quantity, taking great pride in the skill level of each individual sewist and working with more "premium" brands rather than mass-market ones.
Something I found especially intriguing about Suvastra was their strong Japanese influence. Their factory's production system was actually established by a team of Japanese technicians, and 80% of their machinery is imported from Japan, including their large-format embroidery machine. Following Japanese management philosophy, they use a unit production system in which an overhead transporter belt moves garments-in-progress from workstation to workstation rather than relying on manual "bundling," which is more common.
Suvastra's overhead unit production system
Additionally, Suvastra also has its own private label that sells womenswear apparel and accessories only in Japan, so they also have an understanding of the Japanese market. Since Maison Mikumo is a brand with J-fashion roots, this is obviously a big plus! Who would have thought that you could get Japanese production quality in India?
All in all, I'm very excited about the prospect of potentially working with Suvastra. We are currently sampling some styles with them to get a feel for how they work and getting quotes in order to assess our next steps with them. If all goes well, we plan to submit a test order with them.
Factory 3 - Prabhanjan Industries
Our visit to the next manufacturer on our list was something of a expedition - we had to drive 5-6 hours from Bengaluru to get to Prabhanjan, which is located in the "rural" town of Bankapura. I write "rural" in quotation marks, because what Indians describe as rural is quite different from what Americans would consider rural! It's basically just a smaller city. When I made this remark to an Indian colleague, he told me that what Americans consider rural, like the countryside, is what Indians would call "villages."
Prabhanjan is a relatively new player in the garment manufacturing industry. Although the company itself was founded in 2018, this particular location was opened only a few months ago, making it ✨sparkling new✨. The company was created with the purpose of increasing employment in rural areas, where there are disproportionately few job opportunities compared to the population size.
Employment at Prabhanjan is highly accessible - almost anyone can work there if they want to. The company provides complete training (no prior experience needed), transportation to and from the factory, an on-site canteen, and on-site childcare services. Furthermore, they invest in the local communities by building public toilets and libraries and funding the renovation of public classrooms. And, of course, they are also Sedex and Inditex certified, so you know they are complying to ethical labor standards.
As Prabhanjan's factories are located in rural areas where land is plentiful and cheap, their factories enjoy expansive square footage. Moreover, it goes without saying that the overall production costs at Prabhanjan are also lower than that of the other factories we visited, as living wages in rural areas will always be lower than those in big cities. Like Shahi, they have the space and capability for large-scale manufacturing, which is reflected in the kind of clientele they typically serve, but said that they were willing to work in smaller quantities as well. In both cases, I felt like an exception was being made - which on the one hand is great, but on the other hand, gives a sense of pressure and expectation to grow my brand beyond what I might feel comfortable with, as a slow fashion designer.
However, my main concern, aside from the scale, is how new this factory is. Given that this factory is only a few months old and many of their workers have no prior experience, receiving training in an average timeframe of two weeks before starting to work, I felt that, at least in this point in time, they might be better suited to garments with more simple/common constructions, like button-up shirts, which I saw them working on while I was there. Although they assured me that extra attention would be paid to monitor quality control, I felt that there were simply better matches to start with, though I appreciated their business model of supporting rural India a lot!
Factory 4 - The Perfect Fit
The last factory we visited was The Perfect Fit, located in Delhi. They are a mid-sized factory with more of a boutique feel - instead of using the traditional line & bundle system, where multiple sewists work on different parts of the same garment at the same time, they usually have one sewist working on one whole garment at a time, though there can be multiple sewists working on the same style. Although this isn't as efficient on a large scale, this approach gives them a lot of flexibility to accommodate lower order volumes, and indeed, they were the most flexible and transparent factory when it came to discussing minimum order quantities.
I haven't mentioned this yet, but every factory has a showroom, where they display garments that show off the factory's strengths and capabilities. Of all the factories we visited, the showroom at The Perfect Fit was my favorite - being there was like being a kid in a candy store! It was full of beautiful dresses in a rainbow of colors, featuring many unique finishes like hand-beading, hand and machine embroidery, and hand and machine smocking. Machine smocking is great for getting those wide panels in the backs of dresses and tops for a stretchy fit, but hand-smocking requires a lot of time and skill and can produce a much wider variety of designs. They're also able to do crochet and told me that it takes an artisan about 5-6 hours to make one cardigan - which, if you happen to be a crochet hobbyist, you know is super fast! Knowing that I now have access to these kinds of options makes me really excited as a designer to explore the expanded possibilities for my future designs.
@maisonmikumo Follow your dreams 💕 #whomadeyourclothes #behindthescenes #ethicalfashion #sustainablefashion #slowfashion #ethicalfashionbrand #sustainablefashionbrand #fashiondesigner #independentfashiondesigner #inspiration ♬ Only Want U - Single - JAWAN.mp3
The showroom at The Perfect Fit
Just down the street from The Perfect Fit is a textiles office and showroom called Textile Basket, where I saw the most expansive collection of sustainable textiles that I have ever seen in one place - and this is coming from someone who attends textile trade shows in NYC! I went through their showroom and pulled out so many hangers of EcoVero viscose, recycled polyester, organic cottons, and more, which I'll be receiving as swatches in about a week (I'll be selecting fabrics for our next-next collection.) Textile Basket is GOTS, BCI (Better Cotton Initiative), and GRS (Global Recycled Standard) certified, and also has its own lab where they are able to test fabric for wear and tear, like how colorfast a dyed fabric is or how much shrinkage there is after machine washing an X amount of times. On top of having a wonderful selection of sustainable textiles, they also offer natural dyes, which I'm very interested in trying out one day. The only downsides to using natural dyes are the limited selection of colors and their relatively low colorfastness - they tend to fade a bit after 5 or 6 washes.
All things considered, The Perfect Fit was a perfect fit for Maison Mikumo, with its flexible MOQ, high level of expertise in womenswear, and convenient proximity to a sustainable textiles office. We currently have an order in progress with them for the upcoming Sinclair and Clarice dresses, which are slated to be available this May. We're looking forward to seeing how our first India-based collection turns out! Also shoutout to The Perfect Fit and Textiles Basket for feeding us the yummiest Indian food for lunch!
During my visit, I learned that India has a robust network of ethical manufacturers who are committed to fair labor practices, sustainability, and quality control. These factories provide safe and fair working conditions for their employees, and many also offer training and support programs to help their workers improve their skills and advance their careers. Because the textiles industry is so prominent in India, the factories in India are more regulated, with certifications and standards playing a big role in their competitiveness and appeal.
What stood out above all though, was the wonderful hospitality and warmth of the people I met. They made me feel like a valued potential client and that they believed in what the future holds for Maison Mikumo. Many of them mentioned stories about small brands that grew over time, which was very motivating and inspiring for me. After all that I have witnessed, I am confident that going to India was the right choice for our brand and eagerly await the release of our first made-in-India collection this May!
May this be the start of a wonderful new chapter 🙏