Monday 21 February 2011

One Month Into Production

With more than one month of our production period behind us, we still have so much to do. The weather has been very kind so far with plenty of warm sunny days, which makes getting around the city slightly easier. Our frequent trips to the North and South of the city are necessary as we have to check hand loomed fabric, hand crocheted samples and deliver them the our pattern master and tailors.
We do a lot more running around than your average buyer as we feel the need to pay attention to the smallest details in each of our garments. Everything from buttons to tags are designed by us and produced by specialists in those fields. 
With a few garments completed, we are starting to see samples of our designs come to fruition. Natural dyes are not commonly used in Nepal's garment industry due to the labour involved and the expense. If consumers put a little more thought into where their clothings' colour comes from and the environmental costs involved, consumer demand could have the power to encourage many dye houses to make the switch from synthetic dyes to natural dyes.
During the UK festival season, we often meet other stall holders with Nepalese goods who seemed surprised that our products are from Nepal. I think the main reason for this is that our focus on natural dyes, attention to detail and original designs make our products quite different from those found in almost every shop in Kathmandu. The number of shops in a small area selling the same items has always intrigued me. Surely this can't be good for business and I know it isn't as interesting for customers. The type of shops you can find time and time again tend to be felted goods and knitwear in bright synthetic colours, trekking shops selling varying qualities of fake branded sleeping bags, backpacks and clothing. Many of the clothing shops have the same designs as each other and don't seem to change year after year. I guess their attitude is that the customers are constantly changing, so the designs don't need to. Originality is hard to find here and if you do come up with a new business idea, if successful, it will be copied by the surrounding shops. In Nepal, copyright means the right to copy!!
Todays photographs have been specially chosen to contrast with the photographs of the last blog entry. Once out of the busy dusty city, areas of natural beauty are hard to miss. The top photo is a view of the Himalayas from Nargokot and the second photo was taken at the top of Monkey Temple. Last weeks lightening hit this temple as it is the city's highest point. The white stone pillar on the left was badly damaged, but fortunately nobody was hurt as the lightening struck at around 4am.
Swayambunath (Monkey Temple) would not be the same without the large population of monkeys that don't seem to mind fairly close contact with humans (pictured below).

Thursday 17 February 2011

Rivers Of Kathmandu

Some may find these images shocking to look at, but this is a common site within Kathmandu. Every main river flowing through the city is in a very bad condition and one wonders if the situation will continue to get worse. This is the result of a lack in eduction focusing on environmental issues, lack of sewage management and garbage disposal facilities.

The garbage that finds its way into the main rivers is a vast array of unwanted items, household rubbish, human sewage and industrial waste. Waste synthetic dyes (including Azo-Free dyes!) are not solely responsible for the pollution, but they do play a major part. This is why we can't stress enough the need to return to natural dyeing methods!

For us at Sorazora, a river brings life to the areas it flows through and one must always remember that people do live down stream and have the same water needs as everyone else. The government are mostly to blame for not making people aware of the damage caused and not putting heavy fines in place for those who continue to pollute. Introducing some kind of educational program for children might help ease the problem, but I wonder if it really is possible to clean these rivers and try to bring life back into them.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Nettle Cordage

A new product that we are delighted to add to our store is this 100% Giant Himalayan Nettle handspun cordage. It is produced in the remote villages of Nepal where the nettle grows in abundance. The villagers harvest, boil, clean and spin the fibres and sell the hanks to a supplier who will bring them into the capital city. The suppliers usually sell this type of cordage on to mat weavers.

We buy this strong nettle cordage by the KG, but intend to retail it in 25m lengths (pictured above). It is perfect for heavy duty use in the garden or for tent and yurt construction. A close up of the cordage shows the twisting of thousands of fibres (pictured below). Nettle is a much softer fibre than hemp making this cordage soft, flexible and very strong.

Bad news for our production period is the increase of load-shedding. Load shedding is the scheduled cutting off of electricity. It is a symptom of electricity production not meeting the demand and until recently the power was out for 12 hours a day.
From Monday 7th February, load shedding increased to 14 hours a day. This lack of a constant electrical supply is having a negative effect on many business, especially small business where the use of a generator is not possible due to either noise pollution or the increasing expense and sometimes shortage of fuel. The government made a promise to the people of Nepal at the beginning of the year that 2011's load shedding will not exceed 16 hours!

The police and army presence throughout the city is the same as usual, but the city atmosphere feels as though there is a slightly more stable and secure feeling than last year's political chaos. A new Prime Minister has been elected and appears to appreciate some support from the Moaists. Being Nepal, this is all open to change!! For most workers, life goes on amid the price increase of basic daily commodities and load shedding becomes just another routine.


I want to use today's blog to introduce a dyestuff that we are including in this year's collection. Maharangi (Nepalese name) is mainly harvested from the wild for its use in herbal medicine, but we are more interested in the colour it yields. Maharanga Emodi (accepted name in international pharmacology) affords a dye from the root which has been used for centuries for colouring wool & silk. As a medicine, both the roots and flower are used.

The plants are distributed in the alpine Himalayas of Nepal from 3000m to 3900m, it is also found from Garhwal to Bhutan at altitudes of 3500m to 4000m.

Above is a photo of the raw material in root form and also in powder. It requires powdering before boiling and steeping as this helps extract the maximum of colour.

The photo below shows the colour on alum mordanted wool, silk and felt.
Although the colour is beautifully subtle, it was not as we had expected and can obtain very similar colours from other less expensive dyestuffs. It is a dye that we will include for wool and felt, but not silk, hemp or cotton.

Padamchal (Himalayan Rhubarb) is one of our favourite dyes for the strong mustard yellow it produces. The photo below shows an over-dye experiment on silk. The top shawl has been dyed with Padamchal. The middle shawl has been dyed with Maharangi and then over-dyed with Padamchal. The bottom shawl has been dyed with only Maharangi.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Yarn To Fabric

Probably the lengthiest part of production has to be the fabric. Our fabric is all handloomed using a hemp and cotton blend. The photo below shows one of the handlooms that we are using. Depending on the weave and thickness of yarn, a loom like this can produce around 12 metres of fabric a day.

This fabric has been yarn dyed prior to weaving. This will result in a more even colour over many metres of fabric. In some cases the yarn is too delicate to dye and better to loom and dye the fabric after, in this situation it is only possible to dye 10 metre segments at a time. (The risk with this approach is that each 10 metre strip could yield varying tones!) The photo below is a closer look at the hemp cotton fabric on the loom. It has been yarn dyed using pomegranate.

For some items, we have to "piece-dye" which means dyeing the product after completion. This is the case for naturally dyeing silk shawls, wool yarn and felt. The final photo below shows a sample of these undyed products.

Right : TT Wool (TT = Thick and Thin)
Top : Hemp/Cotton Fabric
Centre : Felt Balls
Background : Raw Silk Shawls