1. Why do you produce Palmleather in India?
To us, this was the only alternative that truly made sense. The main raw material for our slippers comes from the areca betel palm, which is native to the south of India. In addition, the skills we found in local Indian workers were exactly what was needed in order to treat the raw materials and deliver a high quality hand-made product. Operating in India gives us the perfect opportunity to revitalise craft, help preserve ancestral knowledge about natural fibers and develop a socially and ecologically sustainable business. Moreover, our products can locally help counteract the negative effects of the Indian fast economical growth and increasing cosumerism, which is causing cheap, low quality plastic products to flood their market.
2. Why is it so important to keep the production units so small?
We think it is important to keep the units to a maximum of 30 workers for several reasons. First of all, the small scale we implemented makes the craftspeople work as a family, rather than as a group of line workers. Having a limited number of coworkers enhances social cohesion, empowers each of them to take responsibility and makes solving internal problems much easier. A small team can manage itself without the need of an external authority figure, which could cause a tense environment in highly hierarchical society as you find in India.
3. Is this project really self-sustaining?
Yes, we are convinced it is. Even though the initial investment to set up a unit comes from us, it is a loan to the workers, not a donation. After approximately 2 years they pay the investment back to us (interest rate is around 3% per year) and they become the owners of the production unit. They are further supported by a guaranteed minimal order from us, which does not imply exclusive rights for us. They are always free to manufacture and sell products in the local market.
4. What is the impact on the community in which you operate?
We strive to leave a positive impact on the people we work with. We try to incentivate their self sustainability with local resources, focusing on promoting a higher appreciation on small entrepreneurship. In addition, we like to work with craftswomen because we want to help them raise their status in a mostly male-dominant society. We hope that our operation teaches by example; how one can do responsible, sustainable business by minimising waste, pollution and utilising easily accessible local raw materials.
5. What are the working conditions in the production unit?
Proper working conditions are our first priority. They are the beginning of an entire value chain which ends with the best we have to offer, our product. Unit workers are well informed about safety procedures throughout the whole process. They know we buy proper machines (new and safe) and that we don’t work with potentially harmful chemicals. Children are not allowed to work in the unit, but they may stay with their mother while she works if there is no daycare available. We see that these kids are not working, but they may ocassionally assist their mothers, as long as it is from an educational point of view and the kids show interest in doing so. Just the way it would happen in a real indian family. Everyone in a unit works for an average of 8 hours a day and are entitled to every national (or individual) religious holiday.
6. How is this project socially responsible?
We show respect and responsibility for society in every aspect of what we do. Our small, family-like production unit is something that we designed based on respect for Indian culture and their social structure. By financing the start up investment for every unit at a low interest rate (between 2 and 4%) we demonstrate that we care for their development, while at the same time making clear that this is not a gift. This empowers them to work harder for their own benefit. Regarding the other end of the line, our customers, we aim to increase the responsibility and sustainability awareness in the final consumer, making them care about the origin of the products they consume and the conditions in which they are made.